Brewfest makes triumphant return to Shiretown

HOULTON, Maine — After three cancellations in the past two years, beer lovers could finally sample the latest in microbrews at the annual Blackfly Brewfest in Houlton.

The popular beer and wine tasting event provides an opportunity for peop;e to not only sample, but to also ask brewers questions about their beer and wine making processes.

Held at the John Millar Civic Center, a steady stream of patrons showed up for the early VIP experience. In fact, the line of ticket goers stretched out the door, prior to the event’s 1 p.m. opening.

Glasses are lined up for patrons at the 2021 Blackfly Brewfest in Houlton. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

General admission patrons were able to enter at 2:30 p.m. for a $35 ticket, while the VIP experience was $50.

“We sold a larger number of general admission tickets this year online,” said event organizer Jane Torres, executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce. “I think a lot of it was economics. When you are paying almost $5 for a gallon of gas, people are making choices.”

Organizers of the annual Blackfly Brewfest in Houlton have gotten far too familiar with having to make changes to their plans, as COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the festival three different times.

Annie Torres Savage places a bracelet on a patron at this year’s annual Blackfly Brewfest in Houlton Saturday afternoon. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

This year was once again no exception as four brewers pulled out of the event at the last minute, Torres said. Two of the breweries experienced cases of COVID-19 among staff members, while another could not find enough workers to cover their own business and the Houlton festival. The fourth brewer had their permit rejected by the state due to missing the deadline.

“It’s been a harrowing couple of days for sure,” Torres said. “What can you do? You just try to make the best of it.”

This year’s festival marked the first time that a distillery was included in the ranks alongside beer and wine vendors. In addition, a number of craft vendors were available featuring a variety of products for people to purchase.

Patrons are lined out the door for the start of the 2022 Blackfly Brewfest in Houlton Saturday. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

One of those vendors was Travis Beaton, better known as “The Canning Man,” who brought an array of 22 different varieties of freshly canned pickles, sauces and vegetables. One of his most popular recipes was passed down from his mother, but he has also come up with several of his own concoctions.

“I am trying to grow my business and this was a great opportunity to do that,” Beaton said. “It’s a chance to get my name and product out there to more and more people.”

Kasey Lupo of Mossy Ledge Spirits of Etna said they were thrilled to be included at this year’s festival alongside the breweries.

Specially designed cornhole boards were available for people to use at the 2022 Blackfly Brewfest in Houlton Saturday. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

“We wanted to be the first ones to come up to Aroostook for this event,” Lupo said. “All of our grains come from Mapleton (Maine Malt House: Buck Farms), so we wanted to support them by being here today.”

Among the many different varieties of spirits offered by Mossy Ledge was a fresh jalapeno steeped in vodka that was proving to be a favorite with patrons.

Kristen Wells, owner of the Vault Restaurant in downtown Houlton, was using the brew festival as an opportunity to try out potential new products for her business.

Travis Beaton, also known as “The Canning Man,” was one of several vendors on hand at this year’s Blackfly Brewfest. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

“I love to be able to keep our selections (of beers) as local as possible,” Wells said. “This festival is a chance for us to try something new to see if it will be a fit for our business. I love that this event is right here in Houlton. We get to meet brewers and talk about beer.”

Jeff Powers of Bigelow Brewing in Skowhegan was making his fifth appearance at the Blackfly Brewfest.

“The people up here are just fantastic,” Powers said. “It is like what Maine used to be back in the day. Everyone is just so nice. The best part of the business is getting to interact with the customers. Not everyone likes every beer, but there are enough breweries out there that there is a beer for everybody.”

Kasey Lupo of Mossy Ledge Spirits of Etna speaks to a customer at this year’s Blackfly Brewfest in Houlton. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

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