GARDINER — The Swine & Stein Brewfest returns to take over Water Street Oct. 9, as Gardiner Main Street’s signature event returns to its brewfest format of two years ago.

Beer is served at a previous Swine & Stein event on Water Street in downtown Gardiner. The 2021   Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

But even as the final breweries are being recruited and details are being nailed down, Gardiner Main Street Executive Director Melissa Lindley said she’s prepared to pivot if public health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic require it.

“We were thinking about it in the height of summer when everyone was saying, ‘Everyone wants to come, it will be a rally back!'” Lindley said. “Of course, things have changed since then.”

In mid-July, daily new COVID-19 case numbers were numbering fewer than two dozen a day, but since then daily case counts have risen to consistently more than 400 as the more contagious delta variant fuels a surge of the virus. That’s led some events to scale back or cancel, such as the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, which recently announced it would not have in-person activities just weeks before a scheduled return to doing so.

Even so, the outdoor event, stretching out along Water Street between Gerard’s Pizza and Niche Inc., offers plenty of space for people to taste local beers, wines and spirits, listen to live music and play games — including the Giant Jenga game and the state Rock, Paper, Scissors championship. The Beard and Mustache Competition are set to return for the seventh year.

The Blind Pig Tavern will be roasting a pig, and other food vendors will include Pinky D’s Poutine Factory, Smokey & Brines, Kabayan Philippine Foods and M&M’s Ice Cream. Pat Colwell and the Soul Sensations is scheduled to perform, along with the Half Moon Jug Band.

“We’re not clustering breweries together,” Lindley said, ” so people can go from one to the next without being in a crowd.”

Now in its 12th year, the festival draws hundreds of people from around the state and around the region to taste local craft beers and other beverages.

“I have a guy in Pennsylvania who called me in June and wanted to know if we were going to have the event,” she said. “He stayed up until midnight so that he’d be the first one to buy tickets. There are some people who really love this event and wanted to make sure it was happening again.”

Lindley said she’s hoping for 20 breweries, wineries and distilleries to take part; to date 16 have signed up. They include Whitefield’s Sheepscot Valley Brewing Co., Hallowell’s Liberal Cup, Gardiner’s own Bateau Brewing and Jokers & Rogues Brewing. Sebago Lake Distillery in Gardiner and Chadwick’s Craft Spirits are also taking part.

Because of special circumstances surrounding last year’s pandemic state of emergency and restrictions on public gatherings, Gardiner Main Street offered a take-home model with Swine & Stein Brewfest in a Bag. That option is not available this year.

The event secured its permit earlier this month from the Gardiner City Council. At that meeting, Lindley said she had considered expanding the space but decided not to take that step this year.

District 4 City Councilor Marc Rines asked about the masks that would be provided. Lindley said disposable masks will be available for those who want them.

Organizers said there are no current plans to hold a COVID vaccine clinic in conjunction with the fair, like some other fairs or public events have done, but they’re not ruling out the possibility of having one.

Tickets are now on sale on Gardiner Main Street’s website.  General admission tickets are $40 through Oct. 8, and $45 the day of the event. VIP tickets, for the tasting hour from noon to 1 p.m., are $50 through Oct. 8, and $55 the day of the event. Tickets for designated drivers, which allow admission and unlimited soda or water all day, are $10.

Discount tickets are available at downtown Gardiner retailers.

“If you think about it, we’re five or six weeks out (from the event). When you think where we were five or six weeks ago, things can change,” she said. If the event is canceled because of COVID-19, refunds will be offered, even though organizers plan at this point to hold the event rain or shine.

One dollar from every ticket sold will be donated to the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center’s capital campaign, which will pay for the renovation of the 400-seat theater; construction is slated to start in April 2022.

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