Yesterday marked the day of the inaugural Maine Grains & Grapes Festival, a summer beer (and wine) fest put on by the Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce and held at The Colisee in Lewiston. The Breweries and wineries in attendance included Atlantic Brewing Co., BlackSmiths Winery, Belfast Bay Brewing Co., Casco Bay Brewery, Fiddlers Winery, Gritty’s Brewery, Savage Oaks Vineyard and Winery, Seadog Brewery, Sebago Brewing Co., Shalom Orchard Winery, Shipyard Brewery, Stone Coast Brewing Co., Sunday River Brewing Co., Sweet Grass Farm Winery and Distillery, and Tanquay & Son Winery.
As is common among beer fests, there were two sessions to the event – 2 o’clock and 7 o’clock. My father, brother (who was visiting from Maryland for the weekend) and I all attended the 2 o’clock session. It was obvious from the get-go that this was the first year of the event and there were plenty of kinks that will need to be worked out for next year.
For starters, more than one person taking tickets at the door will move the lines along much faster. Secondly, The Colisee is much too large a venue for such an event; it’s larger even than the Portland Expo building where the Maine Brewers’ Fest — a much bigger, more established festival — is held every year. Because of the size of the building, the decent-sized crowd was dwarfed, which took a lot of that “festival flavor” out of the afternoon. The third, and biggest recommendation I have for next year, though, is never, ever hand out PLASTIC tasting “glasses” for such a festival. It cheapened the event immensely!
I’m sure there were some hard-to-find wines at the festival but not being much of a wine guy myself, needless to say, I focused on the beer. At first I was disappointed because the majority of the beers at the event are all readily available (if not on draft, than certainly by bottle) most anywhere in Portland. But then I remembered that this event wasn’t in fact in Portland, but rather a good 45 minutes north, so what may have been common-place to me might not have been for many of those in attendance. So I take back that complaint.
However, I must hand it to the Chamber – for a first-time festival, I think they did a pretty good job. There is much to improve on, sure, but I would have been shocked if there hadn’t been. For 2 o’clock on a sunny summer Saturday, the crowd was a pretty good size, and members of the Chamber were saying that they expected a larger turnout for the 7 o’clock showing.
It was also neat to have beer drinkers and wine drinkers in one place, both enjoying the same atmosphere. Festivals of this nature are usually too pretentious and exclusive one way or the other to include the other drink. I’m sure I saw women I knew were there for the wine trying some of the beers. And I’ll be the first to admit that one of the biggest surprises of the evening was a truly awesome honey mead from Fiddlers Winery (my other highlight was a nice, long chat with Pat Mullen, founder of Belfast Bay Brewing).
I definitely think that if the Chamber can make those few changes for the better, The Grains & Grapes Festival will be a great asset to the Maine Beer Scene for years to come.