Portland Zoo Brew: Lions and Tigers and Beers!
I remember class field trips to the zoo back when I was in elementary school. The wonder of seeing these foreign creatures so close up, when they had come from so far away and we had only read of them as if they were fictitious creatures in our textbooks. I remember sitting there in the amphitheater watching the zoo staff put on a show with rare and exotic birds while eating my lunch that was in a brown paper sack with my name on it. Much better than sitting in a classroom doing basic math equations or playing Oregon Trail on MS-DOS. I thought that it couldn't get any better than that as a kid. That was long before I had tried beer, long before I even knew what beer was—except that it was gross when I snuck a sip out of a can at a barbeque. Now here I am fifteen years later in the same amphitheater surrounded by thousands of other people drinking, smelling, swishing, snobbing and having an all out good time—all while helping to keep the animals that we have loved for so long in their home here in Portland.
Unfortunately growing up means new responsibilities... like parking the car. When I exited the freeway I was immediately warned by a sign that the zoo parking lot was full. This was not surprising since this years even sold out and I was two hours late to the festival. I had just driven all the way back from Salem in traffic I was in no mood for taking a shuttle. Deciding to ignore the two other warning signs telling me the lot was full and not to bother, I rolled by the signs in a rebel fashion I quickly realized this parking lot was definitely full. Twenty other people trolling for spots glared at me as if we were all in a Mexican standoff. Long story short, I drove around the parking lot for twenty minutes looking for reverse lights, stalking people coming from the entrance and being an all out cut throat parking lot badass that finally landed me a parking spot in the very back of the lot. Take my advice with you next year.. either ride the MAX or don't ignore the lot full signs and take the shuttle. It will save you your sanity and a lot of fuel.
When I finally got in to the festival I took a look at the brochure and decided to start with a lighter beer. I chose the Kick Axe Dry Hopped Pale Ale from New Old Lompoc. For a dry hopped beer I was surprised at how well the hops were balanced with the malt. It had a moderate hop aroma and profile with a drier feel. Usually after one or two dry hopped beers my tastebuds take a break and I can't taste anything I drink for the next hour. I can see myself being able to take a 12 pack of this camping and not regret it after the 3rd day.
The beer list at this festival is similar to that of the Bend Brewfest, where most of the beer at this fest is the beer you can buy at the store. It is a fundraiser so the beer really is not the point here, even though it is the main attraction. I had to search through the list to find what I hadn't tried before (it was quite a challenge), and I decided to try out some ciders. I grabbed a cider from Tieton Cider Works that had been dry hopped. I was dually impressed. I had no idea what to expect, so when I was pleasantly surprised by the fresh hop flavor and sweet taste and aroma I decided that ciders have won a place in my heart, and I believe are going to be the next big thing in Portland, alongside the rise in distilleries.
Taking my cider away from the booth we decided to check out what the beer tasting class that was being held was all about. We entered and found a room with about thirty people all learning from one speaker on how to sniff, sip, and gulp beer to get the maximum experience from it. Even I found a few tips helpful to enhance my beer drinking. There was also a class being held by Aaron Gillham from Portland U-Brew on the basics of homebrewing. Although we skipped that one, I know it was informative and fun since Aaron is one of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic brewers that I have met. Speaking of U-Brew, they brought out a grapefruit beer that I found to be very impressive. Many fruit beers lose some flavor to too much hopping, or too much malt. Maybe the brewers don't add the ingredients at the best possible time and lose flavor. Not this one, you ask for grapefruit and that's what you get. Aroma, taste, aftertaste. Even the mouthfeel. All grapefruit. Bravo guys!
As we roamed the grounds and ran into old acquaintances that we hadn't seen in years, catching up over the last of our tasters, trying new things while talking about old times I realized something. Zoo Brew is not only a way to raise money for animals. It is a way to bridge the gap in the years between you now and you when you were a kid. Running around the zoo, carefree, seeing and trying new things. New experiences. New people. To be able to support a good cause and get a little nostalgia, all while enjoying great beers and ciders with friends will definitely have me coming back next year.
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