Thursday, August 11, 2005

Oregon Brewer's Festival

There's a reason why Oregon Brewer's Festival gets so much press and people fly in for the event. Because it's so damn fun.

The OBF is a summer festival held along the riverbank in Portland, OR. A couple blocks are walled off from the rest of the city for the sole purpose of drinking beer. And admission is free. Did I tell you I love this town? Anyway, the OBF is the largest gathering of independent brewers in North America. 72 of them this past year to be exact. I knew it was a big deal when I heard how many people were flying in for it. Apparently it gets such an attendance that they added another day (Thursday), making it a 4 day festival.

Since I was leaving the next morning, Ken and I went on the Thursday after work. Rode our bikes, parked them and walked in to the glory that is OBF. First pour was at 4 pm. It was now 5:45 pm and we were expecting the worst. Nope. Barely a line anywhere.

Admission is free but you have to buy a $4 plastic mug. After that, 4 oz tasters are $1 each -- payable in wooden 'tokens'. Since I was only going to be there 1 day, I knew I had to pace myself and plan a strategy. I had been reading about some for weeks; they were on my definite list. Then some were chosen based on styles I loved (Belgian Blanche; Bavarian Hefeweizen) or had never tried (Schwartzbier; Bohemian Pilsner). Even my feared Pale Ales were on the list.

Without further adieu:

Brewery (Location) -- Beer Name (Beer Style)

21st Amendment Brewery (San Fran, CA) -- Watermelon Wheat (Fruit Beer)

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I just lost all credibility for starting off with a chick beer. But what if I told you this was the beer most often cited in local publications up until the festival as the beer to try. And seriously, how often does a person get to try a watermelon wheat? I was expecting the worst (have you tasted watermelon 'flavor'?), but what I got was the most subtle and sensuous fruit beer that I've ever tasted. None of this 'firehose to the mouth' impact that a lambic produces -- and none of the sugary sweet flavor that most fruit beers tend to have -- this beer was smooth through and through. I was impressed. I drank almost half of it before I remembered to let Ken taste it (he was too tough to get watermelon beer). His eyes lit up too. It was that good. Well done, 21st Amendment. I really didn't think you could pull it off. I would definitely buy a six pack, but I think I'd prefer it on draught.

Racoon Lodge & Brewpub (Portland, OR) -- Raspberry Wheat (Fruit Beer)
Again with the fruit beers? WTF? Again, also recommended by a local paper. Remember what I said about watermelon wheat? Yeah, this wasn't that. Blecht.

Golden Valley Brewery (McMinnville, OR) -- French Prarie Blanche (Belgian Blanche)
I like this style, it was definitely a must try. Apparently the guy behind me thought so too, because this was his favorite beer of the festival. And he was close to being right, in my opinion. It was good and easy to drink. Top five in my opinion. Popular too. Ken worked this tap on Saturday night... with someone else. Two guys running pitchers from the tap nonstop. And it still wasn't enough. 35 kegs. Wow.

Hale's Brewery (Seattle, WA) -- Hale's "El Jefe" Hefeweizen (Bavarian Hefeweizen)
Since I love the style, I expected to like this more than I did.

Russian River Brewing (Santa Rosa, CA) -- Pliny the Elder (Double IPA)
Cool name, blecht beer.

McMenamins (Portland, OR) -- Royal Oil Double Stout (Oatmeal Stout)
Ken got this one. Twice. I was turned off by the name.... sounded too heavy, too 'oil'y. Yeah, I'm a jackass. Top five. Easy. Great start, middle and end. I could drink this all night. What more could a girl want? Awesome, awesome beer.

Siletz Chocolate Porter (Siletz, OR) -- Siletz Chocolate Porter (Porter)
Ken got this one but I tried it. Eh. Okay. Where was that Royal Oil again?

Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR) -- The Enigma (Pale Ale)
From the folks that made Black Butte Porter, Mirror Pond, etc. Yeah, I'm definitely trying this one. Especially since I read the beer was aged in Pinot Noir barrels. Are you kidding me? Where is the line? Where is my token? And then it came. And it was good. Really good. So much so that someone we were with stopped drinking all other beers for sake of this one. Exclusively. So round and full bodied; you'd think you were drinking a porter. But it was lighter in color with more of a spark. Wow. Thumbs up.

Laurelwood Public House (Portland, OR) -- Organic Deranger (Imperial Red Ale)
What does it say that I can't remember this beer yet I know I tried it? Hmmm. I want to say its strong, but have no idea.

Walking Man Brewery (Stevenson, WA) -- Flip Flop Pilsner (Bohemian Pilsner)
Again, ditto. I think it was okay but not great

Rock Bottom Brewery (Portland, OR) -- Kolsch 55 (Kolsch Style Ale)
Um, ditto. Nothing special. I remember being not too surprised when I found out who made it. (Note: I have a prejudice against 'chains', even though I know that they each make their own beer -- still having one menu coast to coast pisses me off)

Rogue Ales (Newport, OR) -- Scharzbier (German Style Schwartzbier)
I have no idea what this style is but I know if Rogue is making it, it's going to be good. And it was. Unfortunately, I don't remember too many of the details. So between this and the few beers above, where did this last half hour go?

Stone Brewing Co. (San Marcos, CA) -- Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale (American Strong Ale)
OK, I remember this one. The same arrogant bastard ale that we all know, but in oak. Eh, whatever. I already tried a beer today aged in wood.... only theirs was awesome. Next.

Widmer Bros Brewing Co (Portland, OR) -- Halo (Imperial IPA)
I read about this one.... supposedly twice as strong and it's an IPA. But it was good. Damn good. So good that I've rethought my entire IPA philosophy and actually just bought my first six pack of IPA (for myself). Well done, boys and girls... that beer is great.

Bear Republic Brewing Co. (Healdsburg, CA) -- Racer X (Double IPA)
After the beer above, I thought I could do any IPA and love them. Nope. This one was ok even though it got a lot of press. I'd rather have the Halo.

Main Street Ale House (Gresham, OR) -- Main Street Single Malt (Strong Ale)
I got sucked in based on the name. Single Malt? Is there whiskey in there? Well, just the same malt. I think this was more a novelty beer for me than anything else. It was okay.

Pizza Port Brewing Co. (Solano Beach, CA) -- Sharkbitten (Double Red)
And sometimes its all about salesmanship. I waited in line for the beer next door to this one. When I get to the front (with my one token left and 'last call' announced), I ask the guy how the beer was and if he got any return customers. He shrugged and said "I guess it's alright; I dunno". Hmmm, that's quite an endorsement. Then I turn to the guy from Pizza Port and ask him the same (keep in mind they're all volunteers and likely haven't even tasted the beers since it was the first day of the festival). "It's awesome, people keep coming back for more". And so my last token went in his box and I got to taste my last beer. And it was great. Awesome last choice. So that's why companies hire spokespeople.

So my OBF 2005 Top Five are:
  1. Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR) -- The Enigma (Pale Ale)
  2. 21st Amendment Brewery (San Fran, CA) -- Watermelon Wheat (Fruit Beer)
  3. McMenamins (Portland, OR) -- Royal Oil Double Stout (Oatmeal Stout)
  4. Golden Valley Brewery (McMinnville, OR) -- French Prarie Blanche (Belgian Blanche)
  5. Widmer Bros Brewing Co (Portland, OR) -- Halo (Imperial IPA)

So mark your calendars for next year and the years after: the last full weekend in July. I know where I'll be. Definitely my favorite of the beer festivals I've attended up here.


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