Ben Flerchinger, Lucky Lab Brewer and Festeroon Operator.
The Lucky Labrador Brewing Company [SW Quimby]

Another Lucky Lab Barleywine Festival has come and gone, and it'll be another year until we can see what surprises pop up for next year's event--and that's way too long. As a strong beer lover, this festival is a highlight on my busy beer calendar.

About 50 different barleywines and strong beers flow throughout the weekend with several vertical tastings available so that people can try different years of the same beer. Festival goers had the options to sample '05/'06/'07 Lucky Lab Old Yeller, '07/'08 Walking Man Old Stumblefoot, '05/'08 New Old Lompoc's Old Tavern Rat, among others. These verticals are a great way to see how a beer mellows with age--assuming no big changes to the recipes over the years.

But these 50 great beers are a far cry from the humble beginnings of this festival. I talked to Lucky Lab brewer Ben Flerchinger about the origins of the barleywine festival: "The fest started out about 10 years ago at the Hawthorne Lab with 7 different barleywines. It was just two jockey boxes on the main bar with about 15-20 people hanging out at a time. Dave Fleming can be blamed, or congratulated, for getting this thing going. This year I was in charge of set-up, but could not have done it without the help of Preston Weesner and many great volunteers." After helping out last year's festival, brewer Dave Fleming ended his tenure at the Lucky Lab and moved on to Three Creeks Brewing in Sisters, OR. But Preson Weesner remains in Portland, and is quite a force behind almost every festival in Portland, including the Oregon Brewer's Festival and the incredible Holiday Ale Festival. The equation is simple: if Preston is involved, great beer is available.

2009.03.07 - Barleywine Festeroon
The many colors of Barleywine.
From two lonely jockey boxed almost a decade ago, the festival has grown so big that all of the great beer is not available at one time. Space requirements limit the amount of beer that can be set up at a time to about thirty, with about twenty more waiting to be rotated in as the first beers disappear. And they do disappear. I found this out by skipping Friday night only to find that more than ten beers that were depleted that night--without my permission. Well, now I know better.

And what lies ahead for next year? "Shoot for about 60 beers. Get some commemorative t-shirts made, I had a lot of requests for those," says Ben Flerchinger. "I would also like to set up a warming tray. A lot of purists think that barleywines should not be served ice cold, and they are right. The problem is that the way our draft lines are set up the beer would just pour straight foam if served at room temp. I can't guarantee a warming station, but I am working on it." I got around this problem by going back and forth from the line to the table and lining up and labeling about 8 barleywines. By the time I was ready to drink, most of the samples had been sitting around for about 10 minutes. Not perfect, but it took the "ice" out of "ice cold".

So, thanks to Ben and his supporting cast, we've been able to enjoy another barleywine festival this year. Now, get back to work Ben, time to start planning for next year!

Check out the rest of the photos here.