Fests are popping up by the dozen these days here in Portland. Of course there's the Oregon Brewers Fest and the Holiday Ale Festival, but more and more frequently we are seeing small taprooms and breweries organize their own festivals. In the last year, Portland has been host to many of these including Burnside Brewing's Fruit Beer Fest, the Hop and Vine's Fire and Brimstone, Hopworks BiKETOBEERFEST, and the Beermongers 2nd Anniversary Fest. The first thing one should ask when organizing a festival is "What about my fest will set it apart from the others?" Some fests choose a theme, feature special brews (old, rare, limited, single batch, etc.), donate the proceeds to charity, or hold brewery specific fests to try and stand out. So when I was at East Burn for the 2nd Annual Buckman-Kerns Brew Fest on Sunday January 15th, my head was in one place: "What makes the Buckman-Kerns Brew Fest different?", and I set out to find answers.

Everything seemed standard upon arrival: a tent set up outside for ticket purchasing, $10 for a keepsake glass, 4 taster tickets, and a mysterious square piece of paper labeled "Best Of Fest". After wondering about this "Best of Fest" paper, I turned to see a booth set up—conveniently marked "Best Of Fest"—with bowls for each participating brewery. Allowing attendees to vote for the best brewer is a creative way to give the Buckman-Kerns Brew Fest some originality.

My  next goal—after acquiring some beer, of course—was to find out more about the fest. Several booths had their employees or brewers pouring their own beers, a great personal touch. So I thought, who better to ask than someone directly involved? I approached the Cascade Brewing station, got a beer, and struck up a conversation. The only real answer I got about the fest was that it was organized to feature breweries in the local Buckman-Kerns area. That answer still left me wondering a few things. Why these beers? Why the voting? Is there a prize? I found out later that Migration Brewing took home the title of Best of Fest and a fancy little trophy after they featured three great brews: Black Hearted CDA, the trusty Old Silenus and Luscious Lupulin IPA.

Two of my favorites from the festival:

  • Cascade's McShagger Scottish Strong Ale: "Sweet malts with hints of chocolate and smoked peat greet you in the nose. Dark malts and hints of molasses and chocolate on the palate lead to a creamy finish with notes of peat and whiskey."
  • Buckman's Ginger: "A grown up ginger ale brewed with fresh ginger."

All unanswered questions aside, East Burn is a great location for a small fest like this one. It was exceptionally well organized, ran smoothly, and featured some very tasty brews. There was food offered for tickets, and plenty of free stickers to snag. I can see a lot of potential in this fest. My big question of "why?" was answered with smiles, hospitality, and good beer. In the end, theme or no theme, a good fest simply offers us a place to try a bunch of new beers in a safe and social setting. But don't wait until the 3rd Annual Buckman-Kerns Brew Fest to stop in at East Burn. They feature great beers on tap every day, games to play, and you'll find on their calendar a variety of events to attend.