Oregon Brewers Festival 2011

As most of you probably know, the Oregon Brewers Festival runs this weekend starting on Thursday with the Brewers Brunch & Parade and continues until the taps close at 7 PM on Sunday. OBF is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and the details have changed very little over the years. Here are the particulars:

  • Venue: Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland. The website points you to the main entrance at SW Oak Street and Naito Parkway, but I would recommend biking to the event, utilizing the supervised bike parking area and entering from the river side. The lines may not be much shorter, but the view (both scenery and people watching) is much better.
  • Times: Noon start everyday with taps shutting down at 9 PM (7 PM on Sunday).
  • Cost: Plastic mug (not sure if it is BPA free or not) costs $6 and tokens are $1 a piece. One token for a 3 ounce taste and four tokens for a full 14 oz. pour. Simple math says the full pour is the better deal, but the volunteers seem to have a hard time following OLCC regulations and the tasters are usually a little heavy handed.
  • Beers: 84 beers from 82 breweries, plus special beers in the Buzz and Sour Tents (tasters only for 2 tokens). Check out Jeff's breakdown to go over the numbers a little closer. Once onsite, utilize the program, website or festival app (sorry Blackberry users) to track down your favorite beers.

Speaking of the beers, most bloggers put out a list of the beers they are most looking forward to trying out. However, I know the OBF is populated by a lot more than just beer geeks (attendance is expected to be around 80,000 over the course of the weekend), so I thought I would throw out some recommendations by broad stereotypes. These groups are certainly not MECE (mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive for those that missed Bill Rancic's latest seminar), so don't be afraid to sample from multiple categories or from outside of this list. With 84 beers, there are bound to be some duds in the lot, but with each brewery only allowed one beer each (I know the simple math doesn't add up, but as always there are exceptions to every rule) they generally put their best foot forward or come up with something unique that might fail brilliantly. Without further ado, I'll offer up two choices each.

People grieving the end of the 10-year run of 21st Amendment's Watermelon Wheat. Much to my dismay, Watermelon Wheat has often been one of the first beers to run dry each year and 21A has catered to the masses by bringing it back for a decade straight. I guess now that it is readily available in cans at most places around town, they finally changed it up a bit - they're bringing Bitter American Extra Pale Session Ale which is also available year-round in cans.

  1. Beer Valley Oregonberry Wheat Ale - The elusive Oregonberry is a blend of plums, blueberries and cherries that must only grow on the dry side of the Cascades and sounds a bit stronger than watermelon. However, the wheat bill matched with the low ABV (4) and IBU (8) counts should be a crowd pleaser from this excellent Ontario, OR brewery.
  2. Mt. Emily Ale House Organic Strawberry Honey Ale - I decided to make this category all Eastern Oregon selections because beers from there reach Portland far too infrequently. This one out of La Grande is all organic, even down to the Cascade hops, so you can feel good about your impact on Mother Earth (simply ignoring the carbon footprint of shipping the beer all the way from La Grande makes this easier).

Midwest transplants who most recently were debating the merits of the Miller Lite Vortex bottle vs. the Punch Top can with their buddies. This group generally represents the majority of the American beer drinking population, but hopefully not the majority of the OBF crowd. However, I know from experience that as the day turns to night, the beer IQ of the crowd moves in the opposite direction of their BAL.

  1. Epic Hop Syndrome Lager - This one comes from the Salt Lake City version of Epic, not the Seattle one, and they are better known for their strong ales. However, the style guide places this as the only entry under 'Standard American Lager', so this pick was a no-brainer. I have had other Epic beers and have never been disappointed. This brewery rode the coattails of the easing of Utah alcohol laws due to the SLC Winter Olympics, so in a 7 degrees of separation-type of way you can thank Mitt Romney for this beer.
  2. Electric Kolsch - The brewery description alone sold me on this one - 'Arizona's first micro, Electric Brewing opened in 1988 in an isolated mountain town of 6,000 just five miles from the Mexican border. Electric doesn't enter competitions and "doesn't believe in styles," preferring to let the beers speak for themselves.' Not only does the brewery sound like a great destination, I love a good Kolsch-style beer.

Old-timers coming back to celebrate 25 years. For this group, I am picturing the sporting events where they bring back the former players and parade them out onto the playing field at halftime and let them wave to the crowd. Unfortunately, I do not expect to see Bill Walton or Barry Sanders at the OBF, but I am sure there will be plenty of attendees that have been there from the beginning (and probably many more that falsely make the claim). This group is a little harder to pin down, but I am going to make the assumption that they like their beers without fruit in them.

  1. Upright Alt - When I think of people in Portland reminiscing about beloved beers of the past, I instantly think of Widmer's Alt. Although you can often find that particular beer at the Gasthaus, this modern version will be at the OBF and it is brewed only a few blocks from the original. Upright 'specializes in farmhouse inspired beers rooted in France and Belgium', but I trust they can successfully cross over to Germany and make a fine version of an alt.
  2. Prodigal Son Splendor in the Glass V Pale Ale - How could I not chose something from Prodigal Son for the group returning to their roots? The description for this one talks about a fruity aroma with hints of pear and apple, but I am going to ignore that in spite of my intro to this group and focus instead on the classic malt bill (2-Row, Vienna, Maris Otter, etc.) and dry hopping. They make great beers at Prodigal Son and I am excited to be able to try this without having to fight the Round Up crowds.

Relocated California residents whose palettes are still tuned to West Coast IPA hopping levels. After the housing bubble burst, I seem to hear less complaints about all the people from California moving to Oregon and driving up our cost of living, but I know that doesn't mean they have stopped moving here. The selections in this category are Northwest-based to show these southerners that we can hop with the best of them.

  1. Gigantic Brewing  Dynomite! - This imperial IPA from two of Portland's finest brewers should produce as much buzz at the festival as the opening of their brewery has caused around Portland this year. This beer was being poured at Saraveza's Imperial IPA fest last weekend, but I missed it. I don't plan on making that mistake twice.
  2. Terminal Gravity X IPA - The program states this Double Hopped Double IPA is a collaboration with Hood River's Double Mountain. I am unsure of this beers relation to the Gravity Mountain Collaboration IPA released earlier this summer from those two breweries, but I really enjoyed that beer and look forward to trying this one. Also, Terminal Gravity in Enterprise is always the first stop after backpacking in the Wallowas for me, so I rarely pass up an opportunity to try something different from them. The only thing missing this weekend will be their buffalo burger.

Southeast denizens with a gluten intolerance that still want to hang out at the big events in town. Portland is a craft beer town with a gluten problem. The rising tide against all things gluten threatens the OBF's very existence. Luckily, there are several options to cater to this crowd. Although I have not tried either of these 'recommendations', I have heard good things. Plus, your options are limited.

  1. Omission Pale Ale - This entry is an exception to every rule previously mentioned. It is made by Widmer and thus crushes the one beer per brewery rule as they also brought their Smooth Cream-N-Ale, which is a great name. It is also a 'gluten-free' beer made with traditional (i.e. gluten loaded) ingredients. The gluten is then removed to a point where Widmer hopes they will be able to call the beer gluten-free (fate TBD). Either way, all reviews thus far on this beer state it holds its own to gluten-full pale ales and this is a good opportunity to try it without committing to a full six-pack.
  2. Deschutes Gluten Free NW Pale Ale - Deschutes took the more traditional route of using sorgham as the base malt for this beer. I have had more than one friend from out-of-town pick this on their taster tray at the brewery and not been able to finish the sample. It did win silver at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival in the Gluten-Free category, though, so this one is as good as it gets for the Celiacs out there. Also, don't confuse this with Deschutes other entry, the Armory XPA. Gluten-free beers seem to be the exception to the rule, so keep your eye out in future years for this to be a separate tent with its own Twitter feed.

Fruit Beer Festival devotees. I was amazed by the crowds at the first Fruit Beer Festival last year that overwhelmed the space and the kegs. This year's edition enjoyed an expanded venue that closed down the street during the Rose Festival Parade and the organizers were better prepared for the crowd, but I still think attendance stretched the limits of the festival grounds. Counter that to two festivals over that same time period that I was psyched about that attracted far less people - Mighty Mites (session ales) and the Rye Beer Fest. This fact tells me I may be a bit out of touch with the mainstream, but I'll throw out a couple of choices that look interesting.

  1. 10 Barrel Raspberry Crush - 10 Barrel could be compared to the Miami Heat with how they put together their Big 3 brewmasters by recruiting Tonya Cornett from Bend Brewing and Shawn Kelso from Barley Brown's to join Jimmy Seifrit (formerly with Deschutes). Much like the Heat's success this year, I expect 10 Barrel to deliver on this sour beer that will be available all weekend for only one token.
  2. Oakshire 25 - This one might be a bit light on the fruit for this group, but it does tout all locally sourced ingredients including cranberries so it fits the bill. Oakshire brewed this one up to celebrate OBF's 25th anniversary by using 25 ingredients, so let's hope that all those come together in peaceful harmony. I would put this one in the must try category, but it could be a brilliant disaster.

As you can see, there is a beer at OBF for everyone. This list simply scratched the surface of all the great options available this weekend, so you will need to head on down to the waterfront to enjoy it for yourself. Cheers to 25 years and counting!