A YEAR AGO, we had a harebrained idea. The Mercury and the Oregon Brewers Guild—now called Oregon Craft Beer—hatched the sort of plan that generally comes out of a night spent listening to loud music and hoisting a few.
"What if... we had a festival, that wasn't just a beer festival, and wasn't just a music festival? What if we had a festival... that was both?"
Surprisingly, this sort of obvious marriage had never really been done before. Not in Portland, not anywhere else. Sure, our city has its healthy share of beer festivals—seasonal events typically geared around brewers' calendars, with live music tacked on as an afterthought. And there is no shortage of music festivals, either, but the biggest and best ones within city limits are either geared for all-ages crowds or sponsored by Heineken.
Last year's Malt Ball was a first: a daylong fest in which beer and music were the order of the day, given equal prominence. We asked local brewers to make beers specifically for the event, and they rose to the challenge. We picked bands out of the very healthy local music scene—no blues covers, no wanky jam bands, no frat rap at this beer festival. It all worked, and worked splendidly, so of course we're doing it again.
This year's Malt Ball is bigger and better. We've got 12 really kickass bands on the bill, from pop to metal to country to garage rock. And we've got even more brewers than ever, a generous sampling of the most respected in the state. Somehow, a staggering 26 of Oregon's best beermakers have agreed to come to this crazy party, which is an immensely flattering vote of confidence. We've even got some breweries that I—a devoted beer drinker, to say the least—haven't even tried before. Other local beer fests dedicate precious taps to non-Oregon breweries (which to me seems a little like your local weekly paper devoting precious column inches to reviews of out-of-state beers that you will never, ever try). Needless to say, this will not be the case with the Malt Ball.
It's a lot, so this year we've broken it up into two sessions: There's an afternoon session from 2-7 pm, in case you've got evening plans or a family to get home to. And there's an evening session that starts at 7:30 pm, which will keep the rock and beer flowing past midnight. With a $15 entry for either session, we're keeping it affordable—of course, you can pay $25 and stick around all day to see all 12 bands. (Just remember to pace yourself.) Keep this in mind, though: Only advance tickets include tasting tokens. If you get your tickets at the door, you'll have to buy your tokens separately.
Street Nights + Gilgamesh Brewing = Street Treat Night Beat (session IPA, 5.25% ABV)
Malt Ball 2013 kicks off with Street Nights, whose vintage, radio-ready butt rock sounds just like the cool, crisp snap of an open beer. Fittingly, Gilgamesh Brewing of Salem has concocted a refreshing session IPA. "[It's] something easy to drink with lots of Northwest flavor," says head brewer Mike Radtke. "The band didn't seem to take themselves too seriously, which is a perfect complement to our brewing style." The result is an easy-to-drink IPA made with 2-row and Vienna malts, and Millennium, Warrior, and Galena hops.
Minden + Old Market Pub & Brewery = Papa Cherry (cherry kriek, 10% ABV)
Old Market's Belgian sour might be the sexiest beer at Malt Ball. It's based from an imperial wheat ale that spent three years aging in pinot barrels, and brewer Tomas Sluiter added a moderate amount of cherries after hearing Minden for the first time, inspired by their falsetto-driven lounge-rock sound. Sluiter says it drinks a little like a rosé, with generous fruitiness balanced by a sour, lactic, sultry profile. At a pants-dropping 10 percent, Papa Cherry (get it?) is one of the strongest beers at Malt Ball, a perfect accompaniment to Minden's soulful, tongue-in-cheek R&B. It's also a fine choice for those who aren't ordinarily drawn toward the darker beers or more bitter IPAs.
Marty Marquis + Lompoc Brewing = Creekwalker Pale Ale (5.4% ABV)
Blitzen Trapper's Marty Marquis is a songwriter in his own right, and he'll be holding down the acoustic troubadour end of Malt Ball. Lompoc brewer Bryan Keilty met with Marquis to discuss what kind of beer to make. "He's a hop guy!" Keilty says. "We decided to brew a beer that was lighter in color, alcohol, and bitterness, yet had a huge hop nose." Creekwalker Pale Ale was made with Willamette and Santiam hops, and then dry hopped in the keg with Crystal hops. As for the beer's name, Keilty says, "We're envisioning someone in hip waders walking the upper Santiam River looking for [fish]."
Hausu + Coalition Brewing = Freeslide (dark rye ale, 5.4% ABV)
Hausu's adventurous, arty post-punk contains hidden depths, and so does the beer brewed for them, a dark rye ale that was made to encompass the band members' individual tastes. "Some of them liked light, easy-drinking beers, while others preferred heavier dark beer," says Coalition's Elan Walsky, who sat down with Hausu to sample some beers and find out what they liked. They also came up with the name. "Honestly, I'm not sure what the inspiration for the name is," Walsky continues, "but I wanted the band to name it, since it was brewed for them." Despite its dark color, Freeslide remains a light-bodied, highly quaffable beer, Walsky says, "with a light sweetness of rye balanced out with a little bit of roastiness from midnight wheat."
Old Light + Double Mountain Brewery = Project 48 (double IPA, 7.9% abv)
Old Light first caught Portland's ears playing strummy rock with echoes of folk, but they quickly moved on to something louder, harder, and stronger, with trippy tracer-swirls to boot. Double Mountain, out of Hood River, also makes good-tasting things that pack a real punch, and its Malt Ball beer is a double IPA. Like Old Light, it's "rootsy and strong and psychedelic all at once," in the words of brewer Charlie Devereux, who became a fan of the band after catching them live at Bunk Bar. Devereux says the beer will be rounded and balanced, but was designed "to be something that can stand up for itself" among the crowded, friendly competition that comes with a local beer fest.
Caleb Klauder Country Band + Hopworks Urban Brewery = Caleb's Country Kolsch (4.7 ABV)
I firmly believe the Caleb Klauder Country Band is the best straight-up live country band in the world, and if I'm wrong, I'll eat your cowboy hat with a fork and knife. Luckily, the kolsch that Hopworks brewed for Klauder has no trace of cowboy-hat flavor. "We sat down with Caleb and his bass player, Jesse [Emerson], who had recently returned from a tour in Germany," says Hopworks' Bruce Kehe. "They really enjoyed the beers on their trip and we discussed making a beer that was a German style, but light enough to keep you dancing the two-step all night long. The beer is wood aged on staves of spruce and maple, including the unfinished bodies of two mandolins."
Divers + McMenamins Crystal Brewery = Getaway Bavarian Hefeweizen (5.2% ABV)
Divers might be Portland's best-kept secret, the makers of a heroic brand of honest punk rock that gets into your bloodstream. Once you've heard it, you can't live without it. McMenamins is hardly a secret, but the good work individual brewers do at their satellite breweries often gets overshadowed by the chain's flagship ales. Tony Balzola and Alex McGaw man the brewery underneath the Crystal Ballroom, and they're bringing a Bavarian-style hefeweizen infused with key lime and orange juice. The limes were as close as the brewers dared tread to Bud Light Lime, a beer that some of the members of Divers enjoy. "Not being anywhere near a beer snob myself, I said let's make that work," says Balzola. "In the end, we decided to infuse a keg with some key lime juice, which is sweeter than regular lime juice, and just a bit of blood orange juice."
"The key limes give it an extra citrusy flavor, which will meld really well with the German hefe yeast strain. It should be a light refreshing beer," says McGaw, "with banana and clove flavors and a hint of key lime citrus notes."
Wooden Indian Burial Ground + Commons Brewery = Myrtle (farmhouse ale, 5% ABV)
Wooden Indian Burial Ground's self-titled 2012 album is a riotous stomp of fuzz-drenched garage rock with lemon-yellow hints of lysergic sunshine. To that end, Commons Brewery's tart, golden, Belgian-style farmhouse ale contains strong citrus flavor and a gently tangy, dry malt finish. Commons' Sean Burke says, "The beer is made to highlight the citrus-like quality of the Meridian hops and the strong lemon character of the house strains of lactobacillus that we use. The band came and we discussed the beer we would be brewing. They then helped out with the two-day brewing process."
Gaytheist + Portland U-Brew = Pink Pentagram Pale Ale (6.5% ABV)
The ferocious, full-speed, outright giddy metal of Gaytheist—whose frontman Jason Rivera makes no secret of being a gay atheist—inspired Portland U-Brew to make a flavorful pale ale with base 2-row malt, a little wheat, and Cascade and Amarillo hops. U-Brew's Aaron Gillham says, "I asked Gaytheist if they wanted to add anything special, to which they responded, 'Rainbows!' On such short notice? Impossible. I told them we could make it pink, and they said that was close enough."
And And And + Fort George Brewery = Can Can Can (IPA, 5.8% ABV)
The punk-flecked songs of And And And are marked by the group's expert songwriting and phenomenal energy. Meanwhile, Astoria's Fort George has quickly risen to the cream of Oregon's crop of breweries, and its IPA "is brewed with honey malts and a bit of rye to give it some body," according to brewer Brian Bovenizer. "Simcoe and Centennial hops give it some great hop aroma and flavor, but it is light enough so you can have three. Most good things come in threes, right?" The beer will soon be available in cans as Fort George's spring seasonal, and they're collaborating on the package design with Tender Loving Empire.
"The Malt Ball is one of the coolest projects that the Northwest craft beer scene has come up with," Bovenizer adds. "Music and beer are completely complementary, and Portland musicians and music listeners are the people who drink our beer. To combine the two seems like it just makes PDX sense."
Sons of Huns + Gigantic Brewing = Kiss the Goat! (black bock, 6.66% ABV)
"The first thing we did when we found out we were paired with Sons of Huns is search them out on the internet," says Gigantic Brewing's Ben Love. He and brewer Van Havig clicked on the Portland trio's video for the heavy, stoned-out "Leaving Your Body." "Both Van and I were like, 'Fuck yes!'" Love says. "You never know if you'll get paired with a band you'll be into."
Havig and Love decided then and there to make a black bock, something they'd never heard of anyone else doing before. Inspired by original devil-rock band Coven, they named it "Kiss the Goat!" Havig adds, "The beer came out to exactly 6.66 percent ABV, thanks to the power of Satan."
Radiation City + Omission Brewing = Omission Gluten-Free IPA (6.7% ABV)
Radiation City—those maestros of shimmering, lost-in-time pop—were specifically interested in a non-gluten beer; one of their members is gluten-free, and they wanted something great tasting that everyone at Malt Ball could enjoy. Enter the alchemists at Omission Brewing, who already make a gluten-free lager and pale ale, both bottled at Widmer's facility. Omission's Robert Rentsch rose to the challenge of making an IPA with malted barley specifically crafted to remove gluten. "Omission IPA is the world's first gluten-free IPA brewed with malted barley," says Rentsch. "The Malt Ball will be a preview for the new Omission IPA. It will also be the first time any Omission beer will be served on draught."
Base Camp Brewing
Crux Fermentation Project
Full Sail Brewing
Widmer Brothers Brewing