I have no credentials that qualify me to review an Oktoberfest event.
When one of the brewers I visited at Acadia’s Oktoberfest described an ale as very “hoppy,” I said, “Yes, happy!” and extended my sampling glass.
With my credentials—or lack thereof—established, I can now share my sentiments about the annual Acadia Oktoberfest, and you can rest assured that I won’t be describing the beers in the manner of, say, a wine critic.
This year, as in the seventeen previous, Acadia’s Oktoberfest was sponsored by the Southwest and Tremont Chamber of Commerce during Columbus Day weekend at Smuggler’s Den Campground on Mount Desert Island. In years past up to four thousand locals, national park visitors, beer geeks, and those just looking for a good time have joined in the imbibing, as well as music and crafts exhibits.
I’d never been among them, even though I come to Acadia from New York City every October to hike.
First of all, admission to the Saturday beerfest is $30. For that you get a roll of ten tickets, entitling you to ten samplings in your 4-ounce “souvenir” glass. In addition to the beer tent, there are two others devoted to crafts and food/entertainment. All food is additional. (The other option is to pay $10 for admission only.)
But that $30 price tag is nothing for the many fans of craft beers, who view this festival as their chance to sample both the classic and seasonal offerings of 21 breweries, all in the craft or microbrewery category that boasts small batches and artisanal quality. According to the Brewers Associations, craft brewing sales soared 15 percent in 2012, while U.S. beer sales overall were virtually stagnant at a .9 percent increase.
Anchoring the entrance to the beer tent at this year’s Acadia’s Oktoberfest was Mount Desert Island’s own Atlantic Brewing, founded in 1990 and a driving force behind the festival’s inception. It’s where we tasted our first sample. Fred chose the classic Real Ale, but I decided to try the Island Ginger, a lightly spiced brew that was a more flavorful alternative to the Bar Harbor Summer Ale I like to drink with lobster.
Scouting out the surroundings, we moved from the beer tent, which was packed with enthusiasts, over to the food tent. Here the band was playing and couples, flushed from their own circuits of the beer tent, were dancing.
The food stand for Tanya’s Off the Grid Foods caught our attention. Loading up with a freshly prepared salsa and chips and cups of chili, we found seats at long tables. Cool autumn air refreshed the tent as we dug into the perfectly seasoned chili. I ducked back into the beer tent for two more harvest ales, and, returning, stirred some sour cream into the chili. The band, The Peterson Project, started up a new set, moving from bluesy rock to bluegrass.
The difference in the beers was really remarkable. Of the 21 breweries represented, only three were from outside of Maine and one—Brooklyn Brewery—from outside of New England. Some of the Maine beers, such as Allagash, Geary, and Shipyard, are well distributed throughout New England and sometimes farther, such as New York, where I’ve seen them in restaurants featuring craft beers. Many, however, were local micro-breweries. We stood in line twice for the Daymark from Rising Tide, a family-owned craft brewery in Portland that specializes in artisanal ales.Some booths were staffed by sales reps, others volunteers. “I just moved here from Alaska,” one volunteer told me. “I thought it would be a great way to meet people.”
In front of the Sam Adams booth, a couple in Bavarian-style, felt hats posed for a photo.
In the midst of the revelers enjoying the fall craft beers, caricaturist Susan Fox sketched a smiling subject.Back in the food tent Fred ordered a plate of BBQ ribs from Nostrano, the Town Hill caterer that specializes in private dinners. When he asked for a knife, the owner Frank Pendola simply twisted the rack, and the meat fell off the bones.
It was getting close to the 6pm closing, and we still had quite a few red tickets left in our rolls. So many more beers, so little time. The Fatty Bumpkins Maine Draft Cider was too sweet for my taste, but we loved the chocolate and mint-laced coffee and Cadillac Stout that wrapped up our tasting.
The closing event in the beer tent was about to begin. Someone in the crowd told us they were counting the tickets at each brewer’s stand to determine the people’s choice–who would get to come back next year with no vendor’s fee. We heard “Testing…testing” on the mike, then, “Brooklyn Brewery.”
It was a sign! This New Yorker would be back next year, too.