The arrival and erection of vast white tents stretching across Tom McCall Waterfront Park heralds the return of Portland’s biggest beer event, the venerable Oregon Brewers Festival. Returning to the Portland waterfront for their 30th year, OBF is a pretty big deal, evidenced by OBF’s claim that 80,000 tourists visit our fair city to attend the event. Stretching from Wednesday (last night) to Sunday (July 30), this is a beer fest that is immense in both size and scope. It is probably safe to say that much of Portland’s reputation as “Beervana” stems from the massive and continued success of this beer fest.
The event was founded by several of Portland’s most notable breweries in 1988 and remains a celebration of brewers and beer culture. Breweries are encouraged to try something new and to push the limits of what is possible flavor wise. This adventurous spirit can lead to some rather uneven results, with a significant portion of the events beers being, to put it nicely, not ready for prime-time. That being said, I appreciate the creative atmosphere, and for a dollar a taste, it never hurts too much to sample a dud.
OBF has a well-deserved reputation as a haven for drunken “bros,” so it is best to go early and avoid peak hours in the evenings to avoid the massive lines and hordes of drunken revelers. With that notable caveat out of the way, there is something about the carnival atmosphere that I do enjoy and any opportunity to drink with your friends should be seized upon. Where else can you drink an incredibly limited beer while eating an elephant ear and being serenaded by mobs of cargo-short wearing drunks and white-guy reggae cover bands? Seriously, I’m asking.
Here are some beers that I liked in no particular order.
Lucky Lab: Summerthaime Saison
Amidst a sea of fruited kettle sours, this delicious and approachable beer hits all the right notes that a classic French Saison should. If you feel the need to re-calibrate your taste buds after a bout with a fruit bomb, give this one a try.
Great Divide: Roadie Grapefruit Radler
I’m not typically a radler guy, but this blew me away. Making a beer with any adjunct (grapefruit in this instance) is always a tricky balancing act, too little and people don’t notice, too much and the beer is undrinkable. Great Divide nails the balance here. The grapefruit smells like fresh squeezed rind and smells strangely similar to hops.
Rogue Brewing Co: Straight Outta Newport
Style: Double IPA
Drinkability isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when talking about a beer that clocks in at just under 9 percent ABV and 100 IBUs, but the balance on this beer is out of this world. Unlike most incredibly hoppy beers, there is a creamy mouthfeel and body that really works with the pungent hops and bitterness.
Fort George Brewing Co: No Pulp
Style: American Pale Ale
Fort George lets their yeast and hops steal the show and proves that you don’t need fruit to make a fruity pale ale if you know what you are doing.
Collaborator: Kentucky Kölsch
Style: American Style Fruit Beer
It seemed to be closer to a Kentucky Common than a Kölsch, but delivered on flavor nonetheless. The slightly sweet malt flavor struck a nice balance with the strawberries that were added during fermentation.
Upright: Heirloom Saison
Style: Wood and barrel aged sour beer
A one-off blend of barrel aged saisons made just for this event. Bretty, vinous, and delicious. I’m coming back for more of this tomorrow.
Oregon Brewers Festival, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, July 26-30, $7/plastic mug, $1/tasting token, oregonbrewfest.com