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Monday, July 20, 2009

Brief PIB Recap

I had a wonderful time at the Portland International Beerfest, and it once again lived up to my expectations. Some folks voiced concerns that the beer list is getting repetitive and that it's turning into another over-crowded Portland beer fest. Not a bit of it. While there were lots of folks there, we had a place to sit throughout the day and never had to wait more than a few minutes for a beer. That space is cool and breezy and well-shaded. This year they borrowed the Park Avenue streets, where the beer was being poured, leaving more room for lounging under trees. Minor quibbles--no water, increasing prices--could be something the fest looks at, but they didn't badly affect the event for me.

And the beer! Such a tour de force of style variability and virtuosity. Uncharacteristically, I managed to stick pretty close to my list, and had few duds (Oppigårds Well-hopped Lager was murky and indistinct when it should have been clarion and crisp, and Mikkeller USAlive was an interesting effort but not a wildly pleasant beer. It was akin to a soured IPA; two good flavors that don't go well together.) It was too difficult to implement the hefeweizen taste-off, but individual pours proved satisfying. Fantome Pissenlit didn't make it, nor, apparently did the sherry-cask-aged JW Lees (anyway, I could never find it). The others varied from good to great, and I'd especially highlight these:
Fruit beers are something we want to love. Brewers brew lots and we try lots, but mostly we end up disappointed. Birrificio Montegioco Quarta Runa is the kind of beer we hope for. The fruit is subdued and in harmony with the beer, and the yeasties have done their job, leaving it quite dry and tart. Maybe my fave beer at the fest, and surely a world-class beer.

PIB managed to get ahold of a batch of six-year-old Le Coq Imperial Stout, and they only charged three tix apiece. For this modest price, you were offered a lush, plummy stout that was just at its prime. Oxidation was minimal, but the age shone through like a fine port.

It's a little hard to praise Reissdorf Kolsch in the same glowing terms because it is a modest little wallflower among rare orchids. Yet in the manner of Zen brewing--brewing a beer of perfect naturalness--I couldn't help but marvel. Word is that the Germans are dialing back the kolsch style, Budweisering it, but Reissdorf's was clean and crisp and had quite a nice bouquet of hops--and more than a little peppery zip. I don't imagine it would taste anywhere near as fresh in a bottle.

Finally, Dupont Avril was a masterpiece of beer haiku. Just 3.5% to work with, and yet it was so flavorful. Cloudy and effervescent, zesty and well-hopped with earthy, spicy hops (Goldings?), it was like a spring morning. I could live adequately on this beer alone for the rest of my life.
Derek has a rich discussion of PIB at Beer Around Town if you hanker for a bit more discussion.


  1. I basically had a good time at the PIB as well, but a couple points: I believe every beer you mentioned has been or is currently available on the shelves of Portland beer stores before (the Quarta Runa for instance has been around for a couple of years I think, at least a year). I know, that shouldn't necessarily mean that it isn't fit for the festival, but it seems to me that in years past there was a higher percentage of beers that had never before hit the local market. Just look at B.United's web page for instance and note all the beers that they import that we can't get around here. There's also a new importer on the East Coast(can't recall the name at the moment) bringing in several small production Belgians new to the US market that could have been tapped. It gets harder every year to wow the hardcore nerds around here and it seems like the PIB is only moderately interested in staying on top of things.

    Still, I did sample some beers that I hadn't seen before, like the Hofstettner Granit Bock and the Dieu De Ciel Abt., and they made me very happy. Biggest regret was not trying the Uerige doppel sticke, if it was somewhat fresh on draft it could have been quite an experience, it's only previously been available in bottles around here and I think Uerige beer has only been on tap in Portland once before, during a special event at the Horse Brass that was very well attended...

    ...and yes, they really should have some water available (and not "for free", but as part of the twenty bucks you need to spend just to play!!!), other than the self filling dog's dish that's on the site.

    Mike S.

  2. Funny you mention the Reissdork Kölsch, as I wasn't even looking for it at PIB, but it happened to be the most appetizing thing on Higgins' tap list Saturday evening (that and the Schneider Edel-Weisse, which sadly had run out); without a doubt the strongest flavored kölsch I've yet tried, but I'd be hard pressed to distinguish between it and a good pilsner.

    Le Coq was… sour. Not good sour, either, but "infected"-sour. I wouldn't call this a port at all (that was the Nogne-Ø Dark) Horizon), nor would plummy even enter into the cognizanse of the taster; everyone at our table who tried it agreed… it was just wrong. Maybe we got a bad bottle…

    Dupont Avril was the most disappointing beer for me, and I didn't go in with the highest of expectations. At first pour, I got a lush smell of yeast and "earthy" hops - I became expectant of what was to follow, but there was very little in the flavor… I've had other 3-4% beers with more flavor (The Bruery's Hottenroth Berliner Weisse most recently), but this was just bland. I specifically sought this beer out as my first taste of the fest - to ensure I would not have lost my palette prior to trying this, yet it still underwhelmed. I'd gladly go for Cascade's Gose before this, or even the Reissdorf Kölsch - hell, even Pilsner Urquell, especially at $3/taste vs $3/pint?! No contest.

    *sigh* Win/lose some…

  3. Mike,

    Partly as a function of writing this blog, I don't get to try a lot of foreign beers. I homebrew and I feel duty bound to try every beer from local breweries I can. (Hard life.) I guess if your criteria were only beers not available in PDX, you might find a way to be disappointed. But the people who have sampled so broadly from world beers that they could have such a criteria must number in the tens, or maybe scores. PIB does a great job of offering exciting beers that the vast majority (like 95%+) of festgoers won't have tried.

    The granitbock was nice. Very caramelly.

    That kolsch was especially crisp and lagerlike, but I wouldn't equate it with even a German pils. It did surprise me, though.

    You must have gotten a bad bottle of Le Coq. Mine was totally clean. And Avril--well, different strokes, eh? I also tried it first, and so we neither one can blame it on palate destruction. Ah well.

  4. I basically agree, my position is definitely in the insufferable category, but I'm not really as well versed as I would seem to claim, truth be told I tried a number of bottled imports for the first time here like Dark Horizon and Amager Hr. Fredricksen that have also been available on the shelves, and it was nicely convenient to do so. Still, I GOTTA PUSH!!!

    mike s.

  5. I had a great time early Saturday there, but I did think it was crowded at the time... and they should have offered more folding chairs as many tables were missing them altogether because people had to grab them all.

    I liked the beer selection.. but I thought the ticket needs for some were way over the top... if you want people to 'sample' and 'try new beers' that they may want to purchase in the future... give a little! Don't make every person pay full price or more for a 4 oz. pour. I thought that was B.S. I liked the Geisha Barleywine... but 7 tickets... damn man....

    Ow.. my neck is sunburned...

    Also I thought there were way too many domestics.. supposed to be an international beer fest.. not a combo package...

    The Vanilla Oatis from Ninkasi... perfection.... Had to have it as I knew I wouldn't get the chance anywhere else but maybe this week at the OBF :O

  6. Jeff,
    Funny you mention a German pils, 'cause I doubt I could distinguish between that and a Czech. :) I'm just not that discerning (yet?).

    I actually would prefer that the bottle I'm tasting be available for purchase, because it gives me something for which to look, as opposed to hope. I've also tried my fair share - and yeah, some of the beers might seem "old hat," but this fest more than any other provides me with more choices than I can possibly consume in a year (by the bottle/pint), let alone in 3 days (by the taste).

    The Vanilla Oatis had less vanilla (not as "confectionary" :D) than in earlier batches, but I agree, it was still spectacular. Can't wait to get some more…

    …as it turns out, we're in luck; Jamie Floyd's going to be at Horse Brass tonight, bringing, "Vanilla Bean Oatis Stout, Quantum Pale Ale, dry-hopped Tricerahops Double IPA (ed. Please be cask…), and Ninkasi's 1000th brew, Ian's Special Bitter, which was brewed by Ian Fuller, Ninkasi's first hire." Starts at 5pm; why'd I have to go back to work in July?! *shrug*