This upcoming weekend is the Oregon Brewers Festival, so I thought I’d take a moment and review my experience from OBF. I’ve mentioned before, but last year I won a Brewmaster Cuisinternship with Full Sail Brewing, and I was able to have the internship during the week of the Oregon Brewers Festival. It was an incredible time at one of the premier American beer festivals.
If you aren’t familiar with it, the Oregon Brewers Festival features beers from 80 craft breweries from across the United States, offering handcrafted brews to 70,000 beer lovers during the four-day event. While there’s plenty of craft beer, there’s more than sampling involved. The event features live music all four days, beer-related vendors, beer memorabilia displays, beer writers and publishers, hop growers, homebrewing demonstrations, and a variety of food.
After a long day of brewing at Full Sail’s Portland brewery, my OBF experience began on Wednesday evening. I headed to the riverfront park where the festival was being held and was immediately impressed by the shear size of the festival grounds. The fencing surrounding the park spanned three city blocks, and even from the outside, I could see two enormous tents and 11 tractor-trailer-sized trailers.
The Brewmasters’ Dinner was the Wednesday evening activity, and I was given a few drink tickets, a glass, and a meal ticket. Many of the breweries in attendance had brought special beers to put on tap for this evening. I was impressed with the collection of beers, and especially loved the cask of dry hopped Hop Czar from Bridgeport. What I loved even more was the opportunity to meet many of the local brewmasters. In fact, I got a chance to meet and hang out with Jamie Emmerson of Full Sail, Larry Sidor of Deschutes, Joe Casey of Widmer, Kurt and Rob Widmer, Karl Ockert of Bridgeport, Matt Swihart of Double Mountain, Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi, and a few more beer folks, like beer writer, John Foyston. The meal was nothing too remarkable, but the experience of trying some great beers and getting a chance to meet so many brewmasters was unforgettable.
After the brewmasters’ dinner on Wednesday night, I got a chance to check out a few local beer bars, including EastBurn. That made for a rough Thursday morning, but I was able to make my way to Deschutes for the OBF brunch. Each year a different Portland brewpub hosts a brunch before the festival kicks off. I waited in line for a while in order to pick up my tokens, mug, and festival parade t-shirt before heading inside to eat. The buffet was exactly what I needed to get moving, and, hanging out with the Full Sail crew, I got a chance to meet several more brewers and Portland beer people.
After brunch, it was time for the parade. A few hundred people gathered, in their parade t-shirts, outside of Deschutes. At the head of the parade was the mayor of Portland – Sam Adams (no I’m not joking, that’s really his name) – along with a symbolic first barrel of the festival. We marched several blocks through the city to the riverfront park. Each brewery represented themselves in different ways. Marching with the Full Sail crew, we carried small sails with the brewery name on it, while the crew from Rogue dressed as monks, and Deschutes marched in their green brewing coveralls.
Upon arriving at the festival grounds, the mayor said a few words about Portland and “beervana.” He then tapped the ceremonial first keg, and everyone was invited up to have a beer from the barrel. This year, the beer was Deschutes “Super-Jube” which was their holiday Jubilation beer which had been aged in the barrel. It was a big, thick, dark beer, which was almost syrupy in the hot summer sun. This officially kicked off the festival and the 11 trailers full of beers were opened for service.
There were five trailers under each of two tents, with one beer from each of the 80 breweries represented, and one trailer serving the “buzz tent.” Being from the midwest, I immediately hit many of the Oregon and Washington breweries that I couldn’t get back at home. However, there were breweries represented from across the country. When the festival kicked off, the crowds weren’t bad and the lines were fairly short. It was free to enter the festival grounds, buy you needed to buy a mug and tokens to get samples of the beer. That afternoon you could walk straight up and get a sample at many breweries spots. Each wooden token got you a 3 oz sample in your plastic festival mug. If you liked the beer, you could get a full mug for three tokens.
After trying several beers I had marked on my list of “must haves,” I checked out the “buzz tent.” The buzz tent featured unique and special beers from many of the breweries in attendance, many of which were high in alcohol. A three ounce sample of these beers cost two tokens, but I highly recommend it. Many of the beers featured were barrel aged, and ran out fairly quickly. It’s important to keep an eye on what’s going on at the buzz tent, because the very good beers run out quickly. Fortunately, I had the inside track with Full Sail and was there when they tapped their 1997 Russian Imperial Stout – an incredible, very nicely aged beer. At the Buzz Tent, I also got to try Alaskan Brewing’s 2008 Big Nugget Barleywine.
Friday was another great day at the festival, however, the crowds began to pick up in the afternoon, particularly as people started getting out of work. Along with the crowds, the heat was starting to get to me, and I was told by some of the brewers about a Rogue hospitality room across the street. Thanks to Rogue, I was able to get out of the heat for a little bit and enjoy several of their beers, including their Morimoto Soba Ale (good for beating the heat) and their Chatoe Rogue First Growth OREgasmic Ale. I also got a chance to meet several other brewers which were there to get out of the sun, including Chris and Patrick Rue of The Bruery, and brewers from Rogue, Pyramid, and Eugene City.
On Saturday morning, I took the opportunity to take a tour of the Widmer Brewery, which was just across the river from the festival. If you’re considering a tour of the brewery, make sure you call, as reservations for the brewery tour are required. After a nice tour and lunch at their Gasthaus Pub, I headed back over to the festival. That afternoon, the crowds were pretty heavy, and a few of the more popular beers had started to run out.
On Sunday, I took a morning trip to Mount Hood, and stopped at The Horse Brass Pub, which had been highly recommended by many of the brewmasters and brewers. I understand that it’s a Portland beer institution, as the owner was one of the first people in town to start supporting craft brewers by putting their beers on tap there. It’s a british-style pub with tons of craft beers on tap, including a couple of cask beers. By the time I got back over to the festival, about half of the 80 beers were gone. I walked around, checking out the bands and vendors before heading back to the hotel to pack up and come home.
Overall, I had a tremendous time at the Oregon Brewers Festival. I must admit that because of my connection with Full Sail, I was able to attend all of the events, which may not be feasible for everyone. However, I highly recommend the Brewmasters’ Dinner if you want a chance to meet the brewers, and the brunch and parade was a great, unique experience. There’s plenty in and around Portland to do, an more breweries per capita in the state than anywhere else in the U.S., so grab a beer buddy and make a trip of it.