Deep Thoughts over Deep Fried Dough (and beer)

The state of Maine boasts almost 30 agricultural fairs that offer a variety of attractions that include, but are not limited to livestock exhibits, giant pumpkin contests, animal and mechanical pulling competitions, craft displays, antique car shows, monster truck rallies, demolition derbies and my personal favorite, harness racing.

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Live folk and country music is heard throughout the fairground, harmonizing with the cheerful children’s screams from the rickety amusement rides.

The Cumberland County Fair has it all, with something to offer to everyone.

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Food trucks congregate to present the masses with an array of options. You can enjoy smoky barbecue pulled pork sandwiches from an independent Portland restaurant, poutine, the tasty treat that has ventured South from our neighbors in Canada, and just about anything you can imagine deep fried; from the classic fried dough, to more adventurous eats like fried pickles, green tomatoes, mushrooms, Oreos, or Twinkies.

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Stands supply refreshments like lemonade, small-batch soda, birch beer (a New England specialty), and in the case of the Cumberland County Fair, beer and wine.


Nestled in the grandstand of the racetrack you can find a bar, and during the last week, you could find me standing behind it. Typically, I am the ordering side but was given  the opportunity to sell and serve beer during the fair by my hospitality marketing professor, (the same that has set up this blog).

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It is my intention, through this blog, to share with you, my adventures trying Maine-made beverages, visiting the places where they are made, and the knowledge I gain along the way. My experience at the fair raised many thoughts and questions about beer, all of which I hope to explore on this journey.

For this reason, behind-the-bar was a great place to begin.

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On my first day, I entered the bar to find my professor talking with an older man named *Jack.

Jack was the “bookie” (betting tender)  that was lucky enough to escape the long, monotonous betting counter to set up shop right in the bar.

Upon meeting him I could’ve guess that he had been doing this for many decades, and later found out that he had been a bookie all over the state for more than 40 years.

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A man, who had the look of everybody’s innocent grandpa was explaining to the easiest ways to swindle the bettors out of a buck or two. You may think he sounds like a crook, but this seemingly apparent judgment didn’t cross my mind.

I was just glad that he shared it with me. I immediately felt welcome into the fair family.The days started slowly, with just a few burly men reading the racing catalog, slowly sipping as they measured each horses’ odds. Some of the horses were warming up, pacing around the race track. The men would look up as they passed, check their number and return to their catalog.

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The race bugle sounded and the crowds poured into the grandstand.

Between the races, people would come in the place a bet with Jack, and stop by the bar for a beer. Every now and again, I would wander over to Jack’s register to ask his advice and put $2 on a horse.

It rarely paid off.

On the last day when I won $30.

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*Mark, a member of the fair’s board, would stop every day during the races. He would gossip about the daily happenings of the fair, have a beer or two, put a couple dollars on the horses, and then chat it up some more.

We offered four beers and one hard cider on draft; Miller Lite, Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR), Sam Adam’s, OctoberFest, Sebago Brewing’s, Bonfire Rye, and Angry Orchard.

We had cans of twisted teas, and three wines; which despite their variety were called upon by their dumbed-down, almost slanderous, names of “red,” “rose,” and “white.”  Occasionally a patron would ask for “the chard,” a common nickname for Chardonnay that still doesn’t properly convey a respect for the wine.

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But this was not a lavish tasting bar.

Our drinks were served in plastic cups that rank somewhere between Dixie and Solo.

This doesn’t mean that the drinks went unenjoyed or undervalued. Being situated at the racetrack, where parents retreat from their children and gamblers try their luck on the horses, the beer kept flowing.

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The favorites were Miller Lite and PBR. At first, I assigned this to the cost being $2 dollars less than the Bonfire Rye or the Octoberfest.

However, occasionally I would hear a phrase uttered like, “well if I’m spending the money ($4, mind you) I might as well get a nice draft…Give me a PBR.”

Now I don’t have anything against domestic, big-name beers (maybe I do), but I consider PBR to be a quantity beer, not a quality beer.

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This had me thinking about perspectives on beer quality. Of course, not everybody likes the same beer varieties or flavors, and many (questionably foolish) people don’t like beer at all.

Where is this taste preference born?

Is it solely determined by our taste buds, or are there social and environmental factors that affect our opinion of a quality beer?

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The Cumberland County Fair, which sits equidistant from both rural forest and farmland, and Portland, a moderately “hip” metropolitan area, attracts crowds from both walks of life.

The contrast and diversity of fair attendees were paralleled by their drink orders. Those who apparently came from the city were far more likely to order the Octoberfest or the Bonfire Rye, while the apparent “farm folk” who ordered it were often dissatisfied, and then chose to stick with the lite.

Why was this?

Do us city-dwellers have a greater appreciation for craft beers, or are we riding a social trend of holding them in high regard?

What makes a somebody dislike a beer?

And more importantly, what makes a beer (or wine) good?

These are all questions I aim to answer on my adventure to better my appreciation and knowledge of Maine-made beverages.

*Names were changed to protect identities

Instagram @my.maine.beverage.adventure

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2 thoughts on “Deep Thoughts over Deep Fried Dough (and beer)

  1. A question evoked for myself by serving the fair grandstand. Does one light beer vary much differ from another light beer? Having experienced many a nose curl at the serving of miller light over bud light, yet curiously, despite the nose curl, clearly identifying a bud light preference, the light was chosen over PBR. Is there truly much difference or simply buying patterns and brand loyalty at work?

    1. I absolutely think that brand loyalty is a huge part of what is going on here. Now the question is, does brand loyalty affect our perception of taste? I certainly think that there is some of this at play. Would a person who drinks one light notice in a “blindfolded” test that he has been given a different light? Maybe not all, but I do believe many wouldn’t notice a thing.i

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