Oregon Brewers Festival 2011

It's finally here! The 24th Annual Oregon Brewers Festival began yesterday at Tom McCall Waterfront park. This event has been on my mind since first hearing about it a few months ago. I was told, or you could say warned, to bring a huge jug of water and an even larger jug of patience to deal with the enormous lines, hot sun, and beer-crazed festival goers, ready to let their hair down.

For those of you that knew as little detail as I did, the Oregon Brewers Festival is the Mac Daddy of all beer festivals, with 84 participating breweries from 14 different states. There are 86 handcrafted beers from the main tents, and a over 50 buzz beers rotating throughout the weekend. The buzz beer tent, added in 2009, provides more aggressive selections that are geared toward the beer connoisseurs, who crave something unique.

I was able to sample some of the festival's selections at the media preview that took place yesterday an hour after the festival gates opened. The preview, led by Chris Crabb and Noel Blake, featured 15 brews that were selected to represent the festival's ratio of beers from Oregon and surrounding states. The tasters were divided into three categories, labeled Pleasure Beer, Aromatic and Big and Bold. The first category, Pleasure Beer, are also known as Session Beers. These are typically lighter, well-balanced beers, with high drinkability. Aromatic beers are obviously characterized by their strong frangrance, which in this case includes mostly citrus and hops. The Big and Bold, are exactly that, Big and Bold. This catergory gives shelter to the darker beers that are higher in ABV.  My first choice on a hot day would be the lighter Pleasure Beers.

I want to call attention to Upright Brewing Company's Offen Weisse, first off. This was our second beer of the preview and possibly the best selection in the Pleasure Beer category. The Offen Weisse was brewed with a single variety of hops, giving it a light hoppy taste that doesn't linger on your palate. I really enjoyed this brew's quick bite, going from 0-60 in just a few seconds. Though the bite is quick, it's very well balanced with a spicy fruity flavor, finishing with the subtle hops and a little of the typical banana flavor. Upright Brewing Company shines with this thirst-quenching wheat beer.

Oregon Brewers Festival 2011

Burnside Brewing Company's Graetzer was also on the Pleasure Beer agenda. I've been a huge fan of Burnside since first visiting their brewery in April this year. They have really impressed me with their immediate success and creative, yet simple lineup of brews, including my personal favorite, Sweet Heat. So needless to say, I was pretty eager to try Graetzer. I only had to sniff this one to know they weren't kidding when they told me this beer was smokey. Labeled as Polish smoked wheat beer, this beer is definitely in a category of it's own. The taste was very balanced, however the smoked white wheat used to make this beer may be too much smokey flavor for some. I'd imagine that Graetzer would be good for a summer BBQ or paired with some smoked meats, but it's not an every day beer, that's for sure.

Ok. I have a bone to pick with Bend's Boneyard Beer. They labeled their beer Girl Beer! What does Girl Beer even mean? I'm assuming that this sample, from the preview's Aromatic category, has qualities a girl would look for in a beer...? Maybe it was the 88 pounds of sweet dark cherry puree they dumped in the batch or maybe it's light bubbly mouth feel that make it a “girl beer”. Whatever the case, I'm a tad offended by this title, but not enough to avoid drinking it. It was a very drinkable, rather sweet ale, that could definitely be enjoyed on a hot summer day.

Boundary Bay Brewery's Double Dry Hopped Glacier Pale Ale stole the show. This brewery, from Bellingham, Washington, made this beer especially for the Oregon Brewers Festival. I took notes while sipping this beer at the preview yesterday and scribbled down “perfect”, about three times. The aroma of the beer really gives a good introduction for the beer; smelling malty and sweet. The hops flavor gave the beer an initial jolt but the citrus and malt flavors provide a “perfect” finish. I will be keeping my eye on Boundary Bay and I'll definitely be trying more Dry-Hopped brews.

When I found out that Dogfish Head Brewery would be sharing one of their brews at the festival, I was more than eager to be able to sample it. I read that it would be brewed with mint and would be the beer with the most alcohol content at a whopping 10.3%. It just so happened to be the last one on the list, at the media preview yesterday, under the Big and Bold category. I'll be honest with you, I wasn't really on board with any of the previous four Big and Bold samples from the preview. It may have been too warm outside to enjoy the intense characteristics of the provided porters or maybe that my taste buds were exhausted from the dangerously hoppy samples from the Aromatic category. I was hoping that the last sample, Black and Red, by Dogfish Head, would save the day. Unfortunately, this Black and Red, did no such thing. It took me a couple minutes after tasting this one, to even come up with words to describe it. It was almost as if there was an accident during the brewing process. The overwhelming mint flavor cover up any true beer qualities it had. A hundred pounds of spearmint and peppermint were used in the secondary fermentation of Black and Red, contributing to its overbearing sweetness. I want to say something nice about this beer, but all I can come up with is the word “bizarre”. But you know, it's worth a shot. For those of you looking to venture to the crazy side of brewing, this is the beer to take you there.

It seems like I got a lot of beer sampling under my belt yesterday, but that was only the beginning. I plan to head back today to knock a few more down. I'm very curious about Bison Brewing Company's, Bison Honey Basil Ale. Basil? Really? Two pounds of basil were added to each barrel of this Golden Ale. I'm interested to see what Basil can do for beer and if it should just be left for your grandmother's spaghetti.

Ninkasi has a real treat in the buzz beer tent this weekend titled Gin Barrel Aged Collaboration Ale. Knowing that only quality comes from Ninkasi, is enough to know that I better give it a taste. Getting my hands on this one may be a bit of a challenge though. Buzz beers have no schedule and are spread out throughout the weekend. So the chances of getting a sample of this Gin Barrel Aged beauty are rather slim.

The beer selection at the Oregon Brewers Festival has something for everyone, from the light beer lovers, looking to merely quench their thirst, to the true beer nerds looking for something new and bold. There's also quite a few vendors in the park, providing delicious food and quirky beer merchandise you can't do without. Rogue Public House will be serving pizza by the slice and Blue Elephant will be taking it up a notch with Gyros, Grilled Salmon and festival favorite, Elephant Ears. And don't leave the festival without a clever beer t-shirt, provided by Eye Luv Beer. You can never have too many beer shirts.

So put on a pair of shorts, lather on the sunscreen and head down to Tom McCall park for a fun, beer-themed weekend! There will be plenty of delicious food, beer knick-knacks, quality entertainment, and enough fine brew to remind us all why Portland should be the craft beer capitol of the world.

Check out the rest of the photos here.