Park Kitchens Boilermaker Sundae with Breakside Smoked Porter at Feast Smoked
Park Kitchen's Boilermaker Sundae with Breakside Smoked Porter at Feast Smoked

Feast Portland is a food festival. (It’s chiefly about chefs and relatively regarding restaurants, but first and foremost it’s for food.) Vino is vaunted and cocktails are commemorated but beer takes something of a backseat. And that’s okay because Feast is a food festival. But let’s look at hops’ role at this tentpole held in the midst of Beervana as it begins its fifth annual celebration today.

Feast co-founder Mike Thelin insists he’s a beer guy. “Let’s be honest. [Beer] is an important part [of living in Portland]. I’m a beer drinker. I haven’t seen my abs in 20 years. The beer culture in Oregon is off the hook.” He adds, “People don’t go to Portland or Oregon to not have a good selection of beer.”

Having said that, producing an event on the scale of Feast takes “a certain level of sponsorship.” It’d likely be easy to find a Heineken or an AB InBev to pony up that kind of moolah, but that’d be tantamount to having Kraft Foods or Procter & Gamble be the event’s main sponsor. (Widmer Brothers signed on as an early sponsor in the first year and the brewing company is minority owned by AB InBev, but Widmer Hefeweizen is part of Portland’s fabric while Budweiser is not.)

Feast will link together nearly 50 events throughout the city celebrating all things sandwiches to anything smoked. Beer’s role is rather subdued but it can be found at the Grand Tasting in Pioneer Square, where nearly a dozen “participant” breweries including Double Mountain, Burnside, and Buoy plus local cideries and a meadery (honey’s answer to hops and apples) will be available to sample. There are 40 participating wineries and 10 distilleries, according to Thelin.

For beer lovers, there’s a perceived dearth of beer focus. Two of the six “Drink Tank” events are dedicated to beer’s role in the food culture—“Wine Vs. Beer” and “A Bitter Twist”—but then again, it’s not like we’re not already home to Portland Cheers to Belgian Beers, the Oregon Brewers Festival, Organic Beer Fest, Holiday Ale Fest, and what feels like nearly 50 other beer-specific events held throughout the year. Most of those relegate food’s role to something you eat to lay a foundation for more beer.

Still, Breakside brewer Ben Edmunds, one of the five panelists at the IPA-centric Bitter Twist event because he makes award-winning bitter beers, thinks Feast can bump up beer’s role. “Feast is an amazing showcase for Oregon’s artisan food and beverage scene, but Oregon beer gets virtually no attention from the event.” He swiftly points out, “I think it’s because no one comes to Feast for the beer” even if he believes it “should have a bigger role.” It’s natural a brewer would feel that way. Edmunds likens it to a food fest in Napa “not playing up the wine angle,” or one in Louisville “not tying in bourbon.” (Parenthetically, this blogger will be attending a beer festival in Louisville next month and does not expect to find any bourbon, at least as an official part of the event, but will more than likely find himself in a nearby rickhouse.)

Incidentally, Breakside’s Smoked Porter is featured in Park Kitchen's “Boilermaker Sundae,” created by chef David Sapp and owner Scott Dolich. The dessert can be sampled at Saturday night’s Smoked event and consists of bourbon ice cream with the smoked porter, malted whipped cream, and topped with "Hair Of The Dog Granola" containing beer nuts, cocoa nibs, and puffed barley.

Beer writer and freshman brewery owner Christian Debenedetti is the conductor of the beer side of the Wine vs. Beer panel and has been involved with Feast from the get-go. The focus of that Drink Tank event this year is pitting grapes versus hops as a complement to cheese and he’ll be pouring his kriek-inspired Montmorrissey wild ale with Montmorency cherries from his brand new Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery. Debenedetti notes that there have been “something like 20 panels in the last five years, from cutting edge/experimental brews to food pairing.”

Perhaps Feast strikes the balance between keeping the emphasis on the edibles while paying some amount of homage to the imbibables necessary and enjoyable that wash them down.

“We are a food festival,” Thelin reiterates. Beer doesn’t deserve to be the first-string quarterback but nor should it be Feast’s benchwarmer. “It’s been well received. I think next year we’ll see more (of beer),” concludes Thelin. He even mysteriously adds that some past brewer participants may return next year in new roles with new breweries. Feast’s four-day run begins today, but we’ve already got something to whet our appetites for next year, which, unlike this year, isn’t sold out yet.