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Saturday, July 17, 2010

PIB Is Showing Some Midlife Flabbiness

Note: post updated with my recommendations after last night's visit.

I had, as usual, a delightful time at the Portland International Beerfest last night. Sally and I were in line by 3:35 and I scored a table in the shade as a base of operation. Although the fest gets more popular every year, it was still mild by OBF standards, and the shade, good beer, and doggy vibe always pleases. Okay, praise doled out, we now move to the airing of grievances. PIB seems to be developing a few bad habits and a friendly intervention or two may help them steer back to the straight an narrow. My complaints:
  1. False advertising. PIB has never had the greatest system for directing drinkers to selected beers. The free brochure has always been a convoluted mess, trying to serve twin masters--drinkers and the distributors who help make the fest possible. The result is that you stare at a beer map written in 8-point font on one page and try to get back to find beer details on another page--which is organized by distributor, not brewery. I've gotten used to this. What was new--and distinctly uncool--is that the ticket prices listed in the brochure didn't always match the number at the tap/bottle. Cantillon's Lou Pepe Kriek was listed as three tokens in the brochure, but six (!) when you finally made it to the bottle.
  2. Declining quality of beers. I mentioned this in my review, but it was more palpable once I was there. The problem is that almost all foreign bottled beers are now at least two tickets, and most are three or four. A lot of these are only average beers. (One of my friends, not a big beer fan, paid three tickets for Lindemans Framboise--a beer that retails for about five bucks a bottle.) If you're going to charge a buck an ounce, you better assemble a stellar list. I found a number of nice beers, but I knew how to look.
  3. Lack of information. This is an ongoing problem, but was highlighted by an email I got from the OBF while I was at the fest. It contained detailed descriptions of all the beers. In past years, PIB did a half-assed job of at least giving descriptions on-line. This year, almost none of the beers had descriptions on-line. The meager brochure was no help, either. It may not benefit PIB's bottom line to spend the money to pay someone to put this together, but it's gross malfeasance to fest-goers. Only a tiny fraction will have had any idea what to expect from most of the beers. This has always been a problem, but I've chosen to overlook it due to the fest's overall strength. I overlook it no more. Pay someone a hundred bucks and put out a decent guide, folks. And get rid of that stupid way of listing beers by distributor.
  4. No Odin's Tipple! This was the final straw. I'd saved my last four tokens for Haandbryggeriet Odin's Tipple, which apparently didn't make it. These things happen, but it was a bad note to strike at the end of the fest. Two other people, incomprehensible brochures in hand, were also standing where this beer should have been, and of course, the poor pourer had no idea what the issue was.
The OBF went through a similar midlife slump, resting on its laurels even as many serious beer fans abandoned it. (They have thankfully rallied.) PIB needs to get its act together or a similar fate looms.

Update. I shouldn't miss the forest for the trees. Here are three nice beers I tried yesterday:
  • Rose Petal Imperial Golden Ale. Honest to god, this was my favorite beer from the fest. It has a magical property. After you swallow, the botanical volatiles coalesce and you get a lovely, rosey aftershock.
  • St Feuillien Saison. fresh and organic. Got the raised eyebrow of surprise when I passed it around.
  • Bateman's Mr. George's Ruby Porter. Have it early because the subtle roasty flavors are delicate and easily crushed by palate-dulling hops and sourness.
Of course, La Folie and Double Mountain Kriek were fantastic, but you probably already knew that.


  1. Re: Declining Quality of Beers. Why is everyone complaining about PIB's list? I don't get it: there were 5 Mikkellers, 3 Cantillons, 2 Nogne Os, 2 Dieu du Ciels, to name a few rock stars. On top of that, some of our everyday breweries showed off special stuff: DM's Kriek, Lompoc's Bourbon-Aged Doppelbock, special IIPAs from Great Divide, 21st Amendment, and HUB, and cheap drafts of things like La Folie and Jubel 2010.

    Seems to me like the quality is as good as it ever was. Just that the beer snobs have a lot more experience than we used to.

    I do have a complaint about the list: I wish they'd cut out this "Mystery Beer" crap. The program might say "TBA", but at the festival you should know what you're handing over your money for.

  2. Totally agree with the imperial golden. I got a really nice ground pepper smell with this beer as well.

  3. I loved the Caldera Rose Petal as well, as you know, but I thought later that a pint of the stuff would be too much. It seems like a perfect 4oz. beer. I think I would fine the rose water taste becoming unpleasant if I had more.

    And here is another vote for the Double Mountain Kriek - wonderful, and helped, no doubt, by the fact that it is fresh, fresh, fresh.

  4. I don't think there's been a big quality decline, but there does seem to be a shift from 3-4 years ago when:
    a) there was closer to a 50/50 split between bottled and draft
    b) the emphasis was on 'international' beers

    I'll have to dig up the old programs I kept from 05-07 PIBs but I recall a lot fewer 'local' taps bottles. Maybe a sign of the times with importers or a catering to the whims of less adventurous/more frugal beer drinkers, but I don't need to see bottles of HUB's Rise Up Red, cans of Caldera's IPA/Pale or Cascade's Razzberry Wheat (seriously???) at Portland INTERNATIONAL Beerfest.

    That said, we had a great time with the Pub Night crew and wished we could have stayed longer last night...we're planning to go back for the 'dregs' tomorrow and use up the remaining 29 tix from our two 'VIP' passes (a great deal, by the way).


    PS: I, too, loved that Caldera Rose Petal Imperial Golden...

  5. Bill, I think I covered my arse on the "declining quality" argument. The peaks are still very high, but the valleys are lower and more numerous. I also qualified this critique by saying it applied to imports--the domestic list is the best ever.

    I actually started writing my post offering the same criticism as you--imports are just more available/tasters just more sophisticated--but then I looked at the diversity, and it's not great. Four British/Irish selections? Indefensible. The Belgians are solid, and the new beers from Scandinavia nice (though typical over the past couple years), but the German selection was poor. There was little in the way of selection from obscure countries. Italy and France, two of the hot countries for innovative micros, were unrepresented.

    There's going to be a trade-off when you have 50 local beers, but it should include a balanced selection. This was a weak list.

  6. Bateman's Ruby Porter is re-branded Dark Lord, correct? I've heard great things about Dark Lord (not to be confused with the Three Floyd's brew) and will have to pick up some Ruby Porter if that is correct.