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Friday, February 03, 2006

Insiders Guide to the 2004 OBF

Originally published July 22, 2004 on BlueOregon.

Enough of these political hors d'oeuvres, let's get to the main course--beer!

We are on the eve of the last weekend in July (and the summer's first brutal heat wave), which beer drinkers instinctively sense as time for the Oregon Brewers Festival. As befits Beervana--aka Oregon--it's the largest beer fest outside Munich. For a state where beer drinking knows no party membership, this is one great opportunity to rub elbows with your fellow Oregonians. Celebrate bipartisanism in style.

I will spend no time here promoting the fest--after 16 years, you know how you feel about microbrewing's biggest kegger. But, whether your aesthetics tend towar Mint or McMenamins, if you like beer, you can have a good time at the OBF. Provided, of course, that you read and heed this insiders' guide.

When and How
The brewfest's rep for sweaty, beer-fueled rancor arises mainly from activities in the evening hours. Early in the day--and most of Friday--you'll find a sparse crowd of portly bearded guys gently caressing their plastic mugs with adjectives like "mouthfeel" and "catty" (don't ask). After work on Friday and beginning about 3:00 on the weekends, this crowd gives way to a svelter, less-discriminating throng. Attend whichever suits your tastes.

It's apparently going to be in the triple digits this weekend, so ensure a pleasant time by drinking lots of water. At intervals along the tents you'll find water cooler-style bottles, but sometimes it runs out: take some with you. Also, I've discovered that a belly full of protein (soy or sinew) tends to moderate absorption rates. Again, adjust to your taste.

Having made the decision to go, you are now confronted with the decision: which ones? With 72 beers pouring, you've got to be a little selective. And, since there's no accounting for taste, here's the one's I'm going to select. (After I recover on Saturday, I'll try to get a review up for you Sunday fest goers.)

There are four beers that look like sure bets. The Golden Valley Brewery from McMinnville is bringing a Champagne Barrel Aged IPA. In the past decade or so, breweries have occasionally spent some money investing in discarded liquor barrels to age their beers in--the Widmers did a famous bourbon bock a few years back. This is a first to me, though. India Pale Ales are marked by their high alcohol content, so the champagne should impart a clear, alcoholic note.

Two of my favorite breweries, Ashland's Caldera and Seattle's Elysian, are bringing intriguing beers. Caldera, famous for their mastery over the hop, has brought Dry Hop Pale Ale. Elysian, a great brewery known to dabble in botanicals, brought Avatar Jasmine IPA. Does it have jasmine? Dunno--but I'll be in line early to find out. Flying Fish sent kegs of Farmhouse Summer Ale all the way from Cherry Hill, NJ. Farmhouse ales are dry, aged ales traditionally from the Belgian-French border. They're creamy and thirst-slaking, but they usually pack a hidden wallop.

In the I'll-try-anything-once category, Far West Ireland (from Washington--wait a minute and you'll get it) sent down a beer called Mango Tango, which is also a Belgian-style ale. That means it could taste like anything. (As a historical note, I'll mention that the third beer I ever brewed was a mango ale. It was ... unsuccessful.) 21st Amendment Brewery (San Francisco) brewed something called Watermelon Wheat. Probably a treacly dud, but you never know--it could be stunning. Finally, the brothers Widmer have sent the punnily-named Muscat Love. Muscat is a kind of grape, which clarifies nothing. We'll just have to give it a try. (The Widmers have by far the best track record at the OBF. While other local breweries send over their uninspiring usuals, Widmer has made a habit of brewing up something just for the fest. I can think of only one time when their submission wasn't the it beer. So Muscat Love may be special.)

Finally, I should mention a sentimental fave. All the way from Boston comes Harpoon IPA--a New England version of BridgePort. My lovely and talented wife hails from New England, and I've spent many a fine evening with her family talking Red Sox and tipping back Harpoon. Amid the sea of 29 other pale ales, it may not stand out, but get a mug anyway. You can raise it to old John Kerry.

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