Over the weekend, I attended the first ever beer fest hosted at Skamania Lodge. Before we delve into the details of the fest--the beers and so on--I'd like to step back and consider the evolution of the modern beer festival.
Back in the distant days of the 1990s, beer fests were few, and they were convened to expose drinkers to beer. The assumption being that drinkers were either 1) too green to have experience much beer on their own, or 2) too remote from certain breweries to have tried their beers. The Oregon Brewers Fest offered Beervanians a taste of the wider American scene, while the Spring Beer Fest gave us a chance to try those wee breweries from the hinterland that weren't getting distribution in Portland. The fest concept has grown so that we now have specialty fests highlighting specific beery elements--Belgian beer, cask beer, fresh hop beer.
With the Skamania Lodge fest, I wonder if we aren't seeing the emergence of a new function--a fest to highlight a location. As you can see from that photo above, the back lawn at Skamania fairly begs for events. I have been at fests all over the Northwest, but none have had as pretty a location as you see there. Although there weren't a huge number of breweries, it was a respectable showing--10 breweries, a couple dozen beers. Better still, the crowd was tiny. You walked up, got a pour, and leisurely proceeded back to your table to savor the conversation, ale, and view. You go to different fests for different reasons; being able to enjoy yourself, to go for the experience--this is rare enough to be precious. Skamania Lodge should tweak a few things for their second annual fest (which I'm told, there will be), but even untweaked it was one of the more enjoyable events I've attended.
Skamania Lodge invited, by my count, 10 breweries: Amnesia, Dick's, Double Mountain, Fish/Leavenworth, Full Sail, Laht Neppur, Lazy Boy, Salmon Creek, Walking Man, and Yakima Craft Brewing. The brewery selection focused heavily on locals: Walking Man was brewed a couple miles away, Double Mountain and Full Sail just upriver. Laht Neppur is from Waitsburg, north of Walla Walla, while Yakima is from ... Yakima. There was only one Portland and no Seattle breweries. A nice mixture of small and local.
Each brewery brought a couple of their standard beers, and these poured at 1pm. At four, they tapped special beers--seasonals, mostly, some of them making their debut. (That's a tweak I'd make: start phasing those in earlier so serious beer geeks, familiar with standard offerings, have a larger variety earlier.) As a bonus, a number of brewers attended. I caught up with Jamie Emmerson, whom I haven't seen in years. Over the course of the 4-5 hours of the fest, attendees cycled in and out, and there were probably 150 there at any given time. The mug/token thing was standard, except that the taster pour was generally half a mug. And the mugs? Very cool embossed glass jobs. (If you look closely in this picture of people huddling around the fire pit, you can see them.)
The beer selection wasn't the long suit for the fest--brewers, left to their own devices, brought lots of IPAs. (Tip for future events: talk to the breweries and make sure you have a variety of different styles.) Even with that, there were a number of beers I hadn't tried. Leavenworth, which merged with Fish some time back, brought Eightmile Alt, a wonderful example of subtlety and skill. Laht Neppur took a flyer on local wild, fresh hops. The result was a strangely funky beer--a bit worty (this year's crop was apparently quite low-alpha), but candyish and herbal.
I confess to having missed Lazy Boy's beers so far. Their IPA didn't thrill me--a big grinding and aggressively hopped, with a malt base that bottomed out and left the alphas beating you about the head--but their Redhead was a treat: a gentle, eminently quaffable beer with lovely fresh, spicy hops. Purportedly an imperial, but I couldn't tell. Yakima had a syrupy Scottish ale that might have done with a hop or two more. That brewery also had an amber called 1982 which must surely be a reference to Bert Grant's famous Scottish Ale--the first craft beer brewed in Washington. I admire the reference, but I didn't get a chance to try the beer.
I had another pour of Double Mountain's Dapper Dan (tasty!) and finished with the local specialty--Walking Man IPA. I wanted to go out on a winner, and I knew WM would deliver.
All in all, a wonderful day. Afterward, we warmed up in the hot tub and then feasted on a menu designed to incorporate all the beers that were at the fest. In my earlier post I described Skamania Lodge. I'll alert you when they do this next year. Consider going in for the package deal. It's spendy, but for a relaxing time with lots of good beer, you can't beat it.
Full Disclosure: Skamania Lodge comped Sally and me--and a few other members of the media--for the weekend.