GARDINER — Every year, hundreds of people gather on a Saturday in October on Gardiner’s Water Street to celebrate the season in the style of Oktoberfest, but this year’s Swine & Stein will happen wherever the participants are.
This year, Gardiner Main Street is offering Swine & Stein Brewfest in a Bag to the first 300 to sign up. Those bags will be filled with locally made beers and other festive items — for $75 a bag.
Ongoing public health concern about COVID-19, which has resulted in limits on public gatherings, is behind this year’s pivot and the work it has taken to organize.
“It sounds pretty simple: Buy beer and put it in a bag,” said Melissa Lindley, executive director of Gardiner Main Street.
The process was a bit more complicated, Lindley said, including getting brewers to sign on and explaining to sponsors that while it is not an in-person event this year, it is still an event and the organization’s major fundraiser.
As with organizers of events across Maine and the nation, the board of Gardiner Main Street had to grapple this year with how to carry out its mission and hold events in the face of a global pandemic. Almost all fairs and other public events over the past six months have been canceled or, like Swine & Stein, remade.
“It’s Gardiner’s most-popular event,” Lindley said, “and we always get rave reviews from it.”
The celebration has earned a large following in its 11 years, with people returning year after year to taste the beers, visit the food trucks and take part in activities, such as meat-cutting demonstrations.
It has also drawn the support of hundreds of volunteers each year who help set up, run and tear down the event.
Earlier this year, Gardiner Main Street officials opted to cancel the Greater Gardiner River Festival, and Gardiner city officials decided to delay the planned state bicentennial celebration scheduled to take place at the same time. Both are expected to take place in June 2021, barring lingering public health restrictions.
Tracey Desjardins, Gardiner’s economic development director, said Swine & Stein, even in this year’s scaled-back form, should bring people to the city, even if only long enough to pick up their bags.
When they arrive, they will see new businesses, including Alan Claude’s gallery , Ruby’s Place bakery and Jokers & Rogues Brewing, which is opening this month and is contributing to the Brewfest Bags.
And while indoor tasting rooms have been closed to the public for about six months, they will be allowed to reopen in November as restrictions on public gatherings are being loosened and people, particularly those from outside central Maine, will be able to return to visit them.
Three-hundred bags will be filled with a variety of items, including 13 types of beer from craft brewers from across the region, and a growler with a certificate to fill it from Jokers & Rogues Brewing.
Pat Colwell and the Soul Sensations, who have performed at many Swine & Steins, have donated a CD of holiday music, and the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center has donated a certificate to attend a virtual show between now and the end of the year.
While this year’s event has been less work than planning a day-long road closure for a block party, it has been worth the effort, according to organizers. It is Gardiner Main Street’s major annual fundraiser that supports its work in building and promoting a vibrant and sustainable community.
Lindley said demand for the bags, which can be ordered through the Gardiner Main Street website, was strong. As of the end of last week, about 60 were left.
While the Brewfest in a Bag model is working this year, the switch is not meant to be permanent.
Said Lindley, “Gardiner Main Street would love to celebrate Swine & Stein in downtown Gardiner again — once it’s safe to do so.”