If you’re even considering going to the Grains and Grapes Festival next weekend at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, go.

It’s about time we got a festival like this. There are more than two dozen vintners in this state and about 30 breweries, a number within striking distance of the Twin Cities.

If you missed last year’s festival, here’s the deal. For $25, you get to sample 10 drinks, chosen from 50 ales, beers and wines. Servings are four ounces each for beer; two ounces for wine. That comes out to 2½ pints of beer or four glasses of wine, or any combination of the two.

For most of us, that’s enough that we’ll want a cab or a designated driver, but not enough to embarrass ourselves. Perfect.

But if this were just about alcohol’s effects, you could get that entire 40 ounces of beer for less than $3, or a jug of wine for about $5. You go to a beer and wine festival to sample. To try something new. To talk flavors, aromas, body, maybe even production techniques. (This festival will also offer up food, live music and prizes, but that’s not why we’re here, is it?)

You’ll have three hours to take 20 to 30 sips, so savor each one as best you can. With both wine and craft beer, pay close attention to each drink; one may become a new favorite.

Where to begin? Start out taking a look at it. That’s not snobby; it builds up anticipation and lets you discuss the drink before imbibing.

Is the beer clear or cloudy? Is it pitch black or are there reddish hues when you hold it up to the light? Does your wine have bluish-purple shades or is it bright red?

Then, swirl your glass around and take a whiff. Wine tasters divide the smell of wine into aroma — the fruity scents from the wine — and bouquet, which comes from the wine’s aging and can include vanilla or mushroom smells.

Beer’s scents come from the hops and malts. Some malts, like rye, are obvious on the nose. Barley can smell bready, especially darker malts. The hops can smell citrusy, piney or herbal, but don’t assume too much. Brewers can create a hop bitterness and flavor that’s somewhat different from the aroma.

Did you skip straight to the drinking part? That’s OK. I usually do too. But even with drinking, there’s a lot to consider.

With wine, take a sip and swirl it around a bit before swallowing.

Moreso than with beer, wine will taste like it smells. If you don’t drink much wine, the subtler tastes from aging won’t be apparent. Don’t worry if you taste grapes — not hints of currant — in your merlot. Enjoy those grapes, but try to look for subtler flavors. What does it remind you of?

The same goes with mead. A meadery has plenty of honey varieties from which to choose. Sure it tastes like honey, but try to delve deeper.

And unless you’re driving or in a situation where you’re trying dozens of wines, swallow it. The back of your tongue is slightly better at detecting bitter flavors, so drink up. In fact, avoid tastings where you’re trying a lot of wine or driving. You’ll just be cheating yourself.

If anyone contests this, tell them you read it in the newspaper.

On to the beer. Take a big enough quaff that it hits your whole palate at once. Beer can’t just be sipped, and no one ever spits out a sample. Is it thick or thin? Despite what many think, there are viscous lighter-colored beers, while some dark beers have a light consistency.

Let it stay on your tongue for just a moment to take in all the flavors. Beer often tastes more bitter than it smells, depending on how the brewer used the hops. Usually, you’ll get the sweetness first and a slightly bitter finish. How’s the aftertaste? The brewer’s job is to make you want another sip. How did he or she do?

Remember that a lot of the beer you drink will be more complex than wine. That’s not a slam on wine, but vintners blend batches and try to keep their flavors subtle.
Most beers, however, are single-batch, and their beers combine a variety of malt and hop varieties. In ales, the yeast also contributes to the flavor. It’s a lot to take in. And while some brewers like Shipyard and Gritty’s generally keep with subtler English styles, Maine brewers have increasingly followed the national trend toward bigger, more intense flavors.

Finally, a word of warning. When you’re talking beer and wine with more experienced drinkers, don’t be alarmed if someone mentions flavors of “mushrooms” or “old leather” in a bottle-aged wine. I’ve even heard the term “cat pee” lovingly used to describe an IPA (India pale ale).

Don’t worry. I’ve never tasted cat pee, even in the most extreme IPA. And generally, those tastes are approximations of gentle flavors that are part of a whirlwind of subtle tastes.

So go. Look, smell, drink and discuss. Get a ride home, or maybe just a ride to the bar.

There will be two tasting sessions: from 3 to 6 p.m. and from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.
FMI: http://www.mainegrainsandgrapes.com or call the Chamber at 783-2249.

Breaking it down:

Wine and beer are complex beverages with a lot of flavors. Here are the main flavor components that make up fermented beverages.

Wine
Sweet: Residual sugar after fermentation contributes to wine’s sweetness.
Examples: Syrah, riesling.
Dry: Thinner, often with a bit of bite from the alcohol.
Examples: Chardonnay, pinot noir.
Acidic: From natural acidity of the grapes used.
Example: Sauvignon blanc.
Bitterness: Often called “tannin.”
Example: Cabernet sauvignon. To compare with a low-tannin wine, have a white zinfandel.
Aging: Aging: Look for mushroom or old leather notes in a bottle-aged wine. In
an oak-aged wine, look for vanilla notes reminiscent of bourbon.


Beer
Malt: Malted barley is beer’s fermentable sugar, but it’s only a component of the taste. Malt can be roasted, caramelized or smoked, among others, to change the beer’s flavor.
Examples: Caramelized malts in Scottish ale and brown ale. Roasted malts in stouts.
Hops: The acidic residue from hop cones give beer its bitterness. Hops can add citrus, grassy or herbal flavors.
Example: India Pale Ale
Yeast: In ales, the taste of yeast is usually noticeable. It can taste peppery in Belgian-style ales, or buttery in some British ales. Ales using wild yeast have a big dose of sourness.
Example: Belgian dubbel
Adjuncts: Fruit and spices are often added to Belgian-style ales.
Example: White ale
Aging: Aging is still relatively new for brewers, but Allagash and Geary’s have offered oak-aged beers. Like wine, look for vanilla notes.

Who else will be at the G&G festival

Food will be provided by:

Androscoggin Bank Colisee

Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer

Gritty McDuff’s Brewing

Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli

Papa John’s

Wei-Li Chinese Restaurant


The brewers:

Allagash Brewery
Belfast Bay Brewing
Carrabassett Brewing 
Casco Bay Brewing
DL Geary Brewing
Gritty McDuff’s Brewing
Kennebec River Brewery
The Run of the Mill
Sea Dog Brewing
Sebago Brewing Company
Shipyard Brewing

The vintners:

Fiddler’s Reach Winery
Oyster River Winery
Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery
Shalom Orchard Organic Farm and Winery
Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery
Tanguay and Sons Winery

The lowdown

What: Maine Grains and Grapes Festival

Why: Sample of 50 different wines, mead, beers and ales made in Maine

When: June 20; two sessions: from 3 to 6 p.m. and from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Doors open a half-hour early.

Where: Androscoggin Bank Colisee, 190 Birch St., Lewiston

Benefit: Fundraiser for the Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce

Cost: $25: Tickets available at the Colisee box
office, by phone at 783-2009 or online at www.androscoggincounty.com

Want more fun? Go over to the Festival FrancoFun at the Franco American Heritage Center Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

FMI: http://www.mainegrainsandgrapes.com or call the Chamber at 783-2249.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.