The Maine Brewers Festival last weekend involved more than drinking a lot of really good beer.
You could also learn quite a bit about brewing and beer. Perhaps there is a reason that the festival website is titled learnyourbeer.com.

At the Dinner with the Brewers Friday night at the Wyndham Hotel in South Portland, Kai Adams of Sebago Brewing Co. said craft brews represent 20 percent of beer sales in Maine, compared to 4 percent of craft-beer sales nationally. In Florida, he said, they are celebrating the fact that the percentage of beer sales has recently doubled there, from 1 percent of the market to 2 percent.

On Friday night, the brewers were clear that they did not consider themselves in competition with other Maine brewers. Most drinkers – and drinkers of craft beers especially – are not going to drink just one brand of beer. They will sample what is available in the market, and if they can’t find local beers, they will buy craft beers from other places.

The beer festival Saturday at the Portland Expo – I attended the afternoon session – was a huge lesson in the variety of beer offered locally. It included 14 different brewers, and each one offered at least four different beers; some as many as eight.

My goal for the afternoon was to drink only beers that I had never had before. That, and the festival setup, changes the way people drink beer.

What people mostly drink are session beers, which Ed Stebbins of Gritty McDuff’s described at the beer dinner as easy-drinking beers of about 5 percent alcohol. They usually drink them sitting down, and often with some sort of food. Most beers sold fit that category.

But since I make an effort to try every local beer I can find, at the festival I ended up drinking a lot of high-alcohol beers: some barley wines, imperial porters and IPAs that had as much as 10 percent alcohol. That is a kind of beer you want to have just one of, sitting down and with food available.

Drinking them while standing in line for your next beer was a bit intense.

All of that being said, the best beers I had all day were the Sebago Hell Awaits Cask-Conditioned Imperial Porter, Shipyard’s Pugsley Signature Series Imperial IPA and the one session ale of the group, Peak Organic Winter Session Ale. I had all of those fairly early in the day, and after that, my palate was probably shot.

We have come a long way from 1988, when Gritty’s opened the first brew pub in Maine since prohibition – and one of the first customers came into the pub and asked for a Budweiser.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

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