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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.

Honest.

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Thursday, July 28th, 2011 Beverage Blog No Comments

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