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Friday, July 17, 2009

Portland International Beerfest Preview

Portland International Beerfest
North Park Blocks between Davis and Everett

Friday: 4pm - 10pm

Saturday: 12pm - 10pm

Sunday: 12pm - 7pm
Attendees pay $20 for 10 beer tickets and official PIB glass; additional tix $1. Cash only. Pours of 4 ounces cost 1-4 tickets (half the beers are just one ticket). Children, no; dogs, yes. Official website.

And so it begins. In just a few short hours, volunteers will begin pouring some 147 beers, presenting you with a painful quandary: how do you choose? (Yes, you must choose: with just 23 hours of fest time, you'd have to move at a lethal 6.4-beer-per-hour pace to try them all. Don't do it!) I have spent a fair amount of time studying the beer list posted one the website, and damned if I know how I'm going to taste my much-attenuated list of two dozen+ "must try's." But perhaps we can at least bring some order to the winnowing process.

For those of you who attend every year, looking for the new trends may be one way to identify likely suspects. Craft brewing is an international phenomenon, and PIB is a great way to see how breweries are influencing one another. You can be sure that if a brewery discovers a cool hop on one continent, brewers will be using it a year later on another continent. (Nelson Sauvin are the lupulin du jour.) So what's hot now? Stouts, for one thing. There are 17 stouts and Baltic Porters at the fest, 13 of them imperial. The leaders here are the Scandinavians, who appear to have been inspired by their dark winters, but this is really a worldwide phenomenon: breweries from ten countries have brought these beers.

Brewery collaboration is suddenly very big, too, and not just for neighboring breweries. Of the half-dozen or so collaboration beers on offer, only one seems to be by countrymen breweries. Will this create a Beatles-like fizz of creativity (sum greater than the parts), or a muddle of compromise?

Finally, barrel-aging is so widespread that it's now hard to call it a trend. I remember way back in the day (2005), you'd be wowed if someone got a hold of a decent bourbon barrel in which to age a beer. In this year's line-up beers have been aged in: Islay malt barrels, 40-year-old cognac barrels, burgundy barrels, and a 100-year-old sherry cask (!). If you're not barrel aging, you're not trying.

Interesting Beers
Get any ten beer geeks to look at this list and collectively they'll advise you that every beer pouring at the fest is interesting. And they'd be right. But we must all use our wiles and judgment to get the list pared, and so I have selected a modest sixteen beers here for your consideration, trying to balance countries (Germany, Denmark, Italy, England, Belgium, Netherlands, and Czech Republic), style, and type (seven are on draft, nine in the bottle). Except for my recommendation on the hefeweizen flight, I've tried none of these beers--that's another of my criteria, novelty--so there are likely some duds. Also, I eschewed all of the Double IPAs because I've grown weary of the style. If you must have one--and most of you will feel you must--try one from Denmark or Norway ;they seem to understand the Zen of hopping. That style aside, here's a list of some fair diversity:
  • Urige Dopple-Sticke Alt, Germany. Purportedly the hoppiest German beer in production, in the lovely altbier stile. (Draft)
  • Cantillon Saint Lamvinus, Belgium. A lambic aged in a burgundy barrel. (Bottle)
  • Mikkeller USAlive, Denmark. A strong Belgian-style ale made with a combination of brettanomyces and Orval yeast. (Bottle)
  • Hofstettner Granitbock, Germany. A hellles bock made in the stone beer method of heating rocks to boil the wort ("granite bock"). (Bottle)
  • Dupont Avril Table Beer, Belgium. I will confess to finding Dupont irresistible, and this wee 3.5% table beer is no exception. They're also pouring Moinette, and I wouldn't be shocked to look down and see that in my glass at some point, either. (Draft)
  • Birrificio Montegioco Quarta Runa, Italy. A beer made with peach, purportedly dry and refined. (Bottle)
  • Hefeweizen Flight, Germany. Here's what you do: you and three friends get a simultaneous pour of the four traditional hefeweizens (Ayinger, Franziskaner, Kapuziner, and Weinhenstephan) and see which is best. What an opportunity! (Draft)
  • Fantome Pissenlit, Belgium. A saison made with dandelions. (Bottle)
  • Slaghmuylder Witkap Singel, Belgium. A beer in the rare singel style, brewed by the only secular brewery ever allowed to use the designation "Trappist"--though not any more. (Draft)
  • De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis, Netherlands. "Hell and Damnation" is a stout made with obscure Czech Premiant hops and aged in a 40-year-old cognac barrel. (Bottle)
  • Le Coq 6-Year-Old Imperial Stout, England. The allure is right there in the title. (Bottle)
  • Reissdorf Kolsch, Germany. An authentic kolsch from Cologne and served on tap, the way delicate beers like this were intended. (Draft)
  • De Ranke Cuvee De Ranke, Belgium. A sour ale made with a mixture of yeasts from Rodenbach and an unnamed lambic brewery. (Bottle)
  • Cantillon Mystery Beer, Belgium. Whatever it is comes in a keg, and depending on how many tix they're asking, I will probably take the plunge. (draft)
  • Oppigårds Well-hopped Lager, Czech Republic. A 5% pilsner with a hearty 50 IBUs. (Bottle)
  • JW Lees Harvest Sherry, England. This is not my fave brewery, and normally I would keep on moving. But in this case, the 100-year-old sherry cask is hard to ignore. Pours at 2pm on Saturday only, in what is sure to be a scrum. (Draft)
There are a few American beers one might keep an eye on, too. Very often these are cheaper, and you have a chance to see how good American brewing stacks up against the world's best. A few that caught my eye:
  • Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout. Eventually I'm going to find a DH I like. It's 22%, so be careful.
  • Bell's De Proef Van Twee. A two-continent collaboration, seasoned with brettanomyces. How can it go wrong?
  • Great Divide Oak Aged Chocolate Yeti. I nurture a prejudice against Colorado beers, but Yeti is the exception. Put it on oak and add chocolate and I bet it's still damn tasty.
  • Mead. There are five here, and if you've never had a mead, check them out. (Try to find the driest you can--maybe the agave?)
  • Rogue John John Hazelnut. Aged in a rum barrel, but only 5%--intriguing.
  • Cascade/Rac Lodge. Ask around and find out what Gansberg sent--if it's the kriek, don't delay!
Ah, the best laid plans. Even trying to winnow, I still mentioned 26 beers. This is the trouble, and it doesn't get any easier once you arrive, in situ, and find yourself with three imperial stouts in your gullet. Godspeed.


  1. That's a nice list of tasters, Jeff. We would easily make a similar list.

    Too bad the Wort Crew will be at the Stone Sour Fest in San Diego.... :-O

  2. Forget about the Uerige Doppel-Sticke. It will disappoint, especially if you still have the taste of Widmer's fine Double Alt in your mind. I do like Uerige's regular-strength Alt, this double one is just too syrupy.

    I'm also dubious about the JW Lees. A few years ago I was beside myself with anticipation for the Harvest aged in 30 y.o. Lagavulin barrels. But it sucked.

    Wow, I wrote a longer comment than Dr. Wort!

  3. Great descriptive list, Jeffrey! I'm thirsty already... Yay, stouts, honey meads, & barrel-aging! "Chocolate Yeti"? Hhmm, doesn't that sound like some delicious pseudonym for a NW "Sasquatch"? ;) Kewl!!

  4. I won't forget about the Uerige! But maybe I'll lower my expectations (the Widmer's double alt isn't in my head, but their regular alt, which is itself no wilting flower). I'm also dubious about the JW Lees, but come on, that sherry cask is a strong lure. What I recall about the one you reference is that it was like maple syrup--absolutely sickly sweet. Sherry is sweeter than scotch, so it could be a bigger catastrophe, too.

    What are you looking forward to trying?

  5. I was thinking of sticking to the Peroni personally.

  6. @DA

    Come DA, you can stretch a little! Maybe a Spaten Pils??? ;-}

    What? NO PABST!! That's it! I'm not going! :-D

  7. I'm reminded of last year's PIB… while standing in line for the 30yr Ola Dubh, two guys get in line behind me, stand there for 30 seconds - tops - before one of them goes, "Dude, I just want something cold!"

    "Pilsner Urquell in the Beer Garden, $3 a pint, have fun" was my instant response.

    He didn't waste any time… nor should you, DA Beers. :P You'd do a damn sight better than Peroni.


  8. This, Doc Wort, is gueueze-dry comedy:

    I was thinking of sticking to the Peroni personally.

    I believe it's a reference to my comment "Get any ten beer geeks to look at this list and collectively they'll advise you that every beer pouring at the fest is interesting."

    Um, yes, Peroni. Probably not making anyone's top 100 list.

  9. I remember a few years ago Peroni was having a marketing contest, they were looking for people to submit ideas for which fruit they should serve along with a glass of Peroni to represent the brand, like the lemon/Widmer-Hefe thing. I don't recall ever hearing anything more of this, but I was really wondering what they were thinking. What "new" fruit were people going to suggest that would really turn people onto Peroni? olives? how about just a whole damn banana stuck in each glass?

  10. So racist. Better pray the Colombo Family aren't reading this and don't know who you are!

    I think tons (most?) folks go to our brewfests primarily because it's fun to hang out drinking beer together, especially outdoors in the city. I bet they could serve nothing but Peroni and Lemon Lager and a LOT of people would show up. The reality of incredible brews is precious to the growing number of discerning aficionados, but obviously still not so relevant to the thousands of "I just want something cold" dudes and dudettes who pack into the fests. It's the Superbowl Sunday phenom: Only some appreciate as experts, but EVERYBODY loves to gather for the fun!

    Now I wonder how much Peroni will get sold...

  11. If you were referring to the olive/Italian comment, note that Spain is the worlds largest olive producer.

  12. I think folks is gettin a mite giddy at the prospect of 147 beers.

  13. Pal, if it were up to me, I'd let it slide this time. Yet those Colombos, they're rather... sensitive. But hey, you seem like a smart guy! Not to worry now! I'm sure you know what you're doing.

    On the other end, I also remember when stouts were quite rare at the summer fests. This rising number is a welcome trend. ;)

  14. I knew DA was joking.... I know him far better than that.... Just playing off his comment.

    Have one for me!

    Is Guido going or does he just want to talk about Peroni... ;-}

    Better watch out DA, you might end up at the bottom of the Willamete with a couple cases of Morretti La Rossa's taped to yer ass... ;-}

  15. Not so many blocks from the birre Italiane booth to the river, is it? And indeed, "Guido" always goes to the Fest, Il mio amico...

  16. Capisco il fratello ....


  17. The Cantillon mystery beer was Iris. Very, very tasty.

    Cascade Brewing did bring a sour beer. People were trying to guess whether it was the storied 3231234 or not.

    Under some peer pressure, I tried the weasel stout, the one made with coffee beans eaten, then excreted by weasels in the jungle. At 5 tix, it was a good story, but just an okay beer.

    Heard some good things about the Lagavulin, but didn't try it. What I heard was that it tasted like a shot of Lagavulin had been poured into some aged beer. So if you like both of those things together, get pumped!

    If you like hop bombs, I highly recommend the Oakshire Hopass or whatever the kids are calling it. Very hoppy, but barely bitter. It's all in the aroma.

  18. Doc Wort said:

    "What? NO PABST!! That's it! I'm not going! :-D"

    Oh, the irony. For only $1/sample you COULD have had some PBR...

    Dave said:

    "Cascade Brewing did bring a sour beer. People were trying to guess whether it was the storied 3231234 or not."

    Nope. I'm pretty sure it was the Mouton Rouge, or one of the base beers that goes into the blend. It was similar, but it didn't have the depth of oakiness and slight vanilla/bourbon note that the Barrel 323 did.

    According to Curtis, the pale Cascade mystery beer was the Gose, but I couldn't pull any saltiness out of it and just figured it was a berliner weiss or something until I heard it straight from him.