84 Hours in Bjorland

Life in Portland, Maine, is like living in a small town that magically evolved into one of the coolest up-and coming cities in the U.S.  What I mean by this is that you have a small-town feel and sense of community, along with a rapidly expanding tourism and hospitality industry. Pair these two elements together, and any traveler to Portland will find that similar businesses tend to work together to help each other grow, rather than viewing their competitors as rivals.

This community-based growth is particularly advantageous to students in the USM Tourism and Hospitality program. With endless opportunities to be involved and mentored by the professionals in this industry, there really is no better time to be a student in this city.

From the diverse foodie scene to the dozens of start-ups and established businesses, to the surrounding nature and Maine authenticity, there are endless opportunities to learn and connect in Portland. Earning the title of the #1 Craft Beer City in America doesn’t hurt either.

During my studies as a Tourism and Hospitality student, I have focused largely on event planning and marketing, as well as beverage operations, spending my time as an intern for the Maine Brew Bus, taking beverage management classes, and most recently, becoming an intern for Broadreach Public Relations.

The opportunity to be an intern for Broadreach Public Relations included all my favorite pieces of tourism and hospitality; we are working with the Maine Brewers’ Guild to put on a first-of-its-kind beer festival in Iceland called BjorFestival (bjor translates to beer in Icelandic). The festival, held on June 24th, 2017 in Reykjavik, Iceland at the Eimskip Logistic Center Headquarters, was created as a way for Icelandic brewers to delve into the culture of Maine craft beer, and for Maine to promote its local brews internationally. Throughout this project, I have been watching as Paula Stanton and Emily Colt of Broadreach Public Relations work on the planning and logistics of this event from behind the scenes, seeing how something like this is put together.

On June 12th, Broadreach helped the Maine Brewers’ Guild host a press conference to say bon voyage to the world’s largest kegerator with 78 taps, and to let Maine and the world know about this exciting new concept of shipping and trading craft beers from around the globe.

Just over a week later, the Broadreach team, including firm founder, Linda Varrell, and myself, boarded a plane bound for Reykjavik, along with dozens of craft brewers from different parts of Maine.

The following is what happened over the course of the best four days of my college career.

Day 1: Sheep Shit Smoked Beer

Have you ever been on a flight where most people on it know each other? Unless you’re from Maine, the answer is likely no.

As I walked down the aisle of our plane, I saw brewers from all over Maine; people from various companies in Portland, and even the president of USM, President Glenn Cummings. This weekend had become a Maine-Iceland takeover.

I sat next to a friendly couple from Cleveland and we exchanged stories of why we were here; they were teachers who had just started summer break, eager to travel Europe for a month. I told them about the festival and showed them how to buy tickets online (it was all in Icelandic but we figured it out).  Somehow, I was able to inspire a couple I’d just met from Cleveland, Ohio to spend one of their few days in Iceland tasting Maine craft beer.

The first thing I noticed as we rode the bus from Keflavik International Airport (KEF) to our lovely accommodations in the heart of Downtown Reykjavik, was that there are no trees in Iceland. One of the essential steps in producing a quality smoked brew is smoking the barley. Most brewers do this with various types of wood, depending on the flavor they’d like. Since there are no trees in Iceland, I was wondering what on earth they could use for this; little did I know, I was going to find out soon enough.

The first endeavor in the schedule of events was a trip to the Ölgerðin Egill Skallagrímsson Brewery for the Borg Beer School.

Beer in Maine is unique just as beer in Iceland is unique. We have refreshing water from Sebago Lake, they have pure Icelandic glacial water. We have our abundant forests to smoke our barley, they have…sheep shit? I never thought I’d say it, but I, along with forty brewers from the state of Maine, drank sheep shit smoked beer. And damn was it good. Because you could probably count the number of trees they have in this country on one hand, breweries typically use dried sheep droppings to smoke their barley. We met the head brewer of Borg Brugghus, Sturlaugur Jón Björnsson (Stoli for short) and he walked us through a craft beer tasting at his brewery, one of the nine we visited in Iceland.

After the Borg Beer School, we had more time to explore the city and it was like being on that plane again. I suppose when you go travel to a foreign city the size of Portland, you should expect some similarities. Among these are the two degrees of separation; we ran into as many Mainers in Reykjavik as we would have if we were back home.

Day 2: Festival Prep

Our day started with the Broadreach team meeting at the Eimskip Logistic Center to do some final prep for the BjorFestival.

Being an intern, I was a fly on the wall for most of this preparation, sitting back and watching how Emily and Paula put together a weekend of such a high caliber. My most significant role in supporting BjorFestival was recording Sean Sullivan, the executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, live on the Maine Brewers’ Guild Facebook page.

I’m not being facetious here, this may actually be the highlight of my responsibilities. In all the excitement, Sean handed me the camera as the giant Eimskip car picked up the Beer Box to place it in its location for the festival. I pressed record and Sean gave his spiel; he went off as if he had had a whole career in broadcasting before becoming executive director of the guild. I can tell you now that he had this same energy throughout the entire trip, and I think every one of us involved can thank him and appreciate him for his contagious spirit.

We helped plan a welcome reception for the brewers once we all made it to Reykjavik. This gave everyone on the trip a chance to mix, mingle, and get excited about the festival. It was so cool to be able to meet all of these people I wouldn’t have met if not for this experience. We had become a team that day, and we were ready for the festival.

Day 3: Today, We Made History.

As I stood at the merch table, awaiting the gates of the festival to open, I looked at the Beer Box across the Eimskip lot; it was the calm before the storm.

We truly didn’t know what to expect as we opened the gates and the line flooded in; the lot filled up and there were lines from the box all the way back to the merch table.

As we watched the crowds swarming the box, I turned to Coplin Fickett, one of the brewers of Orono Brewing Company, and exclaimed, “Can you even believe this is happening?”

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for these forty Maine brewers to have showcased their beers in Iceland; as they are pouring their beers, and sharing a piece of their story with people around the world.

As Coplin Fickett handed a woman a beer to try, her eyes widened in amazement, as she exclaimed, “This is delicious, who made this?” Casually, he smiled and said, “I did.” There’s nothing more up close and personal than that.

As the festival wrapped up, we got the final closing remarks from David Carlson, owner of Marshall Wharf Brewing, one of the masterminds behind the Beer Box and a huge contributor to making BjorFestival happen. “We fooled ‘em again!” he exclaimed. Not every single attendee may have known the whole story behind this or why this even happened, but they now know that Maine beer is good and Maine knows how to have a good time.

We fooled ‘em again is right.

Instead of taking a cab back to the center of town after the festival, a few of us decided to savor our final evening in Iceland and walk home, taking in the views of the city, the ocean, and the cliffs in the distance.

Day 4: The Day After a Wedding

We all woke up, groggy from the midnight sun, packed up our bags and headed to Bryggan Brugghus for our final moments here in Iceland, as the ones who began this revolutionary global exchange. The Brewers’ Brunch: a feast to celebrate and share our final stories, laughs, and hugs, and exchange countless remarks of “I can’t believe that actually happened!” It just felt like the day after a wedding. When I say that, I don’t necessarily mean that hungover feeling, but the feeling that we were all coming down from the high of the festival. I looked around the room at the people surrounding me: the Brewers’ Guild, Broadreach, the brewers, and sponsors. Awesome things like BjorFestival don’t exist without awesome people like this.

If there’s one thing I learned while working with the Broadreach team, and all of those involved in BjorFestival, it’s that someone can imagine the greatest project in the world, but that project cannot become reality without people who are passionate about that project; it’s not necessarily about the project itself, it’s about the spirit behind the creation.

After too many Nutella waffles and bottomless coffee, we hopped back on the bus towards KEF. I sat down next to a woman on the plane, and eventually, we began talking. I told her the story of the Beer Box and how amazing this weekend was, and she told me that she already knew all about it after reading an article in the Boston Globe.

Not too bad for a bunch of beer lovers from Maine.

Broadreach in Bjorland
The Broadreach team in Iceland – l to r: Linda Varrell, Paula Stanton, MBG’s Sean Sullivan, me, Emily Colt 

If I had the chance, I would do this all over again.

For more information about the Maine-Iceland connection, click here: Maine Public and Boston Globe.  


This post is a guest article from Ann Budway, a USM alum and recent graduate from the School of Toursim and Hospitality. Ann interned with Broadreach through the summer.