Archive for July 28th, 2010

Braving the Oregon Brewers Festival

It all starts with a plan. You carefully orchestrate times, pass along invites, plot courses, and then carry it out. But as any good heist movie will teach you, nothing ever goes according to plan. At most, you can hope for 80% follow-through and a similar outcome. That is why a planner must be open to change, especially when “ooo, shiny!” speedbumps appear.

I can find no better illustration than my two-day excursion to the Oregon Brewers Festival. Over the last few years, I’ve been to a fair share. The first time I went, I didn’t know what I was doing. By the second or third time – consecutively – I had developed a few sure-fire strategies. I even wrote a guide about it.

Unlike years prior, I had it in mind to actually remember what I was trying and what the different tastes were. By “remember”, I don’t mean I ever left in an extreme state of haze, rather, a lot of beers run together. India Pale Ales, particularly.

Okay, some of the haze was from the alcohol, but that’s a whole ‘nother entry.

This year, I set goals. (1) Arrive early. (2) Use only the tokens I have been given, maximize tastings. (3) Stay away from IPAs (my beercandy). (3) Leave early before the night crowds arrived.

The first day of Brewfest went exactly as planned. Truth be told, I only planned on going that one day. Everyone else I knew planned to attend Friday and Saturday (July 24th-25th). There was no way I wanted to deal with the sardine-packed weekend herds. As luck would have it, another friend of mine had the same idea.

All settled, we embarked. These are the beers I tried on Thursday (the 23rd), and my impressions of them.. Er…not exactly in the order I tried them, though. (I had to stagger the best with the rest.)

Hop Valley Brewing Co. Alpha Centauri Binary IPA: This amber-colored India Pale had the usual hoppy nose, but an oddly mild citrus hint to it. It was pretty much a standard IPA with a slightly unbalanced aftertaste. Of course, I liked it (as I do any IPAs), but it didn’t deviate much from the norm.

Green Flash Brewing Co. Le Freak: This was advertized as an Imperial IPA/Belgian Trippel hybrid. Yes, yes, I know I was supposed to stay away from IPAs, but it was a mutt. It doesn’t count. The brew was tangerine orange in color with a floral-tart aroma from the foamy head. Tastewise, it had just enough sweetness from the Belgian aspect, but any pungency was counteracted by the IPA hop kick. Unique and good.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery India Brown Ale: Alright! Yes, it has “India” in the title, but it is not an IPA! It’s a hybrid flavored with coffee and brown sugar. The foamy head was about medium for a beer of its type (nut brown, IPA, what-have-you). The aroma matched the liquor color; dark, roasty, with a chocolaty finish. By roasty, I mean it seemed heavy on the barley – slightly bitter/nutty. I adored it.

Caldera Brewing Co. Hibiscus Ginger Beer: I loves me anythin’ with hibiscus in it. Ginger, not so much, but I hoped that would be understated in this low-hop beer. Luckily, it was. The liquor had a light crimson color – contributed by the hibiscus petals, obviously – and a sweet, slightly vegetal nose. It lived up to its name, spicy-tart with a sweet berry finish.

Sidenote: I meant to only photograph the ones I really liked this year; the Top 7. That was fast becoming difficult since almost everything – up to this point – was so damn good.

The Bruery 7 Grain Saison: A Belgian-style beer alright. It possessed a strong, sweet nose, light head, and looked like a Belgian blonde. Matched that in the taste, too. Crisp tasting, but “meh”. Then again, my palate is biased against Belgian beers to start with. No fault of the brewer.

Anderson Valley Brewing Co. Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema: This was described as a honey-gold ale with Pacific Northwest hops. I absolutely loathed this beer. I didn’t want to be uber-negative in this entry – and I’m sure it’s a fabulous brewery – but I can’t disguise my ire for this. I won’t use superlatives, but I hope this never crosses my plastic pint again. Next time, Anderson, bring the Hop Ottin’ IPA. In the PacNW, that’s a safe bet.

Sidenote: It was about this time I lost my friend in the crowd. In my wanderings, I got even more lost – distracted by the most perfect, princess-like posterior in stonewash jeans I saw that entire day. Totally unrelated to the Cerveza Crema, but shortly thereafter.

Oakshire Pinot Barrel-Aged Strong Ale: Originally, I meant to steer clear of the Buzz Tent (i.e. the place for specialty, two-token beers.) However, this offering had a unique aspect I’d never run into. I’ve had bourbon cask-conditioned ales, but never one from a wine barrel. Had to have it. On even a small sample pour, this strong ale boasted a thick head with a dark body. The mouthpiece aroma was all berries, flame, and ass-kickery. Oh, and the expected wine notes. It was so wine-like and creamy, I wanted to – as my compatriot said – “hump the leg of the brewer.” But…in a purely hetero way.

Sidenote: When trying to locate the profile for this on the Brewfest handbook, it wasn’t listed. In fact, the only pinot barrel-aged beer they had on the Buzz Tent roster was put out by Hop Valley. I’m pretty sure the one I had was the Oakshire one since the sign matched the moniker, but I have no way of verifying that short of asking the brewer…and I’m too lazy for that.

Riverport Brewing Co. 5/5 Pepper Beer: I’m not a fan of pepper. I know I’m not a fan of pepper. My friend – who sampled this Buzz Tent two-tokener – even stressed that I wouldn’t like it because I didn’t like pepper. Well, he was right, I didn’t like it. It tasted like pepper. No fault of the brewer (again), just a palate preference.

Sidenote: The beer name was actually mispelled in the Brewfest handbook as “Peppper”. For the longest time, I thought that was intentional…until I tried looking it up.

Laht Neppur Brewing Co. Strawberry Cream Ale: Although I’m trying to avoid brewery info in these little taster blurbs, there’re a couple of interesting facts about this Northwest newcomer. They also brew their own wine, one being a port-style Syrah. I’m doubly anxious to visit it someday. That said – alas – I didn’t approve of their Strawberry Cream Ale, mainly because it didn’t taste like strawberry. Sure, it had a fruity aspect, but it was muddled and beaten down by the wheat aspect. Negative though that opinion may be, I’m still fascinated to find out more about this brewery.

Eel River Brewing Co. Organic Acai Berry Wheat: I’ve never been a fan of “superfruit” claims, like those made for acai berries. That said, everything with the berries I’ve tried – from teas to vitamin water – turned out delicious. I hoped that was the case with this wheat. It was orange-to-brown in color. The taste was dry, crips and berry-ish. Overall, I found it mediocre. Not bad for a wheat, though, given that they can be hit-or-miss on the subjective tongue.

Sidenote: My beerbud and I were discussing a tea-beer recipe mixing a strawberry tea concentrate with a strawberry ale fused with a stout. He told me to remember it for later reference. So I did.

Laughing Dog Brewing Dogzilla Black IPA: You can smell the hops on this from several feet away. It’s damn strong. As expected by the title, it was black. It tasted like an actual dog biting my face off with sheer awesome. I almost regret not taking a picture of it. I even swigged the rest, and let out a cathartic manly grunt. Well, “attempted” manly grunt.

Sidenote: The girl ahead of me in line was chatting up the obsidian-dark volunteer, wondering where his accent was from. She cooed, “I love your accent. Are you from an island, like Jamaica?” He smiled bashfully, “Uh, no. Ethiopia.” She left embarrassed for being way off. When it was my turn up to bat, I said to him, “That was the best exchange I’ve heard all day.” He laughed.

Moylan’s Brewing Co. Pomegranate Wheat: I looked forward to sampling this because of the pomegranate factor. Unfortunately, the vibrant, purple-colored brew kinda tasted like left-out fruit punch. It would probably have a better effect if I was trying it on tap from a fresher source, but overall I didn’t favor it.

Maui Brewing Co. CoCoNut Porter: Up until now, I’d never heard of Maui Brewing. The only Hawaii-based op I knew about was Kona. But this was a porter, and by mandate, I had to try. It was rich, dark, no foam to speak of, and heavy on the cocoa nose. I was almost worried that this was the skunk end of the batch. The taste changed that. It was sharp and tasted like liquor-infused truffles. Yeah, I liked it. This was dark beercandy.

Kona Brewing Co. Coco Loco – Big Island Brown: My friend and I weren’t sure what we would label this as. Originally, we thought it was a stout. It’s lightness then made us think, “porter”. Turns out it was a brown, as per the liquid color. Didn’t see that coming. The brew possessed a light head with a heavy coconut milk scent, and the taste was crisp and smooth. Not much more to say about it. I approved.

Oakshire Brewing Co. Overcast Espresso Stout: This stout lived up to its name exactly. I only wish it hadn’t been a sunny day while trying it. Per the profile, it was black in color, possessed a nut-roasted smell, and tasted like a mocha with a kick. I likened it to an Irish Coffee. Awesome.

Marin Brewing Co. Blueberry Ale: For a simply-named beer, it’s a shame it didn’t have a stronger flavor. However, it still smelled and tasted like blueberries, albeit on the light side. I chock that up to the pale ale bit.

Pelican Pub & Brewery Kiwanda Cream Ale: Touted as a 19th century-styled beer, this pale surprised me in its delivery. The liquor was gold in color, medium foam-age, and followed through with a suprisingly rich, blunt taste. What’s funny is that I’ve been to Pelican and had their sampler before. I don’t remember this one. Sacrilege.

Sidenote: My friend suggested we mix it with the Oakshire Overcast Espresso for shits-n-giggles. It was genius. They complimented each other perfectly. Not sure if either vendor would appreciate that experiment, though. (Heh.)

In addition, around the same time I noticed a raven-haired goddess on the arm of a rather large missing link of a man. My friend – in his best deadpan – said, “I could take him.”

Boulder Beer Co. Kinda Blue: The only other blueberry beer of the Brewfest, described as a “fruit-filled wheat ale”. It had a red/amber look to it on first pour, a berry-rich nose, and the wheat aspect was the flavor’s forefront. Alas, a little light on the berry, and its sweet finish was almost a little too much. Verdict? Okay.

Dick’s Brewing Co. Dick Danger Ale: Described as a hybrid, I couldn’t tell ya what it was paired with. My immediate guess (at the time, too) was a porter and a brown. The profile states that it’s also coffee-flavored. The dark palette supports that. On splashdown, it produced no foam to speak of, but it sported a decent creamy aroma. Tastewise, it was malty, the creamy aspect translated to the body, and not too strong on the coffee connection. Nod of approval? Earned.

Rogue Ales 21: I usually dismiss Rogue prematurely. A lot of their beers have the same palate to me, variants of the Dead Guy Ale formula. This was way different from anything they’ve produced, or that I could remember. It had a liquor hint to the taste, bourbon-like. You could taste the 8% ABV out of this.

Maui Brewing Co. Heaven & Earth BalreyWine: Yet another two-tokener from the Buzz Tent, and all I had were two tokens left. It was one of the few barleywines on display this year, and I’d never heard of Maui Brewing up until trying their CoCoNut porter. Seemed like a win-win to me. I didn’t add a lot in the way of taster notes for this. All I scribbled out was, “Bourbon-y but mild.” I guess that means I liked it.

Sidenote: I’m still curious if it was really called “BalreyWine” or if that was yet another handbook typo.

And so closes Day One…


Here is where “The Plan” took a turn for the ‘tarded. As mentioned, I originally only set aside the one day for Brewfest to try everything I wanted to. About noon the following day, I received a text from a friend of mine who was in town from upper Washington. We’ll call him BrewMunkey (since that’s the name of his taster blog…and he knows more than I do). I was in touch with him for most of the day prior relating beers to look out for. He and BrewMunkeyBride were planning on staying until the place closed.

Since I hadn’t seen them since – oh – the last Brewfest, I figured a second day wouldn’t hurt. I also found out an ol’ high school bud was also making the rounds in the afternoon. Now I had to go. I already had the cup, I still had two tokens, I figured another $10-worth of tasters wouldn’t hurt. So, off I went into the brew-fray…again.

Horrible mistake.

By the time I got there, it was already 2:30PM. The park was packed to the fences. The two main tents were at carrying capacity. Shouts of “whooooo!” could be heard from the street. The air smelled of collegiate drunken reverie. It was no longer Brewfest…

It was “Bro”-Fest.

Upon entering, it was even worse. The average attendee was male and in his mid-20s-to-mid-30s. He sported a sportive tank top to brandish his Larry the Cable Guy-ish “right to bare arms” and matching tribal tattoo. And – if he was lucky – he came with arm candy; an attractive, dazed damsel who wouldn’t know a real beer from a ‘tini drink. These folks were the median.

Sure, scattered about, there were legitimate groups there to enjoy a really good beer, but the norm were the fresh-out-of-college, still-in-party-mode binge drinker. And while I still fall in the age demographic for this group, I abhor it. Maybe it’s my glasses, or a bout of premature old age. When I have a libation, I appreciate peace – a tinge of my tea drinker aesthetic spilling over into my pint glass. Friday was anything but peaceful.

With the few tokens I had, most of my time was spent at the Buzz Tent. I also made the uneconomical move of accidentally sampling things I tried before. I didn’t realize this until I looked at my notes a few days later.

In all, only six new beers tried on the second day. Here they are:

Alaska Brewing Co. Alaskan Barleywine: When I escaped the swelling crowd, I was relieved to find the Buzz Tent reasonably populated. I bee-lined for the barleywine. This offering from Alaska Brewing was very strong on the barley taste, had a wonderful hop finish, and went down smoother than any I’d had so far. It was a good way to start.

Sidenote: I found my group shortly before trekking to the barleywine. Afterward, I went with the espresso stout from Oakshire, thinking I hadn’t tried it before. Upon returning, I lost sight of ’em again due to the crowd. Didn’t find ’em again until an hour later, but I always defaulted back to the Buzz Tent.

Three Skulls Wreckage Barleywine: As far as barleywines go, this one felt medium in strength, easy to swallow, and a nice (almost floral) finish. The after-belch kinda burned, though, but that’s not a judge of bad character. Well, except mine.

Sidenote: Upon my second go-around to the two-tokeners, I had difficulty choosing between a cask-conditioned stout…or another barleywine. Out loud – and in front of the volunteer – I said, “Eenie-meenie-miney…Barleywine.” She looked at me strangely.

After leaving the tent, and walking the periphery in search of people I knew, the odor of marijuana filled my nose. Wonderful. Yep, definitely Bro-Fest.

Natian Brewery Destinatian: Dubbed the smallest – or “nano” – brewery at the festival per the profile, this was a Portland-based outfit and a new one to me. For a dark amber, I thought it was surprisingly light. It had a wheat-like aroma, a note of honey to the taste, and a crisp bite of citrus at the end. I enjoyed it immensely.

Eugene City Brewery Honey Orange Wheat: I know I tried this, my notes say I did, yet I couldn’t find the brewery listed in the handbook. Googling didn’t help either, except for mentions of a Rogue annex with the same name. Too bad. This was wonderful. The liquor had a vibrant orange color, a predominately wheat nose, but it was like tasting orange juice mixed with cider and a dash of mead.

Sidenote: It is here I should mention the absolute, undisputed King of Brewfest – Sunburned Obese Button-Down-Shirt Fat Guy. Sir, I raised my glass to you. You were awesome. Second Runner-Up was Handlebar Mustache Goth Kilt Guy. He trailed only by a margin.

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Ollalieberry Cream Ale: I’ve never even heard of an ollalieberry before. What it tastes like, I couldn’t tell ya. For this ale, I simply could not get passed the sour taste. There was a berry profile alright, but it was far too sweet and face-implosive. However, I’ll fault my palate for that. I don’t like really sweet-n-sour things to begin with.

Sidenote: I had a beer snob moment with the volunteer who was serving this. He was about to poor me the last bit from an almost-empty pitcher. I stated that I didn’t want the skunk end and pointed to a full/fresh pitcher next to him. Both he and another volunteer insisted that the skunky sediment was fresh as well. I insisted on the other pitcher. They acquiesced…but only poured about halfway. Jerks.

Buckbean Brewing Co. Original Orange Blossom: In reading from the handbook, I was surprised that this was a brewery from my old Alma mater – Reno, NV. This ale might be enough to make me visit again. It was citrusy, sweet, but with a balanced floral character throughout. I would say this was the best I tried my second day at Brewfest without question. The perfect summer ale.

I closed my day with a recommendation from a friend to try the Rogue 21. Of course, I already tried it, but I didn’t know it at the time. I liked it better the second time around. Fresher batch, mayhap. I said my farewells to BrewMunkey and BrewMunkeyBride, and to the others I knew. Crowd-worn, I dragged my feet to the lightrail.

In the end, regardless of earlier frustration with the populace, it was still worth the jaunt. There were those I missed that were more worthwhile than I thought, and I notched off two more barleywines in the process. In those terms, it was a success. However, in the future, I’ll stick to my guns for only doing it the first day.

I’m not a party person…

Despite evidence to the contrary.

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