Out and About: Portland Brew Festival


That's better! God bless America.
God bless America.

If there’s one worn-out old phrase that has rung true fairly consistently for me over the last few months, it’s “you only live once.” Not that terrible “YOLO” shit that those idiot kids live by these days, either.

After a relatively engagement-free August, I’ve got a couple of big weekends coming up with this weekend’s Rhode Island Seafood Festival and two friends’ wedding in Nebraska in mid-September.

Today is the Labor Day public holiday, but I’m working so that I could take my day off later in the week when I head to Providence. While many people were making plans to go out of town for the three-day weekend, I was kinda relishing the idea of having a quiet weekend at home to charge the batteries for Rhode Island.

That was, until last Tuesday, a coworker asked me if I’d heard about the Portland Brew Festival.

Uh oh. Did I mention I like Maine beer?

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The last beer festival I went to was, unsurprisingly, a fantastic day. It was put on by my favorite Maine brewery, Baxter, in a sunny park in Lewiston. This time though, I wasn’t so lucky to be able to mooch off my coworkers’ generosity and get a free ride there and back, and Portland is further away than Lewiston, which necessitated staying the night down south. I mean, there’s not much point in going to an event where you can drink as much as you want from 40 different breweries if you’re going to stay sober enough to drive home. Right?

Within two hours of being made aware of the wonderful-sounding event, I had a cheap-ass hotel room booked and two tickets in my inbox. Oops. So much for that quiet weekend.

The festival had three, three-and-a-half-hour sessions on Friday and Saturday. I opted for the Saturday evening session, knowing that if I took the afternoon timeslot then I’d either end up sobering up and feeling awful well before it was dark out, and that going out after the festival finished at 9:00 p.m. would be cheaper than going out at 4.

I’d recruited my friend Abby to come along, so we hit the road around 2:30 p.m. for the hour or so drive from Augusta to Portland, and finding our digs wasn’t too hard. The illustrious Travelodge Portland wasn’t exactly my first (through 10th) choice, but the price was about as right as it can be for Labor Day weekend, and it had both a dearth of insects and a Denny’s in the parking lot, which were both considered victories.

We had a couple of beers before heading towards the Old Port in a very educational cab ride. That driver had seen some shit, man. The festival was being held in a large warehouse at The Portland Company Marine Complex, and the walls were lined with stands occupied by brewers from Maine and elsewhere in New England.

Most places had three options, some more and some less, and there was about a 50-50 split between pours from draft and cans. After a restroom stop and a wander around to get the lay of the land, we decided the best way to tackle the huge amount of choices was just to start at the start and work clockwise around the space.

At the front door we were provided with a list of the breweries and their respective drops and a special 2oz tasting glass. I thought that was a little small, given the tasting glass in Lewiston was double that size, but it turned out to be fine. More than fine. Jesus I felt awful Sunday morning.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We kicked off at Clown Shoes, a Massachusetts brewery that had pride of place at the front of the room. We started with the best of intentions, checking off the beers we tried on the checklist, and rinsing our glasses out with water regularly. I’d like to say that lasted all night, but I’d be a filthy liar.

Right as we’d acquired our first beers of the evening, we ran into the coworker who’d alerted me to the festival, who had just arrived with her boyfriend. We ended up wandering at different paces for the first half of the warehouse, but caught up halfway through and took in the second row of booths together.

I could give you a review of every beer I tried, but that would be a total fabrication because I don’t have my checklist with me and I sure don’t remember off the top of my head. There were definitely some standouts that had me going back for a second pour, and ones where I took a sip then opted to switch with Abby. Thankfully all of the brews had fairly high ABV percentages, because we swapped those glasses between ourselves a million times over the course of the night.

Also fortunate was the fact that there were a handful of food stands. Portland is pretty big on food trucks, so I’d expected there to be some hand-held grub options, and I wasn’t disappointed. We eyed off pizza by the slice and … something else, but Portland’s Hella Good Tacos won our vote in the end, and godDAMN were they good. I’ll definitely be checking out their brick-and-mortar joint when I’m down there next.

Stomachs re-lined, we forged on with the beer sampling, groaning every time we came across a stall with cider. We’d decided we would sample something from every booth, so as to get our money’s worth (I guess?), but Abby and I both agreed that the cider samples broke up the beer palate, and not in a great way. But hey, it’s tough to complain really.

The beers continued ad infinitum until last call, announced mere seconds before we arrived at the final booth, which was Shipyard if I recall. And I don’t recall very well, because truthfully that 2oz tasting glass had me “feeling no pain,” as the old saying goes. I was surprised by this, but just now when I did some quick math I realized that with 40 or so brewers, and a 2oz sample at each, minus a couple of samples for spillage and cider-skippage, we’re talking about maybe 75 ounces of beer, or four and a half pints.

That’s not a great deal in the grand scheme of things, but when you consider the alcoholic content of a lot of those brews, and the fact that some of them were consumed in one mouthful, you can see where trouble can be afoot.

Speaking of trouble, my coworker and her boyfriend were interested in continuing on after the festival ended, but not before some substantial food consumption. They were off for oysters but, with considerably smaller wallets at our disposal, Abby and I opted to canvas Commercial Street asking locals for casual food recommendations. The resounding opinion was Elevation Burger, so off we went.

I was probably slightly too pissed to really pay attention to what I was ordering, or eating, and McDonald’s probably would’ve done the trick at that point. Not that that’s a slight on Elevation Burger – quite the opposite in fact – I think I probably should revisit the place to sample its wares with a less intoxicated palate.

Post-burgers, we wandered back in the direction of the Porthole, a bar on a pier by the water, and met the other two members of our party. We only managed to squeeze in a couple of drinks before last call was announced and we had to chug and run. The others opted to take off, so it was just Abby and I exploring the Old Port’s nightlife.

We followed our ears into Oasis and then wandered into Pearl, but didn’t stay for long in either spot before deciding to call it a night and try to find our way back to the Hilton Travelodge. And Denny’s. By God, there was Denny’s. Nachos at 2:00 a.m. wasn’t our best idea.

All in all, the Portland Brew Festival was the far superior choice over staying at home, wearing a hole in Netflix and ordering pizza on Saturday night. Because hey, you only live once right?


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