Oregon Brewers Festival 2010

I'm feeling very sentimental after the opening day of this year's Oregon Brewers Festival.  Maybe it was the beer.  Maybe it's just because I'm getting older.  Maybe it was listening to Elliot Smith's XO on the Max ride home.  Maybe it was the beer.  Wait, did I say that one already?  Yeah, it was definitely the beer.

As most of you know, some select media gets treated to a festival preview in order to taste some of the beers, learn about the styles, and get some information to pass along to the public.  This year, we sampled an astronomical seventeen different beers before being set loose to choose our own path through the festival.  Yep, seventeen--I just recounted my chickenscratch list.  Before I talk about some of these beers though, let's take a peek at what goes on behind the scenes at one of these previews.  Let's draw back the curtain and reveal what lies inside.  Well, that's overly dramatic for a tent with some tables inside.

Festival organizers give out a media kit with facts about the city, the beer, the breweries, and the festival's history.  In it, you'll find quotables, such as:

  • 16 states are represented; 36 breweries hail from Oregon
  • Number of volunteers at the festival: 2,000+
  • There are 53 breweries employing sustainable practices when brewing their beer.

After we find our seats, we sit behind our empty mugs awaiting out first pour of the day.  Tasting seventeen beers in one sitting isn't a task for the faint of heart.  Or faint of liver, for that matter.  Presented by Oregon Brew Crew's Noel Blake, we dove headlong into the beers, starting with the lighter offerings.  Over the next 90 minutes, we sampled, took notes, and gossiped like little schoolgirls.  One of the best aspects of any media preview is just hanging out and catching up with other people covering the Portland beer scene.  It's a great community made up of people devoting a lot of time to beer: drinking it, photographing it, writing about it, and socializing over it.  Portland now has a new blogger for each beer released.  In fact, that's one of the new OLCC requirements.  But like the brewers themselves, Portland's beer media, while competitive, are just a semi-well-organized a big group of friends.  Of course, we have our own versions of East Coast/West Coast rap wars, but usually, no one gets shot—and that's for another post altogether.  I spent most of my brewfest time with these writers, so check out their blogs, bookmark 'em, and keep a wider eye on what's going on:

Oregon Brewers Festival 2010
The Media, hard at work.

Since there are 81 beers pouring this year at the festival, I didn't get to try them all yesterday.  Factor in about 8 rotating taps at the Buzz Beer tent (speaking of which, Oakshire Brewing's Very Ill Tempered Gnome and Maui Brewing's Heaven and Hell Barleywine were fantastic!), and there are about 90 different beers to sample.  Of the beers at the Media Preview, below is a list of my recommendations, representing a wide variety of styles (Thanks to Gary Corbin for the beer descriptions):

  • Cascade Gose: A high portion of this beer's grist is wheat, lightening its body and color. A Belgian yeast provides this golden, light-bodied beer's moderately sour/acidic aroma and flavors, making it a refreshing alternative on a hot summer day. Citrusy notes blend with a fair amount of residual sugar to provide a balanced, lightly hopped brew.  4%ABV, 11 IBU.
  • Collaborator: Created by Portland home brewer David Hayes and brewed in Widmer's Rose Quarter brewery, Sunstone Pilsner combines a traditional German Pilsner with a twist. Inspired by the grain bills of the Wallonian Farmhouse ales, the brewers blended European Pilsner malt with about 35% American wheat, which adds a zesty "snap" to the finish and lightens the body. A bracing dose of Tettnanger hops balances all that rich, bready malt. Lagering makes it smooth and crystal clear.  5.6% ABV, 32 IBU.
  • Widmer Brothers Captain Shaddock IPA: People sometimes describe the aromas and flavors of hoppy IPAs as "grapefruit." Hell, why not use some then? Widmer's brewing team used a simple IPA recipe and added a generous amount of dried grapefruit peel to the end of the boil. The aroma is a melody of citrus, with a slight spice undertone, accentuated by the use of Citra hops. The flavor is that of nice hop forward IPA with the bitterness of grapefruit. 6.5%, 60 IBU.
  • Oregon Brewers Festival 2010
    The beers, kindly awaiting us.
  • Terminal Gravity Single Hop Double IPA: In a marked departure from Terminal Gravity's tradition of mixing several different hops in every brew, this brew begins a new series of special brews. Only Columbus hops are used in three additions to balance the simple grain bill of 2-row Pacific Northwest pale malt and Belgium Special B malt. 7.9%, 104 IBU.
  • Oakshire Brewing Overcast Espresso Stout: Five types of grain, including rolled oats, chocolate malt and roasted barley, give this beer its rich, malty taste and deep black color. Chinook hops in the boil and Willamettes at flame-off provide hop balance. Locally roasted organic espresso coffee is cold-pressed after a 13-hour steep and added to the finished stout. This won a silver medal at the 2009 GABF. 5.8% ABV, 37 IBU.
  • Upright Brewing Reggae Junkie Gruit: Safe to say, this is the least-hoppiest beer at the festival. That's because there are zero hops in this beer. Instead, the sweetness of the beer's organic pale and Munich malts and organic spelt berries is balanced by bitter orange peel, Sichuan peppercorns, hyssop and lemongrass.  5.2ABV, 0 IBU.

Of course, there are a lot of beers I didn't get to, and I can't make your whole freakin' list for you.  The best solution:  just get out there and try some beers and styles that you've never had before.  Many of these beers aren't available or distributed in this area, so challenge yourself, venture outside your favorite styles, and enjoy the 23rd Annual Oregon Brews Festival!

Check out the rest of the photos here.