In true Portland fashion, the skies opened up and blessed the first day of the 27th annual Oregon Brewer’s Festival with a deluge of rain. The OBF team's response on Twitter? “Don’t worry! When it rains, WE pour!” And pour they did.
Clad in neon orange and drenched from head to toe, volunteers happily slung 88 craft beers to the city’s most dedicated day-drinkers at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Among them were beloved characters like the traditional lederhosen guy, a group of robe-wearing beer monks, and that dude with a Superman cape using it as a rain slicker.
But none held a candle to PBR Man: with a hat made of PBR boxes he strut around the festival, jean vest boldly unbuttoned, proudly displaying his beer gut—which had a six pack of PBR tattooed on it. (Oh, and let’s not forget the crystal bellybutton stud.) By 2:00, the unicycling bagpiper showed up wearing a kilt and a Darth Vader mask, thus completing the "Citizens of Portland" bingo.
Here's a truth: drinking 88 beers is a daunting task. Bringing along a friend or two and sipping off their glasses will expand your range—and help you stumble back to the MAX after your 30th three-ounce taste. This year’s beers were particularly IPA-heavy—with a focus on fruit-fermented IPAs—but there were some impressive stouts and porters that poured like motor oil and tasted like chocolate cake. Before my palette (and focus) disintegrated I managed to pick several standouts:
• Shake from Boulder Brewing smelled, tasted and had the mouth-feel a rich chocolate milkshake. This is dessert in a glass and had me craving a scoop of vanilla ice cream. (Even Old Town Brewing’s head brewer Bolt Minister said he thought it was the best beer at the festival.)
• Which brings me to Old Town Brewing's entry, a steam beer called Yosteamite Sam. Like a Pilsner left in front of a campfire for a little too long, this beer’s barely noticeable smokiness lingered with a light hop bitterness making it one of the easiest-drinking beers at the festival, and somehow fitting to the rainy camp-like atmosphere.
• There were three fruit IPAs I could have downed all day like college freshman that just discovered Mike’s Hard Lemonade: Viking Braggot’s Pineapple IPA, Maui Brewing’s Lorenzini Blood Orange Double IPA, and Ashton Brewing’s Blackberry India Pale Ale. Unlike traditional fruit beers, these have more depth and a complimentary hop kick. I suspect these refreshing brews will be the first to tap out when the weather hits the high 80s this weekend.
• As the day wore on, my tasting notes became more philosophical. In my beer guide next to Caldera’s Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter I just wrote, “Tastes like magical unicorn tears if that unicorn was on vacation in Hawaii eating a lava cake and crying with happiness about his situation.” Next to Grandma’s Pecan Brown by The Dudes’ Brewing I wrote, “Need to tell chef at Pope House Bourbon Lounge that some dudes from Los Angeles made a beer that tastes like their chocolate pecan pie.” For Sixpoint Craft Ales’ Barrel Aged 3 Beans Baltic Porter I had scribbled, “Hot bourbony-vanilla yum-town.”
Then I ate a giant pretzel with melted cheese and made a crown out of hop vines for my friend. What I happily discerned from my notes is that out of the 30+ beers I tasted, there were only a couple disappointments. (Despite its awesome name, the Billy Ray Citrus from Kells Brew Pub tasted watered down for the flavors it claimed to have.)
Bottom line: If you’re planning on hitting up the festival this weekend I recommend getting there early; this year’s line-up is sure to draw a larger crowd than usual. And say hi to PBR Man for me.
The goods: July 23-27, 2014—Admission into the brewers festival grounds is free. In order to consume beer, purchase of a 2014 souvenir tasting glass is required and costs $7. No other vessel will be filled. Beer is purchased with wooden tokens, which cost $1 apiece. Patrons pay four tokens for a full glass of beer, or one token for a taste. The OBF glass/token sales booth is CASH ONLY and does not accept credit cards or checks. The festival does offer eight ATM machines on premise.