- Bear Republic Baba Yaga's Imperial Stout. An unusual imperial stout. It's roasty and smoky, and reminded me of some of the single-estate coffees I've had at Stumptown. There's one Sumatran coffee that has much of this character. It's aged in cabernet barrels, and you find a sweetness at the edges of your tongue, as if pushed aside by the bitter, roasty main note.
- Fort George North III. "North" is the beer brewed especially for this fest, now in--suprise!--it's third year. I was worried about this beer because the website says it has 99 BUs; the printed program said 50, though--which was more reassuring. A beer made with sugar plums and an abbey yeast strain, it comes across more like a typical English winter warmer. It mixes the two things you want most--a bit of gentle sweetness and a warmth from the alcohol. Hops come across more as a spicy accent note. While the imperial stout would leave non-stout fans cold, I would recommend this beer to everyone. Oh, and this is your only chance to try it--once the fest is over, the beer will be gone.
- Hair of the Dog Jim 2009. This year's batch is a blend featuring a preponderance of Doggie Claws and Blue Dot, a fact evident instantly, by the piney hop nose. That pine carries through very clearly in the flavor, too, giving this beer a particularly seasonal character. The hops are not enormously bitter, and the beer finishes with a sweeter note. For beer geeks trying to isolate some of the minority blends, wait for the hops to pass, then see if you can catch a glimpse of the bock or English brown also blended in. Jim is only available at the Fest.
- Deschutes Mirror Mirror. The brewery discovered some barrels in the brewery that had gotten mislaid. They contained some of the most-recent vintage of Mirror Mirror, Deschutes' barleywine. They have only 24 kegs, and half have come to the Fest. The rest will probably not make it out of Bend. These kegs contain 100% barrel-aged, unblended Mirror Mirror, and they are, to my palate, a far more finished beer than I recall having from the bottle. Rich, creamy, caramel-sweet, alcohol-strong, yet balanced with sprightly hopping, it's a wonderful beer.
- Cascade Drie Zwarte Sang Noir. The final beer was my favorite. Another blend of various potions from Ron Gansberg's laboratory, this beer falls somewhere between a Flanders red and oud bruin, with some cherries added for complexity. I intend to have another pour of this, perhaps even the $4 full pour, and I'll study it then and take more detailed notes. Suffice it to say that if you're a sour ale fan, this must be first on your list. You will find few beers this good anywhere.
It was already fairly packed with people, even at 4pm on a Wednesday, evidence that the word's out. But don't let the crowds dissuade you--this has the makings of a real gem. (Maybe tonight, during the Civil War, you would find smaller crowds? A thought.)