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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oregon Brewers Fest Preview

It is surely a force of nature, a sweaty, loud, personal-space-invading juggernaut. The Oregon Brewers Festival, your time is nigh. With so many other fests, a certain number of folks have begun to skip the OBF and leave it to the tourists. Fair enough--the fest is not for everyone. For many of us, though, the last weekend in July arrives like Mardi Gras, not just a party but a sacred rite. In a few hours, the first of the fest-goers will begin to enter Tom McCall Waterfront Park to pay their respects and splash just a bit of holy water down their throats. Christmas has arrived in Beervana.

It is not always the case that the Fest is marked by a surfeit of eye-catching beers, but this year is different. For the first time in years--since they did that thing with the Oregon tent--there will be more than 72 breweries in attendance. More pointedly, however, the beer selection seems a cut above. There are quite a few more offbeat beers and far fewer in the pale/IPA spectrum (in past years it's pushed 50% of taps). I usually only see a dozen or so that really intrigue me, but this year there are 18 (!). Actually, there are even more than that, but I tend to skip local breweries, knowing I can track down their beers later on. We don't go to the Fest to enjoy beers we love, we go there to try the new and exciting. So I will rely on my sometimes spotty wiles, read between the lines of the descriptions, and come up with my best bets for interesting beers to try. Here goes.

Ten to Try

Okay, I cheated. There are actually twelve beers here. The last entry features a cage match between examples of the year's hottest style, saison. For some reason, nearly every beer I've selected comes from the West Coast. One of those years.

Beer Valley Leafer Madness (Ontario, OR)
Description: A monster in all ways--9% alcohol and intensely hoppy. Called an imperial pale, but traditionalists might call it a stong ale.
Why I think it's a winner: The reputation for this beer oscillates between "sublime" and "too much." There will come a time when your palate is shot and you pine for something you can taste: this is your beer.
Stats: 1.076 OG, 9% abv, 100 IBUs

Boulder Flashback Anniversary Ale (Boulder, CO)
Description: Celebrating thirty years, this is one of the elder breweries of good beer. Flashback is a dark copper beer made with five infusions of Cascade hops (65 IBUs of them, which is a monstrous amount of Cascades), and the word on the street is: mmmmm, tasty!
Why I think it's a winner: Brewer David Zuckerman never turns out a bad beer, and I have reason to think he used his decades of experience to make this one special.
Stats: 1.066 OG, 6.8% abv, 65 IBUs.

Caldera Hibiscus Ginger (Ashland, OR)
Description: A light summer ale made with candi sugar, hibiscus flowers, ginger, and dry-flowered with hibiscus. Small amount of Willamette hops used, too.
Why I think it's a winner: Hibiscus flowers are common in tea and are tart--this may be an intriguing quasi-Belgiany beer, and it may be blood red, which would be cool, too.
Stats: 4.3%; no other stats available.

Chuckanut Dortmund Lager (Bellingham, WA)
Description: Dortmund lagers, a variant of the pilsner style, are the perfect summer beers--crisp, refreshing, nicely hopped.
Why I think it's a winner: Chuckanut is a new brewery whose principal, Will Kemper, will be familiar to old-timers who remember his first brewery, Thomas Kemper. This is another mostly-lager effort, and maybe now the time is right. Let's hope so; Beervana needs more lagers.
Stats: 1.054 OG, 5.5% abv, 25IBUs

Elysian Loser (Seattle, WA)
Description: Brewed for Sub Pop's 20th Anniversary, this hybrid IPA/pale features the use of an emerging hop, Sorachi Ace.
Why I think it's a winner: The hop in question is a high-alpha strain originally developed by Sapporo and is characterized as "lemony." Mmm, new hops...
Stats: 1.068 OG, 7.0% abv, 54 IBUs.

Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA (Paso Robles, CA)
Description: A burly IPA brewed with five hops: Warrior, Simcoe, Cascade, Centennial and Amarillo.
Why I think it's a winner: Firestone Walker is finally starting to make it North of the border, and it's one of the most well-regarded breweries in the country (rightly or wrongly). You gotta have at least one IPA in your must-try list, and since Union Jack won gold in last year's GABF, I figure it's a good bet.
Stats: 1.068 OG, 7.5% abv, 70 IBUs

Kona Coco-Loco (Kona, HI)
Description: Kona uses a lot of local Hawaiian ingredients (passion fruit, macadamia nuts, Kona coffee), and this brown includes toasted coconut.
Why I think it's a winner: Kona isn't a gimmick brewery. The passion fruit they use mimics citrusy hops, and the coffee is so fresh you can actually distinguish the Kona flavor, making a great wheat and porter. I expect they will have extracted a nice note from the coconut that will work with the sweeter, nutty notes in this beer.
Stats: 1.052 OG, 5.3% abv, 30 IBUs

Moyland's Pomegranate Wheat (Novato, CA)
Description: A wheat ale with almost no hops. The flavor comes from the pomegranate, a tart fruit selected to balance the sweetness of malt.
Why I think it's a winner: Definitely a wildcard. If the pomegranate is tart enough to balance the beer, it might just be wonderful. I am inspired by the dry final gravity of 1.009.
Stats: 1.048 OG, 4.8% abv, 8 IBUs

Terminal Gravity Festivale (Enterprise, OR)
Description: An old ale, a variety of English strong ale noted for being creamy, rich, and alcoholic.
Why I think it's a winner: Terminal Gravity is not known for prolific styles, but they are known for great beers. I wouldn't let a TG beer I hadn't try go by--and who knows how often this will make it to Portland. Plus, old ales are cool.
Stats: 1.070 OG, 8.3% abv, 73 IBUs

*Special Saison Cage Match*
Boulevard Tank 7 (Kansas City, MO)
Collaborator Saison Christophe (Portland, OR)
New Holland Golden Cap (Holland, MI)
Description: Farmhouse ales are so different that you can hardly call them a style. These three are all strong beers, but their parts are quite different. The Collaborator uses the notorious Dupont yeast--but has just 17 BUs. Golden Cap is made with Spelt and peppercorn. Boulevard's is hoppy (like Dupont), and made with wheat and corn flakes.
Why I think they're winners: Because saison is my favorite style. Prediction: at least one of these will be a "buzz beer." I cannot predict which, so try them all.
Stats: Tank 7: 1.070 OG, 8% abv, 40 IBUs; Christophe: 1.073 OG, 7.7% abv, 17 IBUs; Golden Cap: 1.064 OG, 7% abv, ? IBUs.

Wild Cards

BridgePort Stumptown Tart (Portland, OR)
I haven't tried the new version of Stumptown, but folks are saying it's quite nice. I suspect it will seduce people by its soft palate, and that they will fail to notice its heft 7.5% alcohol whallop.

Dogfish Head Festina Peche (Milton, DE)
I tried this in a bottle and it was flat, cloying, and gross. But a peach-infused Berliner Weisse seems like an excellent idea. Perhaps it will taste as good as it sounds when delivered from a keg.

New Old Lompoc Flower of the Gods (Portland, OR)
Sometimes a name draws you in: Flower of the Gods just sounds good, doesn't it? The Cluster, Simcoe, and Tettnanger hops, introduced in six infusions, may be the key. With a name like this, you're swingin' for the fences; lets see if they take it deep.

New Belgium/Elysian The Trip (Seattle/Boulder, CO)
This is actually not a wild card--it's been around town for awhile and I've heard very good buzz. It features the rare and apparently very tasty Citra hops. Try it.

Laht Neppur Neddy's Brown comes from a brewery just north of Walla Walla which few--including me--have heard of. It's a traditional brown ale. In that same vein, Riverport Old Man River Oatmeal Stout comes from Clarkston, Washington and will be new to most fest-goers. Three years ago, I brewed an IPA but fermented with a Belgian yeast--not a novel idea, as it turns out. Enter Stone Cali-Belgique. Finally, every year Sprecher sends the same beer, but that doesn't mean Sprecher Maibock is any less tasty. You could do worse than spending a token early in the fest on this subtle masterpiece.


  1. I had Festina Peche at Saraveza a couple-or-so weeks ago (it's still on tap), and it couldn't have been any further opposite of "flat, cloying, and gross."

    Though I don't get much peach off it (apparently I'm rather insensitive to fruit flavors in beer unless it's of a particular strength (Cascade Apricot: good!) or artificiality (Watermelon Wheat: bad!)), it was by far the tartest Berliner Weisse I've yet tried (thus far including Full Sail's and the Bruery's), and almost Extra Brut-like in its dryness and carbonation.

    Definitely worth checking out, but start early with this one; it's not likely to stand up to the higher IBU beers.


  2. Jeff: Just got back, here's my thumbs-up/thumbs-down list.

    Some notes on your list: Jim Parker is involved with brewing at Chuckanut, and the Dortmunder was lovely and refreshing.

    Laht Neppur has been at the Lucky Lab Barleywine festival the last couple years, but their barleywines have been <diplomacy>not so good</diplomacy>. However, their OBF Nut Brown Ale is quite nice, with roasty chocolate flavors. Give it a try.

    Stumptown Tart, Festina Peche, and the Caldera are all nice beers for the hot weather. Don't be afraid of them.

  3. Thanks, guys. On the Festina Peche: I got a bad bottle, I'm almost certain (though a bad batch isn't out of the question). That's why I thought it might be nice on draft.

  4. I found the Festina Peche quite good, but I, too, couldn't really taste the peach. Nice and sour and very much in the Berliner style, I think.

  5. Can't believe you didn't add in Old Markets "The Kraken" IIPA... that was my favorite brew there that I had tried... Tom brews a mean beer!