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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Oregon Brewers Fest Preview

Oregon Brewers Festival
Waterfront Park
Thursday, July 27: 4pm - 9pm
Friday and Saturday: Noon - 9pm
Sunday - Noon - 7pm
  • Minors are permitted when accompanied by a parent, but no pets.
  • Entry is free. Tasting mug costs $4 and is required for consuming beer. Tokens cost $1 apiece. Patrons pay four tokens for a full mug, or 1 token for a taste.
  • Free bicycle parking is offered each day, courtesy of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.
General Orientation

Last year, fest organizers experimented by adding an extra day; it must have been successful, for the first pours begin today at four. My guess is that this isn't a bad time to attend--though generally, evenings are when the crowds get thick and the beer selection gets thin. You might gamble on a first night visit, or you could more reliably show up at noon on Friday: you'll have around three hours of blissful quiet with just a handful of the most avid drinkers. If you're lucky, you'll be in a merry mood by the time the fest turns frattish and you won't care.

A couple tips: If you actually want to appreciate the beers, start with lighter, less-hoppy varieties and save the intensely-flavored, darker, and hoppy ones for later. This year's crop is especially rich in high-alcohol, super-hopped beer, and even one of these will ruin subsequent attempts to find subtlety in a modest wheat ale or lager.

Even though the weathermen have forecast moderate temperatures, it's wise to drink lots of water as you go along. You'll thank yourself the next morning. Finally, a belly full of protein (beast or bean) tends to moderate absorption rates, so eat before you go.

To the Beers!
A glance down the list of beers reveals a growing trend: huge is in. There are a dozen beers with modifiers like "imperial," "double," "strong," "nuclear" (okay, I made that last one up), not to mention another dozen IPAs. Those are deep waters to swim, so take a life preserver if you go. For my part, I like the looks of Standing Stone Double IPA and Walking Man Knuckle Dragger. These are a couple of fantastic draft-only breweries whose beers aren't always easy to track down. Both are over-the-top hoppy (95 and 100 IBUs respectively), but I trust the breweries to have created balanced, drinkable ales.

Wait, didn't I just say don't start with big beers? Put those down. Let me direct your attention instead to a nice starter beer or three. Perhaps no beer was more suited to a sunny day than a Belgian Wit (white), and there are two at the fest. The style is crisp, sweetish, and orangey. Even though one comes from the center of the country, and the other is close enough to hit with a rock thrown from the fest, I'm taking the local: Roots Wit. A close second in terms of tasty summer styles is kolsch, a dry, tart German ale, and Ballast Point from San Diego has sent a version. Finally, Lucky Lab brewed a steam beer--a lager fermented like an ale (think Anchor Steam)--which is just deviant enough for them to turn my head.

I will move from there toward one of America's most famous breweries and its unexpected offering: Bell's Hell Hath No Fury (MI), a Belgian dubbel. Bell's is known for their hearty, NW-style ales, so it will be interesting to see what they make of this abbey-style ale. From Colorado and one of America's oldest breweries comes Boulder Brewing's Sweaty Betty, a Bavarian hefeweizen. This style is brewed at high temperatures and has a banana-y, clovey quality that is contrasted with a tart, puckery finish. It's one of the most under-appreciated styles in the NW. To sweeten the pot, let me add that brewer David Zuckerman got his start in Portland at BridgePort.

There is a style of beer brewed in the Belgian city of Flanders that is equal parts sweet and sour, and which most people find irresistible. It's called red, but oftentimes modified Flanders Red to distinguish the style. The Portland outpost of Rock Bottom has tried a batch, and the style is just tasty enough to induce me to try it. Oh, that and the name: Ned. (Get it?)

My favorite style, and one of the more difficult to brew, is saison. It is something like a Belgian IPA--generally very dry and hoppy, made interesting by slightly funky yeasts and a cellary, aged quality. It is an ancient style, and the two breweries that sent versions allude to them in their names: Flying Fish 10th Anniversary Farmhouse Summer Ale (NJ), and Jack Russell Farmhouse Ale (CA).

Pale Ales are another summer standard, and I recommend three: Boundary Bay Double Dry Hopped Pale, Ninkasi Quantum Pale, and Widmer Hooligan. The Boundary Bay because dry hopping makes beers wonderfully aromatic; the Ninkasi because it's a Eugene Brewery I've never heard of (new?), and Widmer because the Brothers always use the OBF as an occasion to brew up something special.

Okay, now we're ready to revisit the big boys--I have three more and then I'll desist. Full Sail, apparently also availing themselves of the chance to brew something special, is sending Vesuvius, a Belgian golden. If it is akin to the landmark version, Duvel, we're in for a treat. (In this case, golden is not a euphemism for "weak"--Vesuvius is 8.5% abv.) The McMenamin Brothers rarely catch my eye with their beer. Their architecture, definitely--not their beer. But White Lightning Imperial Whisky Stout? I'm paying very close attention. (

Years ago, Eugene's now-defunct Wild Duck Brewery made a strong ale called Sasquatch. It was perhaps my favorite big beer, a fantastic way to end a brewfest once my tongue could no longer distinguish subtle flavors. Each year, at the end of the OBF, I greatly missed its passing (as well as the man who brewed it, Glen Falconer, who died in 2002). While I will always miss Glen, I finally found a beer to rival Sasquatch: Pliny the Elder from Russian River. Named for the Roman who gave the name to hops ("lupus Salictarius," or "wolf among scrubs"), he was also ironically killed in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius--a fact about which Full Sail may or may not care. It fills a long-vacant need. Whatever you do, save a token for Pliny. You might even offer a toast for the Sasquatch of your choice.

That's sixteen beers, which ought to at least get you started. Report back and let us know what you found. Cheers!

[This is a slightly altered version of a post from BlueOregon. Read the longer version there.]


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I tried the whiskey stout and the Lucky Lab today. I liked the stout, a little light for my taste, but good flavor and almost too easy to drink. I tried the Lucky lab Steam, but I have to say I like the original better, as well as the Laurelwood seasonal last year.

    Going back for more tomorrow.

    Just found your blog today, plan on reading regularly.


  3. No matter what the Lucky Lab brews, it always tastes like something on the pale-IPA continuum, and that steam was the same. Anyone who got the pour expecting something like Anchor went away wondering if they got the right beer. Not bad, just not a steam.

    Very brief first reax. Thumbs up to: Ned (Flanders Red), Bifrost, Vesuvius, Hooligan, Pliny, Bell's, Sweaty Betty.

    Thumbs down to Jack Russell's farmhouse. Something off there.

    On the whisky stout, I would have liked a little more balance--it was awfully sweet and could have handled some additional hopping.