GARDINER — It’s not all about the beer, even at Swine & Stein, an Oktoberfest-style annual event that does feature a couple dozen craft brewers.

But this year a walk through the festivities in downtown Gardiner showed an increasing number of alternative brews offered by Maine craft brewers, including mead, kombucha, and a variety of ciders and wines.

“People are starting to rediscover it,” Mark Mancini, an owner of Aegir’s Den Meadery in Palermo, said of mead, which is made from honey and is the world’s oldest known alcoholic beverage.

Mancini said Aegir’s Den – named for the Norse lord of the ocean, Aegir, whom Mancini said was known for throwing big feasts for the gods under the ocean where the horns of mead never ran dry – tries to support Maine farmers, featuring their products at its meadery and using honey from eight different Maine beekeepers as the main ingredient in its mead.

A steady stream of drinkers stopped by Mancini’s booth on Water Street, sampling mead there as well as at the neighboring booth showcasing Run Amok Meadery of West Gardiner.

Rick Stuart of Winslow was among them, enjoying a cider-based mead from Aegir’s samples, though he said in general he prefers beer.


“I haven’t had mead that much, but this one, with cider, I thought was very good,” Stuart said.

It was the third year at Swine & Stein for Stuart and his companion, Mary Jordan. Stuart said he enjoys the event and, when they sample a brew they like, they might seek out that brewery later.

“The thing I like (about Swine & Stein), compared to others, which have Anheuser Busch products, this is all local breweries, under-the-radar ones,” Jordan said.

Kevin Sturtevant of Absolem Cider Co. in Winthrop had two taps going Saturday: Roses Red, a spontaneously fermented hybrid of cider and red wine, and Atlantica, a basque-inspired aged cider.

Roses Red is a rose cider with about 20% pinot noir added to it. Sturtevant said both are brewed separately, then mixed together in small batches of around 220 gallons. The final mix, he said, is determined by taste, sampling it until the flavor is right.

He said attendees of Swine & Stein and other beer-focused festivals often seem to enjoy at least a brief break from beer.


Michael Allen, left, and his mother, Barbara Allen, laugh Saturday as they hold sampling glasses in Swine & Stein Brewfest holders on lanyards during the annual gathering on Water Street in downtown Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“A lot of people are open to alternatives to beer, something lighter, to break it up,” Sturtevant said.

A new vendor to Swine & Stein, which dates to 2009, was Portland-based Urban Farm Fermentory, which brought along Jun, a sparkling probiotic, nonalcoholic green tea, as well as several varieties of kombucha, a sparkling, probiotic tea of about 1.5% alcohol by volume.

Ricky Gougian poured samples into the small glass mugs festival attendees got when they came in. Among his sample beverages was one variety of ghost pepper kombucha.

“Do you like pepperoncinis?” Gougian asked a customer before serving that spicy beverage up. “If you do, then you’re going to like this.”

Gougian said the fermentory’s beverages are getting well-known, as Urban Farm Fermentory was one of the first alternative brewing operations in what turned into an exploding market in the Portland area.

Bands played rock and reggae music and several games were also played, including rock, paper, scissors, and a frozen T-shirt race. In the T-shirt race, contestants each got a frozen, tightly rolled up T-shirt, and the first one to thaw out their shirt fast enough to unfurl it and put it on, won.


Chelsea Bernier struggles to unfold a frozen T-shirt Saturday during a contest at Swine & Stein Brewfest on Water Street in downtown Gardiner. Bernier won a gift certificate for being the first of the 10 entrants to unfold and put on a shirt. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Master of ceremonies Michael Miclon, the artistic executive director at Johnson Hall, joked with contestants as they tried various techniques to thaw out their hardened T-shirts including rolling them on the gutters of the street in water that had collected there from the day’s rain.

He joked with Gardiner police Officer Kaleb Martson, who was one of the first to try soaking his shirt in a puddle to thaw it out, saying “he’s working it like a crime scene over here.”

Chelsea Bernier won the contest, with two of her friends helping pull the shirt over her head.

Food trucks and downtown restaurants offered a wide variety of food including steamed buns, pork in many forms, pretzels and roasted chicken.

Swine & Stein is Gardiner Main Street’s main fundraising event, and downtown Water Street was closed to all but foot traffic for Saturday’s event.

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