Sunday, July 27, 2014

Oregon Brewers Festival: victim of success

     Took in the Oregon Brewers Festival, on the riverfront park in downtown Portland, this weekend. This is the 27th rendition of an event first launched in 1988 by Bridgeport Brewing, Widmer Brothers, and Portland Brewing, at that time, along with McMenamins,  the only four breweries in the city, with three more in the rest of the state.  How things have grown since then!  The event now takes place over five full days and 86 U.S. craft brewers, over a third from other states, participate, including ten from Washington.

Many thousands of beer fans attend, and this is what they encounter:  volunteers pouring three-ounce samples out of pitchers, which are constantly being refilled from kegs tapped in the refrigerated trailers behind them. The volunteers are local folk for the most part, who most likely have no knowledge of the breweries whose products they are pouring.  That meet-the-brewer contact, so much a part of the experience at smaller festivals, doesn't happen here.  Brewers march in a parade on the opening day and attend a dinner the night before, to which the hoi polloi can buy tickets, but that's it for direct contact.  
   The lady in the picture to the right was pouring Boundary Bay's Double Dry Hopped Mosaic Pale Ale.  I asked her if she had ever been to Bellingham; she said no.  The woman pouring Paradise Creek's Huckleberry Pucker had never been to Pullman. And so it went.  The volunteers were all beer enthusiasts, to be sure, but any information about your three ounces of brew had to be gleaned from the program.  
     There are a lot of festivals in the summer and fall, and attending many of them can stretch the staff of a small brewery pretty thin.  I can't fault the festival sponsors for organizing things this way; suffice it to say that the smaller festivals, drawing from a more local base, like Untapped Blues and Brews in Kennewick or our April Brews Day here in Bellingham, are more apt to afford one the chance to meet and talk to the folks who are making your beverage.
A pair of long white tents sheltered the tables and chairs for the fans, and were decorated with some great banners of brewers past and present.  This picure features banners from Thos. Kemper Brewing in Poulsbo, one of Will and Mari Kemper's earlier enterprises before they launched Chuckanut here, and Hale's Ales when they were in Kirkland in the 1980's, before Mike Hale settled in Seattle's Ballard district.  
    Samples were a dollar a pop with one exception: a special area had been set aside for a dozen  breweries, and their samples went for two tokens, two bucks per.  I tried something from Brouwerij Rodenburg in Utrecht, the Netherlands, called Terra Incognita.  It was billed as a Belgian Strong Ale, more on the golden side of the color scale. and with a nice balance of bitterness at the beginning.  
   The rest of my tokens went for Team USA's beers, and I put the most stars by Sierra Nevada's Double Latte Coffee Milk Stout.  This is a collaboration project with Ninkasi Brewing, one of the dozen collaborations SN has rolled out this month.  This is part of their coast-to-coast Beer Camp USA to celebrate the opening of their east coast brewery in Asheville, NC.  The milk stout is just fabulous, 7.6% abv and the creamiest mouthfeel you'll ever get from a beer.
(Visited 7/24/14)

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