2013 Portland Fruit Beer Festival Recap
The Portland Fruit Beer Festival is interesting in the fact that it is not like any other festival in Portland. This festival is a chance for brewers to create some of the oddest one-off beers many people will ever try without the risk of losing money on a batch that doesn't sell. Because of this, brewers are able to stretch and bend their imaginations and push the limits of what a beer really can be. Some of them are triumphant, some of them not so much. But really, which ones were successful in making a tasty Frankenstein beer and which ones came out more like Igor are up to you, the consumer.
I usually try to start out at a festival by tasting lighter beers first, then moving on to darker and more complex beers as I ramble along in the hope of not ruining my palate right off the bat. So when it comes to a fruit beer, I figured my best bet was to start with a sweeter beer and move on to the sour higher alcohol barrel aged monstrosities later in my visit. The first beer I grabbed was the Blue Raspberry Lager from Lucky Lab. There really are no tasting or aroma notes to this beer other than it was like a blue raspberry Jolly Rancher and a quality lager had a love child and the result was this blue beauty. Either that or Papa Smurf snuck into the brewery after a batch of Papa Paul's Pilsner was created. In that case I foresee an interesting episode of Maury titled "Papa or Papa... Who's the real Papa?" Either way the beer is blue and fruity, but most of all it is tasty. So... well done Lucky Lab. Next I tried a Gose called "Gose the Elder" by Oakshire, which was brewed with coriander, sea salt and elderberry. I picked up notes of fig and cherry, but overall the flavor was weak and the beer seemed a bit over carbonated. Once again, not much aroma. Next up was the Barrel-Aged Citrus Wit from Upright Brewing. This beer would be a great go-to summer sipping beer with its strong citrus aroma, bubble gummy flavor and sour aftertaste. Mouthfeel was a perfect medium, and the beer finished with a clean taste. To me, this is what fruit beer should be. After my tongue finished tangoing with the wit, I decided to be bold and just try a beer based on its name. So, being a fruit beer fest I immediately went for "Hey There Fruitcake!" by Gigantic Brewing. It was kind of like drinking a bowl of fruit. So many different little hints of flavor hit you from every side, your tastebuds have a hard time keeping up. This ale is brewed with cherry, apricot, orange peel, and ginger. I picked up some different flavors (peach? orange? banana?) Really I couldn't pinpoint a single flavor, and I like a beer that I can't describe. So again, well done Gigantic. Lastly was the Champagne de Granada from Widmer. Tart, tart, tart. This is a pomegranate Berlinerweiss with an ABV of 3.2%. I think that this beer could have gained some flavor if they had kicked up the ABV to about 4.5-5%. Berlinerweiss bier is already tart, and with pomegranate added it is even more so. While I enjoyed the tartness, it was so much that in my opinion it overshadowed some of the potential flavor. The pom flavor is definitely still there, but I think a little refinement is needed to make this a contender to stand out amongst the lineup.
Now, you may think that some of my beer reviews were a little like the beer. Sour. Well that was how I was feeling before I even got in to the festival. See, I like planning ahead to minimize stress and to help things move along smoothly. So I purchased my tickets on the PFBF website after reading that you could "skip the cash line!" by buying online. So it was to my annoyance that when I got to the festival and showed the cheery stone faced security guard mine and my friends responsibly pre-purchased tickets that I was met with a stern and somewhat insulting "BACK OF THE LINE" followed by the ever so hated finger point. Mmk buddy, you got the badge. This wouldn't have been so bad, had the "cash line" that we could have "skipped" not had exactly zero people in it. At the back of the line we talked to the people in front of us who were just as puzzled and frustrated as we were. Same with the guy we met at the front of the line on the other side of the gate getting the stern pointy finger to the back of the line that we had received, just as I was pulling up the website on my phone to reaffirm to myself that we were in fact "skipping the cash line!"
The way the festival was set up kind of puzzled me. Instead of putting the taps on the east wall where the standing crowd would be positioned behind the lines (like it was the first year), the taps were on the south side with room on both sides of the lines to stand, but with the size of the lines you had to fight your way through almost indiscernible lines or go through the restaurant which diners did not look like they enjoyed, then you would place yourself at the back of the crowd and the line would sort of form itself closer to the tap. This made going and getting a beer quite a chore, with wait times in excess of 20 minutes at around 3pm. I'm not sure about the general population, but when I'm at a beer fest I would like to spend less time in line and more time with my friends drinking beer away from the crowd. My one last gripe that was shared with me by many at the fest was the fact that last year they closed off 7th ave to provide more room for festival goers. Good move. This year they parked a gigantic Greyhound bus and set up a booth on 7th, taking up about half of the available extra room that was created by opening the street to the fest. Bad move. While I understand the need for money and sponsors to run a festival, perhaps getting Zipcar as a sponsor next year will provide more room for tables and canopies for shade, all of which were also non existent (except shade provided by leaning against the bus.)
This festival is only in its 3rd year so I understand that there are still lots of kinks to work out and there is always room to learn from the previous years. My suggestions to make this festival one that keeps people coming back for years to come would be to move it to a location with a lot of room (Overlook Park?), make sure information on the website is accurate to save the festival patrons a headache, and keep the beers coming and the brewing ingenuity fresh.
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