Thoughts on the 2011 Portland International Beer Festival
Bier. Beoir. Biru. Ol. Pivo. Cervesa. Beer. No matter what language you speak, there is one thing all craft beer drinkers know and they know when they are drinking great and original beer. The Portland International Beer Festival is a unique experience and a nice change of pace from the usual beer festival that features only local beers. This is a melting pot with nearly every corner of the world throwing their hat in the ring to show us Northwesterners that there really is great beer beyond our own little oasis, though for those who easily get homesick there is plenty of beer from our own region here.
I started off with a Smoked Porter Elijah Craig Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter. Having never drank a beer that took longer to say what it was than it takes to drink it I figured I had to give it a go. I have to admit that I am a sucker for a good bourbon barrel aged beer so it's no surprise that I have had my fair share of them and know what to expect. Well this beer proved me wrong on what a bourbon beer could be. The smoked malt takes the bourbon flavor and hides it behind a screen of sweet malty smoky notes and leaves just a hint of bourbon flavor and finishes off with a nice bitter afterbite. So now I knew that I couldn't judge the beers at this festival by my own past experience and would have to just fly by the seat of my pants. I like this concept. I skimmed the program for something lighter and more forgiving to my scenes than a porter or stout. I found Deschutes had a rotating mystery tap that was serving their brewmasters reserve and I was lucky enough to get there when they were pouring Chainbreaker White IPA. This brew was just a devious as the Stone Porter. With an aroma of a witbier with almost no discernible hop aroma you figure this is just going to be a run-of-the-mill Belgian style beer. Well that's incorrect again.. zero for two. With the first taste of this beer you realize that this is a mutant beer. It is clean and crisp like a witbier should be, but has multitudes of hop flavor that lingers on your tongue long after you've finished your four ounce taster.
At this point I figured I'd been bullied around enough by the mean beers of the U.S. and that it was time to go international. Maybe Norway would be nicer to me? Nope. I splurged 5 tickets on a four ounce taster of Nøgne ø Brewing Dark Horizon 3rd Edition Imperial Stout which weighs in at 15.5% ABV and 100 IBU's. Pay no attention to the IBU's because the crazy high amount of alcohol in this stout just dominates any feeble attempt the hops make to add flavor. In doing so it turns this beer into a masterpiece that is so sweet and thick that you would be tempted to smother it on your pancakes (please don't.. that would be a terrible waste). If you can get your hands on a bottle of this I would highly recommend doing so as soon as possible since this beer is a one-off brew from Nøgne ø. It may come in different editions later on, but beers with this high of an alcohol content are never the same from brew to brew.
After chasing the Dark Horizon with a Lansdowne Cider from Crispin Ciderworks of Minnesota I decided it was time for food. There is a decent amount of food to choose from here with two food trucks and a few tents offering treats such as shaved ice and super tasty roasted almonds from Nut Love (yes.. the kind you see at every festival of any kind and you can never resist buying a bag). I tried a Korean taco from the Koi Fusion truck which was a delicious mix of beef, bell peppers, onions and some sort of salsa type topping, I really don't remember vividly after that Dark Horizon. I think I even had a bacon cheeseburger from the Violetta truck and I think I remember that it was super delicious. Other food vendors to check out while you are there are Bakke Bros. Jerky where you can try basically any type of jerky imaginable and for those who are the cultured type you can try Mt. Townsend Creamery's cheeses.
After a little R&R I was ready to get back to beer tasting with the few tickets I had left. First was the Nøgne ø's brother from Sweden, the 1/2 Idjit Imperial Porter from Dugges microbrewery. With it's mild 7%abv and 30 IBU's it was a much easier yet still impressive stout. It had a surprisingly sweet chocolate flavor with a very roasty aftertaste, the perfect balance in an imperial stout in my opinion. Next and last on my list was the Evil Twin Yin Imperial Stout sporting 10%ABV and 65 IBU's. This porter could be mistaken for a stout with its dry body but definitely stands out as a porter with a chocolaty boozy flavor and a nice bitter aftertaste, this was another one that was pancake worthy in syrupy awesomeness.
I recommend making the time and taking the trip next year to the International Beer Festival because this is not only beer from elsewhere in the world, but because this festival will change your opinion on what great beer can be and where it can come from. The brews at this festival have been some of the finest examples of beer I have ever tried from breweries I have never (and never would have) heard of. I plan on returning year after year to see what the brewers of the world have dreamed up for me to experience and enjoy.
A sidenote: My hat is off to the volunteers and the patrons of this years festival because the weather was less than decent with storm drains overflowing and small animals floating away, but everyone kept a smile on their face and kept the spirit of the festival lively... even when the number of volunteers outnumbered the patrons!
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