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Fourth annual brewfest draws big crowds to Houlton

HOULTON, Maine — The fourth annual Blackfly Brewfest proved once again to be one of the more popular events for the greater Houlton community.

John White, one of the organizers of the annual Blackfly Brewfest in Houlton, tosses a bean bag during the inaugural cornhole competition Saturday at the Millar Civic Center. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

Held at the John A. Millar Civic Center, the event attracted close to 500 beer and wine lovers and featured 21 breweries that offered samples of products. This year, more than 100 selections on tap were available for consumers to try.

“It’s wonderful to hold an event that not only attracts people from the Houlton area, but from as far away as Connecticut, and well into Canada,” said Jane Torres, executive director for the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce. “This year’s Blackfly Brewfest was a huge hit. Much to the delight of the crowd we even had a marriage proposal that included the future groom getting down on one knee and presenting a beautiful diamond! She said yes.”

The event officially kicked off on Friday with a meet and greet at the Shiretown Motor Inn to introduce the brewers to farmers, producers, restaurant owners and grocery store buyers. Torres said the brewers are always happy to make that connection in their quest for new, locally sourced products and wider markets for their brews.

Torres said the event takes more than six months to organize, but all of that effort paid off as the festival went off without a hitch.

“At the end of the day, we don’t do this to make a ton of money, although that would be great,” Torres said. “It is more to bring people into town who will stay at the hotels, eat at our restaurants, buy gasoline and to interact with our community. We are always told by the brewers how special and lucky we are to live in southern Aroostook and we have to agree.”

Houlton Police Chief Tim DeLucca said Monday there were no incidents reported at this year’s event.

Deb Wynes, owner of Wynes’ Trailside Popcorn, was one of several non-alcohol vendors included in this year’s event. It was her first time attending the brewfest.

“This (brewfest) is such a great idea,” Wynes said. “What a super thing to do this time of year. I had no idea there were so many breweries in the state. It’s pretty neat.”

Bill McHugh of Barreled Souls Brewery of Saco has attended all four brewfest events, bringing his product to Houlton for one simple reason — the people.

“The folks of Houlton are just fantastic and we are hoping to introduce them to some of our newer products,” he said.

Mac Randolph of Houlton, who was one of many volunteers helping with admissions to Saturday’s event, said he felt the event is so popular year after year for two simple reasons.

“I love how it brings the community together and puts them into one room,” Randolph said. “The second thing it does is that it brings different Maine vendors right here to our venue. People may not not know that some of these breweries even exist.”

Nancy West of Houlton added she loves how she can talk to the brewers and get tips for her home brewing.

“I had some questions on secondary fermentation and whether it was a necessary step,” she said. “I’ve dabbled with home brewing for about eight or nine years. Talking with these vendors has given me the confidence to experiment more with my own brewing.”

In addition to the samples, an inaugural cornhole tournament was added to this year’s Brewfest, drawing several teams to the competition. Scott Clemens of Saco and Frank DiStefano of Houlton took first place in the tournament. Tom and Nicole Wells of Old Orchard were runners up, with Jesse Henderson and John White, both of Houlton, finishing third.

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