Our Ninth Oregon Brewers Festival

The 23rd edition of the Oregon Brewers Festival was our ninth. Attending six straight years at the end of the 1990s and three out of the last four years, we have seen it grow and change over the 16 year span. Changes aside, one thing remains the same: the Oregon Brewers Festival is, in my humble opinion, the West Coast’s premier beer event and our favorite large US festival.

Correction: Due to some poor math on my part, we previously reported that the 2008 Oregon Brewers Festival was our ninth visit. We have lived a lie for the last two years. Thebeergeek.com regrets any confusion this may have caused. Having said that, I will now report on our actual ninth visit to OBF.

Merideth enjoying OBF with our friend Renee

There are a myriad of reasons that we have been to OBF nine times. First, the setting along the Willamette River and the almost always perfect weather is idyllic for a beer festival. Second, the festival is just so well run. There have a few glitches and blips over the years, but the problems are always corrected. Most important, it is one of the festivals where we get to see many of our West Coast beer friends.

Similar to past years, our plan included attending the Thursday and Friday sessions.

Merideth and I arrived on the first day of the festival a few hours after opening. Minutes after showing our IDs to the gate security, we had mugs and tokens in hand. Obviously, this is not the case for every session. Just like any large festival, Friday and Saturday nights are popular sessions and we’ve learned from experience to avoid those more congested times.

Thursday afternoon at Oregon Brewers Festival

Wading through the unexpectedly large Thursday afternoon crowd to find our friend Chris Devlin, we were surprised to hear that the “woo-ing” had already started. Such behavior usually didn’t begin until later. We found Chris and went in search of our first beers. I started with Flying Fish’s GABF gold medal winning Exit 4, a Belgian-style Trippel. Merideth began her 2010 OBF with Boundary Bay’s German Tradition Double Dry Hopped Pale Ale, a beer specially made for Oregon Brewers Festival.

The happy beer travelers

Being an unabashed hophead, over half the beers I tried over the two sessions were an IPA or Double IPA. However, my two favorites didn’t come from the hopbomb world. On the top of my list was the aforementioned Flying Fish Exit 4, the first beer I tried. That wonderful brew was closely followed by Boundary Bay German Tradition Double Dry Hopped Pale Ale, Merideth’s first beer. Of the hoppy brews, there were a number of good examples but kudos has to go out to Alpha Centauri Binary IPA from Hop Valley Brewing.

Merideth, following  a warm weather drinking pattern, focused on Kölschs, Wits and Saisons. Of particular note for her were two Portland beers, the Summer Gose from Cascade Brewing and Reggae Junkie Gruit from Upright Brewing.

Willamette River cruise at the 1995 Oregon Brewers Festival

Over the years, if we have seen one disappointing trend, it would be the beer selection. I think part of it is nostalgia for our younger days. (“When I was a kid, I had to walk ten miles in the snow to get to OBF.”) In the ’90s, breweries poured new and unique beers to ‘wow’ the crowd. I’m sure if I dug out some of our old programs, this may be a bit of revisionist history, but a number of friends did comment to us that the beer selection this year was pretty average.

Catch the buzz…

To the credit of festival organizers, they appear to be trying to combat this criticism. This year was our first experience with the “Buzz Tent.” Started last year, the “Buzz Tent” serves special and rare beers. Costing two tokens instead of the normal one, the beers served in this tent rotated regularly. As one keg blew, a new beer was put on.

Last keg ever of a 13 year-old Imperial Stout from Full Sail

I was more than willing to use two tokens each on San Diego beers such as Ballast Point Sculpin IPA and Green Flash Super Freak. But the most interesting beer was a 13 year-old keg of Russian Imperial Stout from Hood River’s Full Sail Brewing. When the gathering crowd heard that it was finally available, the area really started to buzz. I joined the 20 person line, something I usually avoid at OBF, and waited patiently for a 4oz taste of the very rare brew. As expected, the beer was  jet black with strong booze and raisin flavors.

After four hours at the Thursday session, we called it a day at the Oregon Brewers Festival. We planned a return visit to the Friday afternoon session, but we hadn’t been to Portland in two years and there were plenty of new additions to the Portland beer scene to explore.