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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Is the International Beer Fest Out of Gas?

I will be attending the Portland International Beer Fest this weekend because it is located in the dappled sunshine of the North Park Blocks and there are so many beers that even a curmudgeon can find a half-dozen excellent pours. 
That said, I become ever more more disenchanted with what was once far and away my fave fest.  Every year, the selection goes down and the prices go up.  This is not only inexcusable in a moment when there's more good international beer in the US than ever before (places like Apex and Bazi consistently have impressive draft imports) , but especially when you compare it to other international fests like this one.

The beer list is disappointing.   It is larded with a large number of familiar brands (Chimay, Lindemans, Sam Smith's, Schneider, Spaten) and has incredibly bad coverage of emerging countries: Italy (1), France (0), Norway (0).  Denmark and New Zealand have a few entrants--good!--but in past year Danish beer set you back 4-6 bucks for a 4-ounce pour.  We'll see how it looks this year.  The total number of actual international beers (83) is now running behind domestics (93).  Oh, and those American entrants, which I've raved about in the past?  The selection is likewise unspectacular.  Lots and lots of regularly-available pours there. 

So to you.  Has PIB run out of gas?  Are you even bothering to go this year, or would you rather hang out at Apex instead?


  1. I think the partial demise of PIB might be in many ways equated with the lack of Weesner.

  2. It does not help that Preston has moved on, but this festival has more problems than that.

  3. I haven't gone in the last couple years, the prices are much too high. Instead I much prefer splitting some bottles with friends and paying half the amount. No sense in paying 200% or more retail bottle markups and getting shitty yeasty dreg pours.

  4. I haven't been to this festival in years. Thought the selection was bad back then and doesn't sound like it has improved.

  5. I also haven't been in years. If I do go, it will only be because a group of people from work always goes in the afternoon (so to be social). It is disappointing that the selection isn't any different than we can already get all over town. You noted the lack of Italian beers. For adventures in Italian craft beer, I suggest going to Nostrana. Their bartender has curated an awesome selection of Italian beers.

  6. Yep, this is my least favorite beer fest in the Portland

  7. While I'm still attending the PIB this year, as I have every year it has been held, there's been a definite downhill trend ever since the first or second year. Fewer and fewer actual international and rare selections, more and more of the same old same old. This may well be my last time.

  8. I respectfully disagree. PIB and SIB have consistantly offered a unique selection of gems. Yes, there are usual suspects included in the lineup, but not every beer needs to be an extreme-unique beer. Some festival attendees would benefit from trying basic offerings from some producers. I think the success of the fest is not contingent on Preston being there. People voice the same complaints about HAF and that is Preston's baby. That beoing said, I really like SIB/PIB. Just my $.02.

  9. Jeff you ignorant slut ;-)

    But seriously, I am dumbstruck by your analysis.

    First off, I count 94 draft beers (!), with 29 coming from outside the USA (!!). That's impressive no matter how you slice it.

    And I totally don't get your "regularly available" comment. Maybe 10% of the draft beers meet that criteria. Maybe.

    Moreover, your tone suggests that you think the organizers are doing a middling job of sourcing beers. Bullshit! It's a two-way street. Rick goes WAY out of his way to procure the most interesting beers he can, but if the brewers won't provide there's nothing he can do about it. The least you can do is either interview him or acknowledge the challenge yourself.

    'Disappointing'? 'Unspectacular'? Sorry dude but I think you sound like a massive snob here.

    Big picture, this is easily one of the top ten selections of beer you'll find in the WORLD this year. Perspective, please.

  10. Appreciate the candor, Frank. I guess we just see things differently.

  11. Frank said:

    >And I totally don't get your "regularly available" comment."

    Sorry Frank, but I count at least 120 beers on that list that are either currently on the shelves at local bottles shops, or (in the case of Hop Henge and Tart Lychee) just went out of season.

  12. @Frank -- I'm with Anonymous, in fact I think your 10% figure might be backwards: after a close look at the list I'd guess that maybe 10% are *not* (or have not recently been) available at bottle shops and pubs around the greater Portland area. That's not to say there isn't lots of great beer to be had, but PIB presents itself as a festival of the rare and exotic.

    As an aside I'm not particularly fond of bottled beers at beer festivals. The most interesting usually have a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which casts a sediment, and the treatment the bottles receive at a festival is not conducive to keeping the sediment were it generally belongs: at the bottom of the bottle. Hard luck for the person who pays good money (as much as 6$ at this years PIB) and gets the last pour off a given bottle!

    All that being said, I'm off to PIB in a bit to drink me some good beer. :-)

  13. Trying to get something "unique" at this time of year while breweries are maxed out would be a minor miracle.

  14. A non-mouse, you should cut PIB some slack on that score. Belgian beers are brewed to be bottle-fermented and a great many are never kegged or casked. They achieve their Belgianness by that secondary ferment, which usually takes place in a warm room at the brewery for about a month. Even in Belgium you'd be served a bottle.

  15. Jeff said:

    >Even in Belgium you'd be served a bottle.

    True, but they would give you the entire bottle, and either pour it themselves or allow you to pour it in such a way as to minimize the amount of sediment that ends up in the glass.

    Having the bottles sitting in buckets of ice and repeatedly tipping them is certainly less than ideal, but shy of decanting every single bottle into another vessel as it's opened I can't think of any other way for the PIB organizers to deal with it. I'm not sure there's anything in the 6 ticket range that I'm interested in trying, but if there is I'll be hanging out near the table waiting for them to crack a fresh bottle before I plunk down my tickets.

  16. Jeff's last comment too true---my wife and I spent a month in Belgium 7 years ago or so and at the vast majority of bars (if not all of them) the tap lists were scant at best, while the bottle lists were extensive and virtually everything sold bottled. When I asked about it, I was told that many beers were kegged mostly for the US market where people wanted it served that way (FWIW, anecdotal at best, but...).

    I know that I'd rather have 99% of Belgians in the bottle vs. keg----they always taste better that way.

  17. @Jeff: my aside on bottles wasn't intended as a dig at PIB in specific, just a musing on bottles at festivals in general.

    When I enjoy a bottle at home, at a bottle shop, or at a pub, I have the option of possibly decanting, or at least pouring carefully. I don't suppose it would be very practical to decant the bottled beers at a festival like PIB with so many bottles on offer.

    Each to their own, but I've personally had too many distractingly yeasty pours from bottles at festivals in the past to make it seem like an attractive proposition. I might go out on a limb for a rarity I'd never before experienced and couldn't obtain elsewhere, but at least at PIB there wasn't really anything much in that category. :-)

  18. Actually, I just got back from Belgium, and they have little wicker baskets to set the bottles in at a 30 degree angle, which would probably minimize sediments being disturbed. Can't keep it cold then though...