GARDINER — Emer Smith is a fan of the long beard of her boyfriend, Bryce Royal, but seeing him Saturday morning after he spent about two and a half hours preparing something special for the beard and mustache competition at the Swine and Stein festival, she was taken aback.

Royal, a member of the Maine Facial Hair Club, usually competes in beard and mustache competitions in the natural beard category, letting the bushy beard he’s been growing for three and a half years hang down in its natural state. Saturday, he entered the freestyle contest, where anything goes.

He used a whole bunch of hairspray to bend and shape his beard and mustache into multiple large curls which looped back toward his face.

“I feel the way someone must feel when they see their bride on their wedding day,” Smith said of first setting her eyes on Royal’s curvy, hairy creation. “I’ve never seen it like that. I’m really proud.”

Royal said he was wary of any open flames with so much hairspray in his prized beard.

Smith said Royal, who she lives with in Windham, keeps his beard clean and well-groomed. She said kissing him with that much facial hair is nice, though she said she has to kind of come up under his mustache to do so.

Bryan Hamner, president of the Augusta Chapter of the Maine Facial Hair Club, competed in the natural beard category. He said he’s been growing his beard, an impressive, long and bushy facial feature, about four years. He said the club and beard competitions aren’t so much about winning first place as they are about having fun with others.

About 20 competitors lined up to have their facial hair viewed and assessed by three judges. Master of ceremonies Mike Miclon, executive director of Johnson Hall in Gardiner, joked the judging would be “A lot like a dog show, but with less touching.” He said judges would make sure there were no hair extensions or fake dyes, or fleas or ticks in the beards of competitors.

It was the second year Swine and Stein included the beard and mustache competition.

Categories included beards under and over six inches long, natural and fancy mustaches, and partial and freestyle beards.

Swine and Stein is billed as “Gardiner’s take on Oktoberfest” and featured beer to drink, various pork dishes to eat, and music to listen to in downtown Gardiner on Water Street, which was closed to vehicle traffic for the day. The festival is a fundraiser for Gardiner Main Street.

Deb Files, co-chairwoman of Gardiner Main Street’s Promotions Committee, said they had twice as many sampling glasses on hand this year for the crowds after running out of them last year. She said early Saturday afternoon attendance seemed strong so far. She said while beer is obviously a popular feature of the event, it is also a very family-friendly event with games and music and lots of food to choose from.

Police Chief James Toman agreed the event seems to draw many families and said it has not drawn troublemakers in any of its previous six years.

“Everybody here has been very well behaved,” he said while watching the festivities near the beer tent. “People are being respectful and having a good time.”

Several different Maine-made craft beers were available for sampling by participants who bought tickets to the beer tent.

Beer experts from the Craft Beer Cellar, a franchise with a store expected to open in downtown Gardiner in November, were on hand in the “Beer U” tent to help explain the different varieties.

Jen Harmon and Chris Andrews, both of Sanford and representing Craft Beer Cellar, as well as John Callinan, of Winthrop, owner of the Craft Beer Cellar to open on Water Street in Gardiner, chatted with attendees about the different styles of beer available and how they are brewed, explaining how they taste and making recommendations.

“There is a beer for everyone,” Andrews said.

Harmon said they even had a recommendation for someone who said his favorite beer was Bud Light — a Weihenstephan Festbier which, she said, the man said he liked a lot. Most drinkers in the Beer U tent, for which a special ticket was required, seemed very knowledgeable about beer already, they said. The tent also featured small-batch local beers not available in the other, larger beer tent.

As the “Swine” part of the event’s name implies, pork was prevalent in the many food booths selling hot eats Saturday, smoke rising from at least two wood-fired smokers. Dining options included pulled pork, beef brisket, pretzels, poutine and sausages.

Musical acts, which played on a stage setup in the middle of Water Street, were scheduled to include Emilia Dahlin, the Oktoberfest German Band, Muddy Ruckus, The Pete Kilpatrick Band and The Colwell Brothers.

Eric Anderson, leader of the Portland-based Oktoberfest German Band, which played polka and other tunes, showed attendees how to do a traditional German toast to their friends before the band began its set.

“Oktoberfest in Gardiner is wunderbar!” he said.

Other quirky competitions included in the festivities were a rubber chicken toss and the 4th annual Maine rock, paper, scissors championships.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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