OREGON BREWERS FESTIVAL

This past weekend (one I’d been anticipating for quite some time), I had the privilege of attending the 24th annual Oregon Brewers Festival.  Held in Portland’s beautiful Waterfront Park along the Willamette River on the last full weekend in July (weekend meaning Thurs-Sun), this festival is the crown jewel of the Northwest’s beer festival calendar.  This year 84 breweries were present and accounted for from all over the country, though of course Western (and particularly Northwestern) breweries made up the lion’s share of the attendees.  Naturally, Portland being the beer culture Mecca that it is, 84 slots wasn’t enough to satisfy everyone.  Fortunately Belmont Station, a stellar bottle shop I’ve mentioned before, threw its own Fringe Fest tasting event for some excellent Oregon breweries who weren’t present at OBF.  Sadly I didn’t make it to that this year, but here’s hoping I plan better next summer!  Regardless, I couldn’t possibly complain that I was in any way deprived considering the incredible roster of beers that were available to sample at the big event.

Before I get to the beer, I’d like to briefly discuss some of the other badassery that goes on at the festival.  First and foremost I need to mention that admission to the festival is FREE.  There is absolutely no charge to attend the festival.  This is pretty incredible considering that there is live music happening throughout all four days of the festival.  There are also all sorts of interesting things happening beyond beer sampling, including home brewing demonstrations, visiting beer author/publisher events, and even a free craft root beer garden for minors/designated drivers.  And as you’d expect there are all kinds of vendors selling myriad beer memorabilia and great food.

Of course the beer itself is the focus and, if you’ll forgive the somewhat intentional pun, raison d’etre of the festival.  You must purchase a festival mug for $6 in order to partake in the beer offerings (cheap at the price), and a $1 token gets you a 4oz sample of any beer being poured.  4 tokens get you a full mug, but as a word to the wise, you get a much bigger bang for your buck with the 1 token samples (which often end up being 5-6oz, while the full mug is only 12oz).  Speaking of the beer, here’s the full list of what they were pouring this year, though in fact there were actually far more as most brewers brought along spare kegs of their more standard offerings to pour in case they ran out of their allotment of the special brews they brought for the festival.  I would also be remiss if I didn’t also mention the Buzz Tent, where small batches of one-off or hard to find beers were in limited rotation throughout the festival.  You never knew ahead of time what would be on tap in there, so it was to your advantage to keep checking the chalkboard throughout.  Next year I hope to attend for at least a couple days, mostly so I have more time to keep an eye on this tent!

Below is the list of the beers I managed to take notes on having sampled during the craziness of this magnificent event.  There were certainly a few more, but they were either so unremarkable that I didn’t bother to take notes, beers that I’d sampled before, or in one case so terrible that I dumped it after a single sip (and don’t have the heart to bash the brewery because they’re really new and I’m very fond of 95% of what they’re doing).  Beers are listed in alphabetical order rather than order sampled.

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Boundary Bay Double Dry Hopped Glacier Pale Ale – I made it to the excellent Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro during a trip to Bellingham, WA last summer, and absolutely loved the place.  I was very excited to see their beer on the festival list, as to my knowledge they don’t distribute outside of Washington State.  This pale was brewed with only Glacier hops, and had a nice, understated grass and citrus nose and a pleasant, balanced bitterness.  3 Hops

Elysian Idiot Sauvin New Zealand IPA – Almost a cross between a British Pale Ale and something Belgian in my humble estimation, this was at the opposite end of the IPA spectrum from the typical West Coast hopped-up IPAs.  Malty with subtle hop aromas and bitterness and just a bit of funk.  An interesting take on the style.  3 Hops

Full Sail Jimvar Bohemian Pilsner – This was definitely my session pick for the festival.  A very clean beer with a crisp pilsner flavor and subtle, almost herbal hop character on the finish, this was perfect for the hot summer day we had on Saturday.  3.5 Hops

Great Divide Rumble Oak Aged IPA – Great Divide just never disappoints.  Slightly citrusy hop nose with some caramel evident and a smooth, round well balanced flavor with more of the same plus a bit of oak and vanilla and a nice medium-bitter finish, this is another departure from the hoptastic IPAs that are so common these days.  I kept looking for something to criticize in this beer, and couldn’t find a thing to complain about.  It’s just pretty damn great.  4 Hops

Hopworks Evelyn’s Imperial Sunshine (Imperial IPA) – Hopworks is a local favorite of mine, and this may be the best beer I’ve had from them.  Actually, I’m not going to equivocate here.  This was absolutely the best beer I’ve had from Hopworks.  This is the very definition of a West Coast IPA.  Pungent, piney, floral, citrus hop aroma reaches up to flick you on the nose to get your attention.  The flavor is immediately more hops, followed by the perfect amount of light malt sweetness to balance out the bitterness, with just enough dry alcohol astringency on the moderately bitter finish to make you eager for the next sip.  I sincerely hope this is going to be part of their seasonal (or even full-time) lineup going forward.  I want more.  4 Hops

Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Wild – I’ve been looking out for this one, and was excited to finally get to sample it.  I honestly had no idea how to classify this beer until I checked online (the internet tells me it’s either a Belgian Strong Ale or a Belgian Strong Pale Ale), but I certainly knew how it tasted!  This one is bold, and it’s all about the malt.  Dark malty aroma with just a little fruity hop spice, a malty-bready-funky flavor with plenty of brown sugar sweetness and a bitter, boozy finish, this is a beer I’d love to spend some time lingering over a pint of to see how it changes as it warms up.  3.5 Hops

Maui Mana Wheat – Maui seems to love surprising me by making me enjoy a beer I thought I was going to hate (see their CoCoNut Porter).  Mana Wheat is a summer wheat beer brewed with pineapple.  I don’t generally care for wheat beers, I tend not to love summer seasonals, and I don’t really think I need pineapple in my beer.  Nevertheless this was actually a pretty tasty, refreshing little number.  The pineapple was there, but not overwhelming, and it was pretty crisp for a wheat.  3 Hops

Natian CuDA Cascadian Dark Ale – Natian is a Portland nano that I’ve been keeping an eye on for a while now.  I’d been hearing good things about the CuDA, and was not disappointed.  A bit more malt forward than your average CDA, I actually thought the beer’s balance was quite a bit better than some of the over-hopped versions I’ve come across recently.  3.25 Hops (Yeah, I’m rating by the quarter hop now.  Deal with it.  They deserve that extra .25)

Ninkasi Helles Belles (Munich Helles Lager) – My first two experiences with this style both occurred on Saturday, and I enjoyed them both very much.  A clean, slightly tart nose with a flavor that I would best describe as a more robust version of what I think of as a lager, this is a very different direction than Ninkasi’s typical hoppy offerings.  Another good session option.  3 Hops

Pike Monk’s Tripel Belgium – I think this is actually the same as the Monk’s Uncle Tripel, which I’ve had in bomber form.  If so, it seemed to liven up a bit on tap.  I haven’t had a ton of tripels so I can’t really compare it to a broad cross section of the style, but I certainly enjoyed this one.  A fruity (estery?) nose, with a sweet-but-not-cloying malt presence, evident Belgian yeast character, and subtle-but-sufficient hop bitterness on the finish along with a bit of alcohol burn.  Can’t really rate this as being true to style or not, but for my general appreciation: 3 Hops

Rock Bottom Zombie Flanders – I’m by and large not a huge fan of Rock Bottom’s beers, but how could I not try something called Zombie Flanders?  This was a decent, light-bodied sour red with tart cherries in the middle and a surprisingly dry, tannic finish.  2.5 Hops

Surly Hell (Munich Helles Lager) – Finally, my first Surly!  Tasted against Ninkasi’s Helles Belles, this one gets the nod by a nose.  It had a subtle aroma that reminded me as much as anything else of standing outside in a grassy clearing in the wind in the middle of a deciduous forest.  (Sorry for the cheesy imagery, but that’s really what sprung to mind.  It smelled like a sunny, breezy day in the woods.  Maybe next to a little stream.  Perhaps with a few birds tweeting happily in the trees over your head.  And the abrupt rustle of some underbrush as a startled deer quickly bounds away.)  It had an even cleaner, more crisp lager flavor than the Ninkasi and a nice dry finish.  Another damn good summer session beer.  I wish Surly distributed out here!  This would definitely spend some time in my fridge.  3.5 Hops

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Favorite beer name award for the festival goes to Bayern Dump Truck Extra Pale Summer Bock.  I didn’t get to sample this one (sounds like an interesting brew), but apparently the name is a reference to what happens when a raft flips over in a rapid, “depositing all contents not tied down into the raging river.”

Stupidest beer name award goes to Boneyard Girl Beer.  Sure, brew a cherry wheat if you want.  But why name it something that even further alienates the male attendees at the festival?  Insanely idiotic… no point in your rambling… dumber for having… no points… god have mercy… etc.

WTF award goes to the whole festival’s woo-ers.  Why was there a group “WOO!” every fifteen minutes?  And when it happened why did everyone chug their delicious craft beer samples?  This was not a chug fest (I’m looking at you, girl who threw up roughly $40 worth of beer two feet from my shoes)!  That’s what you do later with the cheap beer after the festival shuts down for the day!

And now, a few random pictures:

One of those “put a pin in the map to indicate where you’re from” things.  People were clearly there from all over.

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And even more impressive, here’s the world version of the map.  And this was only mid-day on Saturday!

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Folks waiting in lines in beer tent 1.

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And in beer tent 2.

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Sadness.

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Beerford!

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Seriously, this was a fantastic festival full of fantastic beers and thousands of avid supporters of the craft beer movement.  If you can get there, definitely put it on your calendar for 2012.  I’ll see you there!

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13 comments

  1. That Evelyn’s Imperial Sunshine sounds awesome. Along with making kickass labels, Hopworks is becoming my favorite northwest brewery I’ve never tried.

  2. It was really excellent. PNW Aleheads trip should happen eventually.

  3. I’m planning a Spring trip, with or without the other Aleheads.

    The Buzz Tent sounds exquisite, but one brew in particular jumped out at me: Ninkasi’s “Gin Barrel Aged Collaboration Ale”. Now I may mostly be an Alehead, but a much younger Barley was known to partake in a sip or two of gin. The concept of barrel-aging gin is very new and very rare, but count me amongst those that find this trend VERY intriguing. And if it means we’ve got some used gin barrels available to brewers, all the better.

  4. I saw that… what style of beer would improve with gin notes do you think?

  5. That’s the exact beer that grabbed me off of that list. I’m going to have to pop by the Ninkasi brewery to see if I can steal a taste of that one at some point. Could be a mess, could be a revelation. Either way it should be interesting.

  6. Kid Carboy Jr. · · Reply

    So was the Surly Hell the only Surly brew you got to try, Beerford?

  7. Depends on what they did with the gin I guess. I can see an imperial IPA doing well with a juniper-berry-heavy gin, but an orange rind and coriander gin might be fascinating with a witbier. I dunno, but I hope to see more of this!

  8. Yeah Kid, that was it. My only Surly so far.

  9. Sierra Nevada had a dark juniper ale in this year’s Beer Camp compilation box… I guess an imperial version of that’s a no-brainer for gin barrel-aging hijinks.

  10. Kid Carboy Jr. · · Reply

    It strikes me as very weird that Surly would bring one beer out there, particularly that one beer. I’ve never even had the Hell…I think it’s a seasonal? We don’t even get Surly distributed here in Illinois, though. Well, off and on in Chicago, but that’s it.

  11. Ooh, sorry I missed it, looks like a blast. Sometimes it feels like there’s too many beer happenings in these neck of the woods to keep up with.

  12. The Captain · · Reply

    I went two years ago. It’s the best beer festival ever. So many choices and so well managed. I’d be interested in making the run again next year beerford.

  13. Beerford · · Reply

    Definitely Captain, come down and we’ll double up the reviews! That would kick some ass.

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