Exeter’s Powder Keg and Chili Festival 2022 returns to Swasey Parkway

Some 11 years ago Exeter Parks and Recreation’s Greg Bisson was tasked with coming up with some new adult programming for the department. While the obvious route might have been to add an ultimate Frisbee league or a new class on the latest yoga trend, luckily for beer lovers across the Seacoast, Bisson thought out of the box and followed his love for all things frothy.

“With the popularity of craft beer we were like, ‘Let’s start a beer festival,'” Bisson recalled of the first seeds of the annual Powder Keg and Chili Festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary Oct. 1 at scenic Swasey Parkway in Exeter.

Looking to simply piggyback on an existing fall festival run by the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce, Bisson and the department’s expectations for that first festival were modest.

“We were like, ‘Just give us this little space and we will see how it comes out,’ and lo and behold we sold 1,200 tickets the first year,” recalled Bisson, 47, who now serves as the director of Exeter’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Exeter’s Powder Keg and Chili Festival 2022 returns to Swasey Parkway

The growth curve from there was a quick one, topping out with over 84 breweries and more than 4,000 beer lovers spilling over the banks of the Squamscott River. COVID shelved the festival, and virtually everything else, in 2020. But the Powder Keg – sans chili – made a triumphant return last year. While Bisson was able to once again bring one of the most robust selection of fine craft brewers from all over New England to the Swasey Parkway, the lack of a food element was pronounced.

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“It wasn’t the same, people weren’t enjoying themselves,” said Bisson of last year’s event which was 21-plus only. “We heard last year loud and clear to bring back chili, which obviously was a no-brainer and we also heard to make it family friendly.”

Message received.

The Powder Keg and Chili Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary Oct.  1 at scenic Swasey Parkway in Exeter.

Chili, food trucks and family fun added to Exeter’s Powder Keg

Along with the return of nine confirmed restaurants serving chili this year, Bisson said this year’s festival will stress the family fun aspect with a new kids’ zone, which should allow parents to head off to sample some of their favorite breweries. The brew fest will be broken up into two sessions, noon to 2 pm and 3 to 5 pm, and tickets are available for both.

Along with chili, Lexie’s burger bus, Seacoast Pretzel, and Exeter’s Friends 4 Oba will all be on hand as well. Along with the onsite food offerings, Bisson expects local restaurants to benefit from the two separate waves of patrons.

The Powder Keg and Chili Festival will be celebrating its 10th anniversary next week at Swasey Parkway in Exeter.  After a one-year hiatus, chili is back on the menu at the popular brewfest.

A craft beer aficionado, Bisson admits he did plenty of “research” at other beer festivals before launching the Powder Keg which annually helps subsidize the department’s free programming from the Halloween parade to the town’s music series.

“I kind of picked the good, the bad and the ugly from all of them and said how can we do it better,” Bisson noted. “I think what makes it special is pairing it with chili.”

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