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Monday, July 21, 2008

The Best of Portland International Beer Fest

I am lately overly busy, and unlike past years, PIB and the OBF are running on consecutive weekends--which means I don't even have the time to stop and breathe after one fest before I should be looking to the next. So I'm sorry this is a scanty review.

I had a number of wonderful beers, some of which were old standards, some that were new head-turners. Of those I loved, though, I loved two the most. Put these at the back of your mind and if you see them at a beer store, consider them must-buys.

They're both beers I had identified earlier--the Baird Temple Garden Yuzu and Harviestoun's Ola Dubh ("Engine Oil"), aged in barrels of the 12-year Highland Park Scotch whisky. The Baird beer was fascinating. The base beer seemed something like a kolsch--mild and crisp. It was the addition of Japanese yuzu ("citron, a terrifically aromatic and tart citrus fruit") that made this a totally unique beer. It smelled familiarly (and misleadingly) citrusy, as if hopped with Northwest strains. But the flavor was absent citrus or hop; rather, it had a very earthy, peppery quality. You could tell it didn't come from spices or pepper, but something like a vegetable--but citrus fruit seemed out of the question. Something new, and tasty, under the sun.

Haviestoun sent two batches of their Ola Dubh. One had been aged in 12-year old scotch barrels, the other in 30-year-old barrels (!). The latter appeared only briefly on Saturday and then vanished, and it took me about a half hour of waiting in a long line to get my pour. Plenty of time, it turned out, to savor the 12-year version. The 30-year was intensely scotch-y; it was the predominant flavor. Some folks preferred this. Although I love scotch, I found it out of balance. So much liquor had seeped into the brew that the beer was the accompaniment; it was a lighter-bodied brew and not particularly creamy.

The 12-year version was exceptional. The base beer is extremely rich and creamy. The "oil" of the name is apt; it has a viscosity rarely achieved in beers. In this beer, though, the Scotch is a complimentary, minor note. Certain elements were accentuated--vanilla, wood, pipe tobacco. With very strong beers, it's sometimes difficult to bring the beer to a point of pleasant intensity. The 12-year hit this mark perfectly. You didn't want to swallow, but instead let the mouthful swish around so you could continue to search for other flavors in the rich brew. It was one of the better beers I've ever tasted, and by far the best beer aged in a whisky barrel.

(Incidentally, the 12-year was served from the bottle, the 30-year from a keg. This means that there are bottles out there identical to what I sampled--even more reason to pass along the recommendation. I don't know how bottled 30-year would differ.)


  1. I was tasting beers there all Saturday afternoon.

    I had one of my worst hangovers on Sunday. The beer was tasty. Those tripels will bite though, most were pretty strong.

    I sipped a beer called the retarder and had one with a wild gnome on it.

    I think I was seeing double by the end of the evening.

  2. Based on your description, I'm starting to wonder if I actually got a pour of the 30-year, or if they decided to sneak some 12-year into the decanter… 'cause mine tasted nothing of whiskey! Ok, maybe faintly is more appropriate, but I had to follow it up with Mikkeller Black just to see if I could still taste anything (which was overkill, but still glorious!); the Sick Duck had more barrel-aged whiskey notes than the Ola Dubh (which I thought they'd spelled Old Dubh?), and it was from rum barrels (though I'm not that discerning).

    I know my palette wasn't blown as it was the first beer I tried that afternoon (I drove down specifically for that and the barleywine, which was long gone before I reached the front of the line)… of course, I'd had my fair share the night before, though that was but a dim memory by 2pm the next day.

  3. My local liquor store (in Chicago) sold out of the 30 year, but has the 16-year. The owner had never heard of the 12-year, do you have any info about the 16-year? Why wouldn't that have been offered as well? Thanks.