Braving Oregon Brewfest 2011

I will preface this by saying, “I’m writing this while still buzzed.”

There is no better introduction to the below missive than that. It seemed prudent and logical to post my experience at this year’s Oregon Brewfest right after it just happened. Okay, granted, it’s still going on at the time of this writing, but my experience with it has just ended…and I have the chicken-scratched notes and incriminating photos to prove it. So…onward to the frivolities of the first day!

Initially, I had planned on going by myself. Everyone else – those responsible bastards – had “jobs” they went to, like the normal 9-5/five-days-a-week clock-punchers they were. My “weekend” – such as it was – fell on a Wednesday and Thursday – so my only free day to go to the Brewers Festival was on the first day. Unfortunately, no one else could join me on said excursion. As a result, I was torn.

Do I (a) stay home and write fantasy stories like a responsible writer, or (b) head down to Brewfest like the thirtysomething miscreant I liked to think I was. Evidence was pointing to the former until I got a call from my cousin, Jason.  He wondered if I would mind a tag-along. “Hell no I wouldn’t mind the tag-along!” I said, emphatically (paraphrased slightly). And off we were to grab food and caffeine before the impending event.

After MAX-ing it downtown, it became clear to us that the myth of the “slow first day” of Brewfest was all but shattered. Apparently, the word had gotten out – since last year – that you could actually sample the beers you wanted within a decent amount of time the earlier you went. My respite was dead. The secret was out. Brewfest was crowded…even on the opening day of the festivities. Luckily, there was still room to navigate the tents to try what we wanted to.

Standout Beers of the Day:

Amnesia Dopacetic Imperial IPA – I was impressed with the initial hoppy forefront, but even more so in the citrusy finish. The sign of an exceptional IPA.

Pyramid Dark IPA – Like the Amnesia offering, it also had a citrusy profile. I’m not usually impressed with the Pyramid brand, but this was a standout. Part of that is my predilection toward black IPAs in general.

Beer Valley Brewing’s Jackelope Imperial Pumpkin Porter – While it had a pretty standard porter delivery, and next-to-no pumpkin presence to speak of (from what I could tell), it was worth mentioning for the name alone…and the fact that the brewery is out of Ontario, OR. – a place known for their dislike of bars.

Dogfish Brewing Black and Red – This is a beer I adored but my cousin didn’t like. It was described as a berry/mint stout with a sweet/hoppy profile. Cinnamon was what came to mind when I sipped it. This was a beer best served cold…not at room temperature. Extremely strong.

Great Divide Rumble – Hard to describe this one. I mooched this off an acquaintance, and – my god! – it was good. I wish I had better notes than that…but I don’t.

The Buzz Tent:

As was the case last year, the true gems of Brewfest were the options presented in the two-token Buzz Tent. Granted, they were twice as much as the samplers presented in the normal tents, but – man – they lived up to their price tag. Here were the few I tried.

Kona Brewing “Lime Leaves” – Kona wasn’t even listed as one of the Buzz Tent participants, but they came through with their “lime leaves” ale. No idea what was in it, except for the one ingredient, but it was citrus/sour awesomeness. And I’m not the only one who said so.

Hollister Brewing Black Ice – This was a unique one. None of those folks I was with could make heads or tails of it. I actually had to consult the website to finally discover that it was an Imperial Stout. Could’ve fooled me. Our first guess was that it was an oak-chip-aged porter. I guess we were way off. Still…damn good.

Gilgamesh Brewing Mega Monster DIPA – I was already a fan of Gilgamesh because of their tea-brewed Mamba, which I did a review for. I remember sampling their normal Mega Monster at the same time, but not the Double-IPA. Holy wow, this was strong on the hops, but – unlike some doubles out there – it still maintained a smooth character. Well worth the two tokens.

Alameda Brewing My Bloody Valentine – This wasn’t the one they had initially listed in the Buzz lineup, but it was a stand-out for its Belgian forefront (which I usually don’t care for)…but a thick, Dubbel-worthy finish. As my cousin said, “It’s like its wearing a hoppy bikini.” I can’t disagree.

Full Sail Old Boardhead Barleywine (1995) – Unlike last year, this was the only barleywine they had on tap. It just so happened to be the oldest barelywine I’ve ever encountered also – dating back to my graduation from high school. I have few words to describe how wonderful this was, but my cousin (again) observed my facial expression and said, “I think he just came.” ‘Nuff said.

Lucky Lab Brew Pub Super Gin Dog Ale – I looked at the name of this beer and veered my way through the crowd to try it. It was as I hoped it would be – a gin barrel-aged ale. The volunteer didn’t know what kind of ale was used, but whatever it was it worked. It had a juniper body with a berry-to-hop finish. Perfect for what they set out to do.

The Best of “the Buzz”:

Riveport Brewing Whisky Barrel-Aged Stout – This was the clear favorite beer of Brewfest, and it was gone before we knew it. What else can be said about a barrel-aged stout other than it had the peaty/smoky notes that were expected of its kind…and then some. It tasted like burnt German chocolate, campfires, and liquor. To say I need to visit this brewery would be an understatement. Argh!…damn good.

Observations of the Day:

These are just random notes I took based upon what was said to me (via text or in person) over the course of the afternoon, as well as observations either I made or another person voiced.

–          My cousin: [referring to me] “Jesus, he’s like a beer ninja veering through the crowd.”

–          My cousin: [to me] “You’re like a beer ferret.”

–          I was complaining about the random “WHOOOO”-ing of people in the tents. My cousin finally educated me on why that was a precedent. Apparently, that is done if a brewer taps a new keg. After all the years I’ve attended Brewfest, I did not know this.

–          On our way out, I had use the restroom. I have no idea how – or by what magical ninja skills – my cousin came by this knowledge, but he could navigate his way through a Nordstroms without anyone picking up that he was a Brewfest-er looking for their bathroom. It was seriously skillful.

Random Text from a Friend: [Who got there after we left] “There must be a stripper convention in town because I don’t remember this many hot chicks being at Brewfest last year.” And an hour later…”Oh wait…the sun is gone…and so are they.”

The Best Brewery of Brewfest:

That honor belongs to FiftyFifty out of Truckee, CA. I remembered them from four years ago; they were the first brewery that ever came up with a chamomile wheat beer. I liked it – immensely. I had friends that tried their wares since then, but I rarely heard mention of them at future ‘fests. This year they had, not one but two – one of which was presented at the Buzz Tent.

FiftyFifty Brewing Donner Party Porter – This was one of their regular mainstays, but it was a rather interesting beast. At first, we noted that it had the texture and taste of an ordinary porter…but something happened on the finish. There was a smoky/woody profile that took over and transcended this from good to great.

FiftyFifty Brewing Barel Rouge Baltique – I have no idea what this beer was. My compatriots had no idea what this beer was. The FiftyFifty website had no mention of what this beer was. Whatever it was…it was unbelievable. It tasted like a port wine-casked porter. Quite extraordinary, and the second best beer of Brewfest. Beat out only by the whiskey barrel stout.

In Closing…

I had a remarkable time in excellent company this year. And I made it back to Sunset Transit Center safe and sound. But if anyone asks about the emergency vehicles that were found at said transit center…um…we had nothing to do with that.


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Thursday, July 28th, 2011 Beverage Blog No Comments

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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Wednesday, July 28th, 2010 Beverage Blog No Comments

I work for tea money.


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