A beer festival is like speed-dating, but instead of talking quickly across the table from a sweaty-palmed, potential next ex-husband, you line up and wait your turn with hundreds of others to talk quickly across the table with craft brewers happily handing you tastes of their beers. Speed-dating, you’ve met your match. This thoughtful analogy occurred to me after attending the 2014 Craft Brew Race at the Portland Expo. Sponsored by Matt Gray, principal of Gray Matters Marketing, the brew races are held in each state in New England between May and September.
As runners gathered in front of the building waiting for the signal to be off, brewers and volunteers were inside setting up for the beer tasting that would come on the heels of the race. This was the first beer festival I’d attended in a long time, since back in the mid 1990’s when I was writing my first book about New England craft beer. There were some familiar faces, chief among them, Steve Gorrill, founder of Sheepscot Valley Brewing out of Whitefield.
There were also Mike Haley and his sidekick Connor of Kennebunkport Brewing Company in Kennebunkport. I had brewed with these two in February to re-learn the process on their Peter Austin 7 barrel system, and it was nice to be reunited for the few minutes we had to talk before the hordes of thirsty runners broke through the doors.
Of the 20 or so breweries represented, there were some new ones, newer than the breweries that opened over the winter. There pouring beer as busily as one-armed paper hangers, as my mother would say, were reps from Hidden Cove Beer On Tap/Fire N Brew Restaurant from Wells; Pennesseewassee Brewing Company on the banks of the Crooked River; Lively Brewing, a branch of Ebenezer’s Brew Pub of Brunswick where Mike LaCharite now is head brewer; and Bigelow Brewing Company of Skowhegan, with Pam and Jeff Powers pouring.
If you’ve never been to a beer festival, I highly recommend them, if you can view the crowd as friendly and noise as music and the live band as music and support the local economy by taking a cab home. It’s a great way to taste a lot of different beers at one time, some of which may not be available at home. For more Craft Brew Races, check out their Facebook page. Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and Cape Cod are all coming up this summer. And, oh, it beats wondering if that guy or woman in the speed-dating bar will like you. Whatever beer you’re drinking will always love you unconditionally. I promise.