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Monday, April 17, 2006

Spring Beer Fest (1)

For many reasons, the most famous beer fest, perhaps outside Munich, is the summer Waterfront Brewers Festival. For three or four years, it looked like the Spring Beer Fest might rival it. While the OBF is a hell of a lot of fun, it's not really an exceptional showcase for brewers. Organizers selected the hottest weekend of the year, and they invite people according to an obscure formula that has nothing to do with quality.

The SBF, by contrast, originally set out to make the brewers the story. They invited the brewers to the fest and you'd often find them pulling beers. I discovered a bunch of Oregon treasures this way. For example, I recall meeting a young brewer who was trying to promote a rare foreign-style stout. He was a cool guy, and he was trying to drum up business for a brewery hailing from an obscure town on the coast. It was Pelican, the brewer was Darron Welch, and the beer was Tsunami Stout, which has won a gold, a silver, and two bronzes at the GABF. I saw brewers from Caldera and Walking Man, two breweries I consider exceptional to this day.

But things sorta went south. The SBF started expanding its invitees--first to vintners, but then to totally random people. The last couple years, it's seemed more like a flea market than a beer fest, and this year was the worst. There were vendors hawking salsa, tchotchkes, and vinyl windows. Worse, the beer booths were staffed by volunteers who knew nothing about the breweries--sometimes even where they came from. The booths were often bleak affairs with nothing more than a table and a sign with the brewery's name.

A few breweries were decked out and making the most of the event, notably Roots, Widmer, and Walking Man. (Also vodka distiller New Deal.) But for the most part, it felt like a flea market--with great beer.

If anyone from the fest reads this, here's my advice: retool, downsize, and focus on the beer. No one's going to see some guy peddle vinyl windows.

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