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Tim Bissell Tim Bissell
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Three Pint Stance Summer Session roundup

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A representative of Tributary Brewing Company pours a sample for an attendee at the 2016 Summer Session Brew Fest at Thompson Point in Portland. A representative of Tributary Brewing Company pours a sample for an attendee at the 2016 Summer Session Brew Fest at Thompson Point in Portland. (Photo courtesy of OurMaine)

The dust (and severe thunderstorms!) have settled and another Summer Session Brew Festival is in the books. The 2016 version brought more breweries and attendees to the event than ever. Really, the one thing the event ran short on was time.

Due to rapidly approaching severe thunderstorms, the Portland Police Department and the event security team made the decision to end the event an hour early at 4 p.m. and evacuate the venue before the storm hit. While the call to end the event early was disappointing to brewers and festival-goers alike, it is my opinion that the right call was made. Brew festivals are supposed to be fun, and not even the Bishop from 'Caddyshack' would say getting struck by lightning is fun.

So, as a brewer, what is my take on this biggest brew festival in Maine? Too big.

In the quest to put on the best brewfest, I think the tendency is always to add more breweries, more beers and just, well, more. I think there is a tipping point where more becomes too much.

With 77 breweries in attendance and each one pouring, on average, three beers, that puts us in the ballpark of having 231 beers to choose from over the course of four to five hours. When you take into consideration that many breweries were pouring four or five different brews, that number just gets bigger and the math harder to square. At four ounces a sample, you are looking at around 57 pints consumed if you were to try every beer. Even if you only wanted to try half, that's roughly 28 pints - still far too much for even the most seasoned drinker.

By stacking the deck and having that many beers on tap, you end up with three basic types of festival goers.

First is the Craft Beer Nerd (full disclosure: this is the category I would fall into, were I on the other side of the table). The Craft Beer Nerd will study the list prior in order to figure out what intrigues and what can be skipped. They come armed with information and preparation, but even the most prepared individual can fall victim to overindulgence.

The second attendee is the Motivated Drinker. The Motivated Drinker sees a large brewfest as a challenge. 'How much of this can I process through my liver?' seems to be the question running through the Motivated Drinker's mind. This person doesn't care particularly about flavor or style, but usually tends to go for IPAs and other beers higher in alcohol. You'll always have these types at brew festivals, and when you offer close to 300 beers, it is inevitable that the Motivated Drinker is going to give total domination the ol' college try.

The final attendee you find at these large brew festivals is the Overwhelmed Novice. This is their first festival; they have had a few beers outside of the American Adjunct Light Lager (Read: BudMillerCoors), but are unsure of a lot of the terms and descriptors used in the ever-expanding world of craft beer. This person is lost as soon as they hit the gate; it can be difficult to navigate the crowds and still find the beers that most interest them.

The one thing that all three types of festival goers have in common is the tendency to drink too much. Obviously, inebriation is an unavoidable side effect of beer consumption, but it begins to feel irresponsible when the beer list is so long that overdrinking feels like the only way to get your money's worth.

What can be done? I say keep it small. Tap Into Summer at the Bangor Waterfront realized this and cappped their number of breweries at 20 for their event. This way, you can visit each table at least once and get a better sense of the overall offerings at the festival. When the number of breweries gets above 50, there is no way to visit everyone and the temptation to overindulge is much greater.

I'm sure that we haven't seen the limit of how big a brewfest can get, but I can tell you as someone who has poured at and attended brew festivals of all sizes, bigger is definitely not always better. A smaller, more curated event will nearly always better serve the attendees and the vendors alike.


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