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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Organic Brewers Fest Preview

The first Organic Brewers Festival started back in 2003, but I wasn't really aware of it until 2007, when the fest really came into its own. The Saturday of that festival it poured rain and was cold enough that we could see our breath, and even still it was one of the best events I've attended. I wrote at the time:
In terms of overall consistency of beers, it may have been the best ever (even PIB, with its 200+ beers and dozen countries, always has a few losers in the bunch). This may have been due to a selection process--were the beers juried? More likely, it is a reflection of a particular moment in time: breweries don't lightly brew organic beers. Since they take special effort, it seems like breweries take special care with the recipes. We had habenero stouts, gingerbread browns, potato beers, and Belgian IPAs. And they weren't gimmick beers; they were serious and seriously good.
When this year's version unfolds, I'm looking at two things: 1) are enough new organic beers available to give the fest variety year-by-year, and 2) is the quality still so high? To the second question, only the tongue and nostrils will decide. To the first, however, a glance at the beer list gives a clue.

What emerges is that while there is a fair diversity among new beers, there isn't so much among breweries--and I guess this isn't surprising. Organics are still a niche, and most breweries still aren't making organic beers. Of the 41 breweries (that includes cider-makers and meaderies), only four are new--and three of those are new breweries. However, of the 78 beers pouring, 45% (36) haven't appeared in the past two Organic fests. Obviously, the organizers are doing a good job of making sure familiar breweries bring new beers.

What I'll Be Trying
It's worth noting that I try beers new to me. That means I won't be sampling a lot of local beers I can get easily, nor beers I've had in past years. If you don't live in Portland or have never been to this Fest, you'll have a larger and/or different palette to work with. That said, here's what looks good:
  • Bison Honey Basil Ale (Berkeley, CA). I've really enjoyed Bison's beer, and this is the only one I've missed.
  • Dupont Foret (Belgium). True, it was here last year, but it's generally extremely rare to see it on tap.
  • Eel River Acai Berry Wheat (Fortuna, CA). Acai (pn: ah sigh ee) berries are native to Brazil, and so you know this must be tasty, right?
  • Elliott Bay Coffee Stout (Burien, WA). An oatmeal stout brewed with coffee. Because I'm a stout slut and I can't help myself.
  • Hopworks Secession (Portland). Brewed for the fest, so I make an exception to the Portland rule. A beer brewed in the style Abe Goldman-Armstrong is trying to popularize as Cascadian Dark Ale.
  • Lakefront Fuel Cafe (Milwaukie, WI). See above.
  • Nelson After Dark (British Columbia). A dark mild ale. I hope to add another name to my growing list of great small beers.
  • Oakshire (Eugene, OR). Oakshire's sending two beers, yet another coffee stout (Overcast) and an IPA (Watershed), and I haven't decided which I'll try.
  • Pinkus Jubilate (Munster, Germany). From the founding brewery in the organics movement (1980!), a dark lager brewed in a throwback style.
  • Sam Smith's Fruit ales (Tadcaster, England). The famous English brewery is sending a passel of beer, including cherry, raspberry, and strawberry ales. I may go for the cherry.
That's not a bad top ten. I may find the Upright Reggae Junkie Gruit irresistable, too. And of course, I'll be keeping my ear to the ground for any buzz beers I've overlooked.

I plan to attend Saturday, and I'll be live tweeting. Any of you who go Friday, report back so we know what to look for. Cheers--


  1. i've had acai in other things and it reminds me of blackberry...maybe it will taste like a Blackberry Bomber ;)

  2. there's a song called "Reggae Junkie Jew" by Ween that they must have used for Reggae Junkie Gruit

  3. When trying the acai beer think Cap'n Crunch with crunch berries!

  4. I know when I think of a quality beer, I always think Children's' Breakfast cereal.... ;-}

  5. Anonymous, I tried the acai berry last night a Bailey's and that's the exact same thing I said. The beer tastes a lot like crunch berry cereal.

  6. And while you're over in my hood, wander across the Failing Pedestrian Bridge to the Mississippi area and visit Bridgetown Beerhouse on NE Shaver- a great little store selling some great bottled beers.

    Also, he is selling tickets and cups for the event and I think they are less expensive, so maybe go there first.

  7. @Brett:

    The ticket/cup packages are the same price whether you buy them in advance or at the fest. The only real advantage is that you get to skip one of the lines and get your drink on a little faster than everyone else.

    AFAIK, Bridgetown, Seraveza, and Belmont Station are all selling the ticket voucher/cup combos for $15.

  8. Made it out Friday after work. Tried a few. Here are some highlights:

    Standing Stone Double IPA

    Ft. George Spruce Ale

    Elliot Bay Coffee Stout

    Tried several others and they were all tasty including the Fuel Cafe Stout, Santa Cruz Pale Ale, and even the Sammy Smith Cherry Ale. Great site for a festival, with real live grass!!!!

  9. My aunt said she loved the coffee stout best. The grounds are beautiful too!