Portland International BeerfestThe Portland International Beerfest rolls into town tomorrow, bringing with it 134 beers. For those who have been to past incarnations, much will look familiar: the pleasant location in the North Park Blocks, exotic bottles swimming in icewater, the eye-popping variation in price between pours (some as little as a buck, some as much as seven). These idiosyncrasies distinguish it from the all-draft fests that are the standard almost as much as the beer itself, ranging from exotica--to the average beer drinker, anyway--like apple wheat beer (Unibroue Éphémère) to Danish bacon beer (Mikkeller Beer Geek Bacon). Among the subtle changes are a growing emphasis on domestic beers and--though I can't find info on this--and draft beers. More than half (79 by my count) will be flowing from kegs this year, rather than bottles.
North Park Blocks (entrance at Davis and Park)
Fri 4-10, Sat noon-10, Sun noon-7pm.
No children allowed, but dogs are okay
I've been hearing a little grumbling by the hardcore beer geeks that this year's line-up is weak, and after studying the list, there's some truth to this. PIB seemed to make a conscious decision this year to highlight American beers, and the result means fewer options from other countries. The German listing is especially weak, notable mainly for the Spaten borg of beers. The British Isles are almost completely abandoned. Just four beers from England and nothing from Scotland, Wales, nor Ireland. This is especially sad, since British beers are enjoying a major renaissance in the craft beer world--beers we almost never see. Nonetheless, part of the reason the list looks weaker is because it has been so consistently mind-boggling in the past. Although there are surely uber beer geeks out there who have tried most of the beers here, for the average drinker, trying to winnow the list is still going to be tough work.
So let's get to a few thoughts and recommendations.
As always, Belgian beers are the featured attraction among imports. German beers are close behind, but there are plenty of countries represented. This is another slow-building trend, the increasing number of very good breweries from around the world. Here's what you'll find:
- Belgium (23)
- Canada (8)
- Czech Republic (4)
- Denmark (6)
- England (4)
- Germany (19)
- Italy (1)
- Japan (2)
- Netherlands (2)
- New Zealand (3)
- Norway (2)
- Poland (3)
- United States (57)
Lots and lots of people will come to the fest with very little knowledge of foreign beer or world beer styles. If they wanted to get a quick, cheap education, they could hit a number of the old classics--mostly from Belgium and Germany. For you, consider these:
- Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek and Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek (fruit lambic)
- Orval, Westmalle, and Rochefort (Trappist beer)
- Duvel (strong golden)
- Saison Dupont (saison)
- Pilsner Urquell (pilsner)*
- Spaten Oktoberfest (oktoberfest)
- Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse (hefeweizen)
- Spezial Rauchbier and Mönchshof (rauchbier)
- Kulmbacher Eisbock (eisbock)
it's always dicey recommending beers you've never tried--and yet I always do so. Earlier this week, I mentioned some of the good looking American offerings, many of which I'll sample. Among the foreigns, here's my short list of must-tries:
- Jandrain-Jandrenouille IV (Belgium). I'm a sucker for saisons, and this one gets some high marks.
- Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek (Belgium). Lots of love for this rare kriek from a traditional gueuze blender.
- Urthel Hop-It (Belgium). I've long wanted to try this beer that was inspired by the brewer's pass through the Western US.
- Cantillon Iris (Belgium). Um, it's Cantillon Iris. Enough said.
- Scaldis Prestige (Belgium). A 13% bière de champagne.
- Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast Bacon (Denmark). A beer made with bacon, the natural endpoint of a mystifying fad. I won't try it unless I hear from braver souls that it won't kill me.
- Bateman's Mr. George Ruby Porter (England). Bateman's is a venerable family-owned company, and this 5% porter should be a nice palate-cleanser.
- Spezial Rauchbier (Germany). One of the last traditional rauchbiers. The brewery maintains a maltery in Bamburg, and smoke their own malts.
- De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis (Netherlands). The name of this imperial stout translates to Hell and Damnation. As a friend of mine always says (sort of)--always trust the Dutch!
- Epic Armageddon IPA (New Zealand). Epic is bringing two beers, an American strong ale and this one. Of the two, this one seems most accomplished.
- Haandbryggeriet Odin's Tipple (Norway). A massive imperial stout that gets much love from the beer geeks.
I will probably tweet from the fest and mention any buzz beers that emerge. Hope to see you there--
*Yes, a lesser version of itself, but still an important touchstone.