I have been looking forward to attending The Festival US since the Shelton Brothers and 12% imports announced that it would be in Portland, Maine this year, my wife had attended last year when it was held in Worcester, Massachusetts, she had nothing but great things to say and that impressed me for a first year festival.
I attended both sessions on Saturday June 22nd, it was hot and sunny so I decided not to show up early but gambled that the line (I knew it would be long) would be moving along pretty quickly and showed up just after 1pm when the doors had already opened. This turned out to be a good gamble on my part, as predicted the line was very long but it was moving along pretty well, they didn’t appear to have too many issues with the tickets and after a quick ID check and ticket scan you were given the bracelets that designated what session you were attending. With bracelet on you could walk right into the Portland Yacht services building, picking up your glass and 48 tickets (pours were 1oz for 1 ticket, 2oz for two) on the way.
If you haven’t been in the Yacht Services building, it’s a large brick building that is very long, the festival took place in the first 3 bays of the building. The venue was really cool, each bay was different but all of them were very industrial with large wooden support beams, concrete floors and large lifting equipment suspended overhead. The brewers and vendors were set up along the sides of the room in the first two bays with rinsing stations down the middle of both rooms. Bay 3 was dedicated to food vendors with a handful of tables set up in the middle of the room to stand and eat at. Lack of restrooms was the most common complaint I heard, they were located in Bay 1 (women only), there were a couple unisex bathrooms out in Bay 3 and portable toilets located out the side door in Bay 2, these three areas all seemed to have long lines but they appeared to be moving along, and taking my own advice from my brewfest survival guide and knowing my surroundings, I took notice of the two portable toilets just outside the main entrance that never had a line.
It’s always interesting to check out a couple different sessions of a brewfest, the crowds tend to be different across the sessions. Session number 2 was the sold out session and the one I expected to find a room that was overcrowded and unbearably long lines, I however was very wrong, the rooms were large enough to accommodate the crowd and with exception of a couple booths the lines were short and moving quickly. Session 3 which is notoriously the “rowdy” crowd and the reason I try to avoid that session was really not that bad, they seemed more intoxicated than the second session but all in all very under control and just generally happy to be there drinking excellent beer.
My wife had wonderful things to say about the food trucks at last year’s festival so I made sure to check them out and I wasn’t disappointed. The Thirsty Pig, Bite into Maine, Pizza Pie on the Fly, Hella Good Tacos, Binga’s Winga’s and Small Axe all had booths and were selling a nice variety of foods, from your classic pizza and sausages to quesadillas and lobster rolls. In session 2 I grabbed a slice of pizza from Pizza Pie on the Fly, nothing wild just a slice of cheese to keep my energy up and the huge double sized slice did the trick. Session 3 I ended up with a massive quesadilla from Hella Good Tacos that rocked, the prices in my opinion were fair considering the size of the portions. I was also able to purchase water bottles from the food trucks; I kept a bottle on me the entire festival and honestly believe it’s a major factor in my lack of hangover today.
The beer, because that’s what it’s all about, was amazing. In two sessions I sampled maybe 2 beers that I didn’t care for. There were rare and hard to find beers being poured, often times in limited quantities per session. The variety in styles was outstanding; I’ve never attended a festival with so many sour beers that was a highlight for me. One thing that I did notice that seemed to be a point of confusion for a lot of the crowd but I felt worked in my favor was the lack of signage on the brewers part. Some of the brewers that I expected to be swarmed had no lines at all, Cantillon, Westvleteren and Crooked Stave were some of the notable ones that had minimal signage or signage on the table making them extremely accessible, where some of the clearly marked booths, such as Hill Farmstead almost always had a long line and ran out of beer before the sessions ended. In session 3 I found myself sampling from brewers I had walked by for 4 hours in the previous session without knowing they were there, although if I had taken the time to study my map I might have known they were there, but who reads maps?
Overall I thought The Festival US was outstanding, the venue, the way it was run, the extremely talented brewers, the people who attended, all of these factors made this a next level brewfest, to the point that my only regret is not having a ticket to the first session. I’m very thankful that the Shelton Brothers and 12% imports chose Portland, Maine to host this event, it not only gave this beer blogger and every other beer blogger, beer writer and podcaster (and there were a bunch of us) the opportunity to try rock star brews from around the world we don’t see every day but gave us the chance to interact face to face with the brewers.
I would like to end this blog post by personally thanking the Volunteers who worked the festival. Without this dedicated group of beer lovers this event would not have happened, and proving that point session 3 was delayed by 30 minutes because of a shortage in volunteers but people stepped up and the show went on. Maine has laws concerning who can serve beer at a brewfest and it does not allow for a brewer to serve their own beer which makes the festival volunteers extremely important, unfortunately they are also not allowed to sample the product which makes it really difficult for them to help when asked about the beer. The volunteers at The Festival US did a great job; they were enthusiastic and as helpful as possible and in the end a vital component to this successful brewfest.