More than twenty years ago, the founders of the Oregon Brewers Festival (Portland Brewing, Widmer Brothers and Bridgeport) collaborated on bringing together beers not available in Portland and serving them up to thirsty Portlanders on one sunny July weekend.
Now, the Oregon Brewer’s Festival (OBF) brings in 81 brewers and serves as a major tourist attraction that draws more than 70,000 people from all over the world to the waterfront. The goal is still the same: choose an interesting selection of craft beer from around the country and serve it up to an appreciative audience in a great location.
Entry to the festival is free, but to drink beer, you must buy a mug and tokens. Go for one of the package deals, which include a fantastic program with beer descriptions by Gary Corbin. Tastes of beer, really the best bargain of OBF, are still just a token ($1) for four ounces.
I’ll get into the regular line-up of beers in a minute, but first let’s talk about the Buzz Tent. The Buzz Tent, located between Token Sales and the South taps, features rotating taps of around 50 limited production small barrels, or rare aged beers. Tastes of these special beers are two tokens and well worth it. Yesterday I tasted a 13 year-old Russian Imperial Stout from Full Sail that was like a manna from above. That teenager of a beer still packed a hop wallop, but was multi-dimensional with a wide depth of character. Thick and viscous with a beautiful coffee-colored head, I felt while drinking it like I had been let into some secret clubhouse, like I had gotten away with something. Yesterday’s Buzz Tent also was pouring Friar Gone Wild, a beauty of a Belgian from nano brewery Vertigo Brewing (aka the guys from Intel). Vertigo produces so little beer, that it’s great to catch it even on this limited basis. The Buzz Tent beers will be rotating in and out all weekend, providing folks who have pretty much tasted, with a good reason to come back for another day. The rest of the Buzz Tent beers are listed here: http://www.oregonbrewfest.com/index2.php?p=hot&q=22
BEST OF THE FEST
With so many beers to try, a good strategy is to bring a friend or two and share tastes. Start your sampling from light to dark to avoid killing your palate with those high-alcohol and heavily hopped beers. Here are my recommendations:
Boulevard Brewing – Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale This beautifully straw-colored beer has a fantastic nose, which smells slightly of citrus with a wee whiff of Belgian yeast,. I think to myself before tasting, “please, oh please, let this taste just one tenth as good as it smells. I hope, I hope, I hope it will be as good as it smells.” And after the first sip, it’s apparent that it more than lives up to that promise. For me, it’s the best beer in the fest. But with an ABV of 8%, you would be best served by sticking to tastes of this one.
Flying Fish – Exit 4 Trippel Another high-octane beer, with an ABV of 9.5, the Exit 4 is still a little hot. But it’s a curious mix of Belgian basics like sweet caramel and banana, with a bit of a bitter hop finish. This beer won a gold at the GABF in 2009.
Maui Brewing Company – CoCoNut Porter Every time I taste something like coconut or blueberries in a beer, my first thought is that it’s gimmicky. That being said, the CoCoNut Porter tastes to me like a Mounds bar, which is my favorite candy bar. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t!
Natian Brewery – Destination With a wonderfully roasted malt and burnt sugar nose, Destination pours a light amber. The roasted malt flavor comes through as does the honey and you’re left with a session beer with a heckuva lot of character. Want a whole mug of something? Get this.
Rogue – 21 This is an end of fest beer to be sure. Described as an Olde Ale, this is a big and complex beer which pours a deep dark amber. I tasted everything from wood to sherry to cherries in the 8% ABV monster.
Seven Brides Brewing – Lil’s Pils This traditional Bohemian pilsner is the best domestic pilsner I have ever tasted. Nope, not just here at the festival, but best ever. You don’t have to take my word for it. Victory’s Prima Pils (my former favorite) is also on tap at the fest. Do a side-by-side and see for yourself!
Upright Brewing – Reggae Junkie Gruit Gruit beers substitute other aromatics for use as flavoring and forego hops altogether. This usually results in a disastrous beer that only people with a hop allergy will drink. Not so with Upright’s concoction. It’s totally different from anything I’ve ever tasted. Slightly sweet and citrussy with a bit of a pepper kick, this is another unique and wonderful creation from the evil geniuses at Upright. It’s also another beer of theirs that will go very well with food. Hope they bottle it.
HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME
With temperatures heading into the 90s this weekend, here are a few choices that will help you keep your cool.
10 Barrel Brewing – ISA (India Summer Ale) This aptly named beer’s super citrus and hop smell let you know what’s coming. At 6.7 ABV, this isn’t necessarily a summer session beer, but sure is tasty.
Cascade – Summer Gose Only 4% ABV and an interesting, albeit slightly salty, flavor profile. This is one that you can dreamily sip on while waiting for Cascade’s Barrel House to open on Belmont later this summer.
Double Mountain – Vaporizer Though this wonderfully slightly malty and hoppy beer is available on tap all over town, it’s one that you should definitely try again. And again. And again. It’s hands down one of my favorite new releases this summer. Get a full mug and grab a bench by the river and watch the world sail by.
Mt. Emily – Hells Canyon IPA Hello Emily. Wanna go steady? Cause I could hang out with you all afternoon! Even though it sports 100 IBUs (and you can feel and taste every one of ‘em), the finish is clean and slightly malty.
Widmer Brothers – Captain Shaddock IPA And here’s another IPA on my list. The nose is spicy hops first and foremost with undertones of grapefruit. Despite that initial hop punch, this beer is quite balanced, and typical of how we make ‘em in Portland.
Some of the beers at the festival are either so readily available or awful, that you needn’t waste your precious sobriety points, nor tokens on them.
21st Amendment – Hell or High Watermelon Wheat The lines for this one are always long since chicks dig the easy-drinking, light pink beer. But why wait in line a pay for something that you can buy by the can at Whole Foods?
Caldera – Hibiscus Ginger With a delightful floral nose this pretty in pink brew‘s charms are sadly all superficial. It sports zero IBUs and as much character as a spent stick of gum. Dab it behind your ears, but for heaven’s sake don’t drink it. You’d be bored after a few sips.
Any of the berry beers: the egregious addition of some fruits to beer is a sin. It also doesn’t taste very good. I’m looking at you Eel River Acai, and Laht Nepper Strawberry Cream.
The festival continues through Sunday. I’ll be updating this entry with more beers as I taste them through the weekend. If you’ve had something particularly memorable, please post about it in the comments section.
For more information check out the following sites: