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August 13, 2020

This year's Skowhegan Craft Brew Fest is in the bag

an aerial view of a crowd of people on a downtown street with vendor tents lining the street Courtesy / Jonathan Wheaton The Skowhegan Craft Brew Festival, seen here in 2018, has become a major draw for the Somerset County town. Canceled this year, it's being offered as Brewfest in a Bag by Main Street Skowhegan.

The Skowehgan Craft Brew Fest, a major draw for southern Somerset County over the past five years, has, like many events this year made a COVID-19 pivot.

This year's event, which was to take place Sept. 4, is canceled and has been replaced with the Skowhegan Craft Brew Bag, which will include a variety of local products, not just beer.

The Skowhegan event is the latest to find a way to get craft brew out to its audience without a public festival. Earlier this summer, the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted two rounds of Brewfest in a Box, both of which sold out in a matter of hours.

Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, which is behind the effort, discussed logistics with Katie Doherty, CEO of the KV chamber, when planning Skowhegan's version.

"I've been in touch with Katie at the KV chamber several times and she's been super helpful," Cannon said. "They had a great idea and were willing to share their secrets, so we're taking their advice and adding a Skowhegan spin.

"It's been fun coordinating," Cannon said. "It's great to be able to still do something that will promote our local businesses and Maine brewers, bring people to Skowhegan during pickup (even if just for a few minutes), and thrill people with a great product. Without events this summer, we've had to come up with alternative fundraising ideas for our organization, so this seemed like an obvious choice."

Because the Skowhegan brew fest is not only about craft beer, but about locally sourced food, there's a big food element in the bags as well. "And since things need to be kept cold, we're distributing it all in a cooler bag," she said.

The Kennebec Valley Brewfest in a Box was launched in June, by the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, after the Augusta-area chamber canceled this year's Kennebec River Brewfest, which was launched three years ago and has seen some of the same growth and popularity Skowhegan's has. Promoted on Facebook, the two rounds of 100 boxes of local beer and other swag sold out in a couple hours both times. The proceeds from the KV "event" went to the producers, as a way to help support their businesses during the shutdown.

At the time, Doherty said that she hoped her chamber's success inspired other organizations around the state. "Maybe now we'll see other Brewfests in a Box as an option instead of canceling the events this year."

300 brew bags on tap

This would have been the fifth year for the Skowhegan Craft Brew Festival, which last year sold its maximum 1,100 tickets, with more than 700 sold by mid-August and all VIP tickets sold out in June. Some of the attendees came from as far away as Arizona and California. It featured 33 craft brewers, distilleries and wineries.

Skowhegan plans are to sell 300 craft brew bags, which will be in a Skowhegan Craft Brew Fest-branded cooler bag. The items in the bag were bought by Main Street Skowhegan from the producers.

The bags will hold 15 assorted brews from 15 different Maine craft beverage producers, including beer, cider, and more; Applewood Cold Smoked Ricotta from Crooked Face Creamery; crackers from the Miller’s Table, made with Maine Grains cornmeal; apples from Cayford Orchards; cookies from the Bankery, made with spent grains from the brewing process; a reusable ice pack; a ticket for a chance to win VIP passes to next year's Skowhegan Craft Brew Fest, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021; two Skowhegan Craft Brew Fest tasting glasses and other assorted merchandise. There will also be a "ticket" to a live virtual musical performance by Skowhegan's Connor Reeves. 

The bags are limited to 300, and they're being sold at $75 each. All brew bag proceeds benefit Main Street Skowhegan projects and initiatives. They must be bought by Aug. 23, and will be made available for pickup on Sept. 2, 3 and 4.

Last month, Maine Brewers Guild Executive Director Sean Sullivan said that the state's 155 brewers are finding ways to still make a go of things during the pandemic, including curbside pickups and opening beer gardens. At a Kegs & Issues virtual event, sponsored by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, he said two new breweries opened this spring —  Outland Farm Brewery in Pittsfield, and Trinken Brewing Co. in West Bath. Two more are slated to open in fall or winter — Bath Ale Works, in Wiscasset, and Marshall Wharf Brewing, in Belfast.

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