There are many reasons for fall to be your favorite season: vibrant foliage, pumpkin beer, apple picking and Halloween are some of the great ones. But for beer drinkers in New England, falling leaves also herald the beginning of beer festival season. If you’re of legal age, fall is full of opportunities to enjoy tasty brews with friends in an atmosphere radically different than — but strangely similar to — the subterranean festivities that typically constitute collegiate nightlife. I had the opportunity to attend such an event as a volunteer for the 17th annual Acadia Oktoberfest in Southwest Harbor on Mount Desert Island.
If you’ve never been to an Oktoberfest, and all of your assumptions about them stem from movies and popular culture, let me quickly set things straight. A brew fest is not a free-for-all; on the contrary, they are well organized social drinking events — jumping off of buildings is prohibited. And unlike the “original” Bavarian Oktoberfest, lederhosen are less common than you might think, but they’re not absent.
Held each year under an enormous tent at Smuggler’s Den campground, attendants of the Acadia Oktoberfest are issued a souvenir tasting glass and a dozen tickets to be redeemed for a 4-ounce pour of beer from any of the participating breweries.
What sets the Acadia Oktoberfest apart from other festivals of similar size is the way its organizers combine the beer, entertainment and food. At its core, it combines the best elements of the Common Ground Country Fair with a great bar, like Woodman’s, which, as you can imagine, makes for an incredibly good time.
Many of the major players in Maine brewing attended, such as Allagash, Geary’s and Shipyard. Other local brewing companies, including Peak Organic, Black Bear, Andrew’s, Baxter and Sebago Brewing, rounded out the selection in the beer tent. Atlantic Brewing, one of the breweries that helped establish the event, was where I volunteered and poured countless 4-ounce glasses of Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale and New Guy IPA.
In addition to live music for entertainment, a separate tent was devoted to local craftsmen and artists, featuring jewelry makers, wool workers and soap makers. One of the more popular items from the craft tent was a braided rope handle that festival-goers slipped onto their souvenir tasting glasses.
Bar Harbor’s culinary scene hosts food vendors whose cusine ranged from hearty barbecued pulled pork sandwiches to outstanding artisanal pretzels with gourmet mustard.
Standouts from the tasting tent were Smalls, a small batch beer from Sebago Brewing, brewed from the leftover mash of a barley wine called Biggie — fans of 1990s rap will see the not-so-subtle but hilarious reference; Curieux, a Belgian Tripel aged in bourbon barrels, a personal favorite; Hop Noir, a black IPA from Peak Organic, well worth a taste; Harvest IPA from Black Bear Brewing, overflowing with fresh hops harvested at Art Lewis’ farm in Monroe; and Coal Porter from Atlantic Brewing, a mellow, well-balanced, dark beer, and a gift to all mankind.
The Acadia Oktoberfest is an excellent example of the way a beer festival can stimulate the local economy while being an excellent way to spend a Saturday. The next major event is the largest festival of the year: The Maine Brewer’s Festival in Portland on Nov. 2 and 3.
Hopefully, I’ll see you there.