By Bobby Bush
As all of you loyal readers know, the Oregon Brewers Festival is my favorite beer event.
It consistently answers the depth, frenzy and mass quantity of Denver’s Great American
Beer Festival with typical Pacific Northwest “so what” attitude, choosing a select group
of beers, served at a peaceful river-side park with laid-back, congenial atmosphere. This
year’s 11th OBF, my ninth consecutive OBF, was the best yet.
Held in Portland’s lengthy Tom McCall Waterfront Park, always on the last
weekend of July, under two sprawling tents, this year the weather was perfect. The crowd
was on target, nearly 100,000 attendees over the fest’s three day run. And the carefully
chosen beers, capped again at 72, were great. No shock, there were 29 from Oregon and
15 from neighboring Washington. Surprisingly, only six California breweries- including
Anchor and Sierra Nevada -were chosen by the Oregon Brewers Guild, which sponsors
the festival each year. Montana chipped in with four brews, but no other of the 17 states
represented had more than two beers on tap. Most memorable (although my memory
remains somewhat fuzzy) were Alaskan Amber from Alaskan Brewing in Juneau,
Portland-based Hair of the Dog’s strong Fred and a fruity sweet Wisconsin Belgian Red
brewed by New Glarus Brewing of Wisconsin.
Our typical scenario at OBF is that we arrive early afternoon, spend the first two
hours wandering around slurping six ounce tasters, available for a $1 token, and eventually
settled down at a table, which becomes our home base for the rest of the session.
Scouting expeditions, armed with six or more empty tasting mugs, are frequently released
to acquire more beer for those weary table watchers. This year our group included four
20-something Germans, who enjoyed American craft-brewed beer almost as much as they
enjoyed recreating championship wrestling beneath the crowded tent. No harm (and no
broken bones) done.
Sorry, back to the story. This year’s OBF was particularly nice because, partly
due to my newfound notoriety as Wynkoop’s Beerdrinker of the Year, I was invited to
two private parties. The first was a brewers’ dinner, Beer Lovers Heaven, held Thursday
night prior to Friday’s opening public session. Hosted by the Brewers Guild for
participating breweries, along with a meal of chicken, baked potatoes and green beans, a
nice selection of brews were up and pouring. Many, like Hair of the Dog’s Ed, Full Sail’s
Imperial Porter and Alameda’s Wee Heavy Scotch Ales, would not be served at the
official fest. The party crowd was spotted with brewing industry luminaries like famed
Oregon beer writer Fred Eckhardt, homebrewing guru Charlie Papazian and, making a
brief appearance, Pete Slosberg of Wicked Pete notoriety. Hob-nobbing with the brewing
elite makes one very thirsty, thrust me.
Saturday night was the Steinbert Smoker. Held behind the Rose and Raindrop, a
great beer bar in itself, this food, music, cigar and beer affair was extremely nice. The
national brewery supply company made sure of that, providing almost limitless mugs of 12
different beers, including hefty barleywines from Bridgeport and Rock Bottom, as well as
Rogue’s Smoked Beer and Dry Hopped Ed, another delicacy from Hair of the Dog.
In a fitting tribute to Rose and Raindrop owner Don Younger, “Celebrator Beer
News” publisher Tom Dalldorf strapped on an electric guitar and joined the band for a
rousing, revamped run-through of a Neil Young song, retitled “This Pub’s For You:” I
ain’t drinkin’ no Coors. Don’t drink Budweiser, That stuff belongs in the sewers.”
There’s nothing anywhere close to the fun and beer of the Oregon Brewers Festival.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush