Note: post updated with my recommendations after last night's visit.
I had, as usual, a delightful time at the Portland International Beerfest last night. Sally and I were in line by 3:35 and I scored a table in the shade as a base of operation. Although the fest gets more popular every year, it was still mild by OBF standards, and the shade, good beer, and doggy vibe always pleases. Okay, praise doled out, we now move to the airing of grievances. PIB seems to be developing a few bad habits and a friendly intervention or two may help them steer back to the straight an narrow. My complaints:
- False advertising. PIB has never had the greatest system for directing drinkers to selected beers. The free brochure has always been a convoluted mess, trying to serve twin masters--drinkers and the distributors who help make the fest possible. The result is that you stare at a beer map written in 8-point font on one page and try to get back to find beer details on another page--which is organized by distributor, not brewery. I've gotten used to this. What was new--and distinctly uncool--is that the ticket prices listed in the brochure didn't always match the number at the tap/bottle. Cantillon's Lou Pepe Kriek was listed as three tokens in the brochure, but six (!) when you finally made it to the bottle.
- Declining quality of beers. I mentioned this in my review, but it was more palpable once I was there. The problem is that almost all foreign bottled beers are now at least two tickets, and most are three or four. A lot of these are only average beers. (One of my friends, not a big beer fan, paid three tickets for Lindemans Framboise--a beer that retails for about five bucks a bottle.) If you're going to charge a buck an ounce, you better assemble a stellar list. I found a number of nice beers, but I knew how to look.
- Lack of information. This is an ongoing problem, but was highlighted by an email I got from the OBF while I was at the fest. It contained detailed descriptions of all the beers. In past years, PIB did a half-assed job of at least giving descriptions on-line. This year, almost none of the beers had descriptions on-line. The meager brochure was no help, either. It may not benefit PIB's bottom line to spend the money to pay someone to put this together, but it's gross malfeasance to fest-goers. Only a tiny fraction will have had any idea what to expect from most of the beers. This has always been a problem, but I've chosen to overlook it due to the fest's overall strength. I overlook it no more. Pay someone a hundred bucks and put out a decent guide, folks. And get rid of that stupid way of listing beers by distributor.
- No Odin's Tipple! This was the final straw. I'd saved my last four tokens for Haandbryggeriet Odin's Tipple, which apparently didn't make it. These things happen, but it was a bad note to strike at the end of the fest. Two other people, incomprehensible brochures in hand, were also standing where this beer should have been, and of course, the poor pourer had no idea what the issue was.
Update. I shouldn't miss the forest for the trees. Here are three nice beers I tried yesterday:
- Rose Petal Imperial Golden Ale. Honest to god, this was my favorite beer from the fest. It has a magical property. After you swallow, the botanical volatiles coalesce and you get a lovely, rosey aftershock.
- St Feuillien Saison. fresh and organic. Got the raised eyebrow of surprise when I passed it around.
- Bateman's Mr. George's Ruby Porter. Have it early because the subtle roasty flavors are delicate and easily crushed by palate-dulling hops and sourness.