Oregon Brewers Festival 2011

The biggest brew fest of the Portland season returns this Wednesday for a five day run at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Here are the pertinent details on the 26th Annual Oregon Brewers Festival for those just interested in the facts:

  • Location: Main entrance at S.W. Oak Street and Naito Parkway in downtown Portland
  • Dates: July 24 - 28, 2013 (always the last full weekend in July)
  • Times: Wednesday through Saturday: taps are open from Noon to 9 PM. Sunday: taps are open from Noon to 7 PM. Token & mug sales close one-half hour prior to the taps shutting off.
  • Admission: Admission into the festival grounds is free (minors permitted with parent but no dogs). In order to consume beer, purchase of a 2013 souvenir 12.8 oz. tasting glass is required and costs $7. Beer is purchased with wooden tokens, which cost $1 apiece. Patrons pay four tokens for a full glass of beer, or one token for a three-oz. taste. There are no advance tickets sold to the festival; all purchases are made on-site. The festival is cash only, and there are ATMs on-site.
Although many beer geeks, including some of my colleagues at this reputable site, choose not to attend this festival due to the crowds and/or the beer selection, I never miss it and this year's edition looks to be even better than previous years.
The main reason is the switch from the ubiquoutous 14 ounce plastic mug to an actual tasting glass. The plastic mug certainly has nostalgia on its side, plus a couple ounce size advantage and a much better chance at surviving a bike crash on the way home (which I tested a couple years back), but not much else other than off-gassing over any beer aromas you may not enjoy. The new glass will provide a much better tasting platform which is the main reason we have the fest in the first place. I do not expect the concerns around broken glass will come to fruition as the location is virtually all grass, so someone would need to try pretty hard to break there glass. This is problematic on two fronts in that the glass is required for beer drinking and it costs $7. Drunkeness can often overcome logic, but I would expect the vast majority of the attendees to take excellent care of their fragile drinking vessel. The pubs I frequent seem to do just fine serving beer in glasses and I do not expect OBF to be any different. The bigger complaint I am hearing around the glasses is the size. The blogosphere is up in arms about the reduction in both full pours and tasters. Reducing the taste from four ounces to three is a 25% reduction, but despite the volunteers' best intentions the taste pours always seem to run heavy so we may still end up in the four ounce range. Plus, the taste is intended to be just that so swallow your taste and shut the f*#% up move on to the next one. I have always gone for the taster, so I do not concern myself on the size of the full glass, but I do agree it will be hard for even the most inept volunteer to overcompensate on a full pour to get you close to the old 14 ounces. However, the smaller pours may cut back on the rowdiness later in the evening which most will appreciate.

You should be able to get a better look at your beer at this year's OBF
Another reason to look forward to this year's OBF is the extra day added. Wednesday is the new Thursday and I would expect this will be a good day to beat the crowds. Everyone has done a good job about publicizing the added day, so I do not think it is a secret but it is a school night so the party crowd should be diminished.

Lastly, the beer list (84 strong) looks to be more varied than the past few years of the IPA. One beer geek complaint I hear a lot is that the OBF list if often stuffed with standard selections (21st Amendment's Watermelon Wheat would be an excellent example) and this year is no different. However, that does not mean that these are not good beers and not worthy of sampling. I actually enjoy seeing some of these at the fest giving me the opportunity to just try them without committing to a full pint. In a town as sick with good beer as Portland, I am hesitant to pull the trigger at the pub on something that 'I can always get' versus the special release, so OBF provides a nice platform to try some of those standards in a non-committal way. Without further ado, here are some of the beer list highlights (IMO) by category:

Standard offerings (i.e. beers you can probably get at your local but that you might usually pass on for something more exotic/rare)

  • 10 Barrel SWILL: New summer seasonal from one of Bend's newer stars that is half Berliner Weiss and half grapefruit (percentages approximate)
  • Boneyard Bone-A-Fide Pale Ale: Another newish Bend brewery whose IPAs (RPM and Hop Venom) overshadow what I expect to be an excellent pale ale
  • EPIC Hop Syndrome Lager: This beer is from Salt Lake City and from their Exponential Series, so it is not necessarily standard issue in PDX but I have come across it on occasion before and this will be a good chance to try without having to pony up for the full 22 ounce bomber
  • Firestone Walker Wookey Jack: I actually tried this rye IPA at last year's Rye Beer Fest and have ordered a full pint on several occassions since then, but it is that good that I may still get a taster at OBF

Out of town imports (i.e. beers not usually available in PDX but may be standard  offerings in their distribution area)

  • Dunedin Chronicle 11: Subtropical IPA: One of the few quality breweries I have come across in Florida, this Tampa-area spot consistently puts out unique and delicious offerings; this 'American Fruited Farmhouse IPA' is certainly deserving of a taste
  • Surly Overrated! West Coast IPA: Surly has recently brought about changes in Minnesota's laws to now allow brewpubs which should make my future trips there much more interesting; this IPA is their response to the much hyped West Coast IPA style, so it will be interesting to see how this one stacks up (although the 'overrated' in the title refers to themselves as opposed to the style)
  • The Dude's Grandma's Pecan Brown: The Dudes are starting to fill a gaping hole in the California craft beer blanket that is better known as Los Angeles; this beer is set to be their flagship and it is an English-style brown ale with Georgia pecans added to the mash - not a style you see much these days so I am looking forward to trying it
  • Wildwood Organic Ambitious Lager: This is a homecoming of sorts as Wildwood, located 24 miles south of Missoula, is the project of Jim Lueders who helped start Saxer Brewing here in Portland and bought the remnants of the Saxer equipment for Wildwood; Jim has a rich history in German brewing, so this Munich style lager should be good although a taste might not be enough

OBF specials (i.e. beers brewed specially for OBF - yes there are some)

  • Boulder Pump up the Jam: This Colorado brewery came up with a blueberry wheat beer for OBF using Oregon blueberries
  • Fort George Hop Contract: Astoria-based Fort George named this NW Pale Ale 'Hop Contract' as this is the first year they have been able to secure enough hops to brew special, hoppy brews, so this beer basically is celebrating Fort George's gluttonny of hard to acquire hops like Scrooge McDuck celebrates his money by swimming in gold
  • Gigantic & Juice: I am not sure if this so-called Beermosa (IPA with citrus juices added) is a special beer for OBF only, but I have not come across it previously and it sounds quite quaffable
  • Oakshire OBF 26: After the success of Oakshire's OBF 25 last year, which included 25 different Oregon ingredients, they decided to keep the train rolling this year by upping the ante to 26 mostly Oregon-based ingredients; the result is a 26 IBU golden ale that should highligh Oregon's bounty

Baker's dozen picks (i.e. extra beers I will have at the top of my priority list)

  • Deschutes Double Impact Belgian IPA: Growing up as a big Jean-Claude Van Damme fan, I need to try this beer for the name alone
  • Dick's Pulp Friction: You may have noticed a trend with the fruit beers this year and this one falls into that category as an orange infused pale ale, also with a great name
  • Rogue Beard Beer: Gimmicky? Yes, but I have been dying to try this beer made with yeast taken from brewer John Maier's beard
  • Terminal Gravity Tap Out: The highest alcohol offering at OBF from my favorite post-Wallowa hiking watering hole is described as a 'Craft Malt Liquor' but I am guessing it will bear very little resemblence to the forties of King Cobra I used to buy in college

For those that boycott the OBF for whatever reason, there is still plenty to keep you busy this week including EastBurn's 2nd Annual OBF Brewers' Pig Roast on Wednesday, the Brew Am Golf Tournament at Edgefield on Friday and Belmont Station's Fringe Fest on Saturday. Cheers!