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The weather once again cooperated for the 1998 Oregon Brewers Festival in Portland the last weekend in July. Although the crowds numbered fewer than last year's record it was still a very popular event with a few hundred first-timers visiting following their attendance at this year's American Homebrewers Association (AHA) national convention. Where the pour line of the 1996 souvenir mugs yielded about 5 ounces this year's barely brought four ounces from stingy pourers. Fortunately they were in the minority. Festival mugs cost $2 and could be bought around town prior to Friday's opening event. This allowed bypassing the main entrance line and entering at one of the security checkpoints where a photo ID got you tagged as a "legal" drinker. Samples required wooden tokens which were sold for $1 each. For three tokens you got your mug filled with up to 14 ounces of your favorite brew. Printed festival guides were $2 and colorful T-shirts were also sold. The two large 300 foot tents offered a fair amount of shaded seating while the beers were poured by volunteers lined up just outside the west side of the tents. Pourers would fill their pitchers from kegs kept cold in adjacent refrigerated trailers. 72 breweries from around North America were on hand to share their wares. Large signs hung from the tent awnings to mark each brewery's spot while signs behind the pourers advertised the brewery and its single beer being poured. Like previous years, most people tried to walk along the front of the long line of tables, sampling as they went. Once the Friday and Saturday evening crowds moved in this proved hazardous since support ropes from the tents angled down within a few feet of the pouring tables. This design shortcoming could use some attention. Another mystery was the smoking policy. Cigarettes, cigars and even pipes were allowed to roam uncontrolled with the 2-pound red coffee cans on the tent tables read "NO SMOKING PREFERRED - USE BUTT CANS." Reaching a new extreme on the obnoxious scale was the "News Radio" booth. The genius that allowed this audible assault on fest-goers should be dunked in swill bucket until senses return.

Some stand-outs were present among the crowd of top-flight brews. The Lilikoi Wheat from Kona Brewing featured an interesting pineapple flavor and it didn't originate with any yeast strain. The Fred form Hair of the Dog required two tokens per sample but was well worth it to savor this nice and smooth forceful brew. The Pittock Wee Heavy from Mt. Hood came in at 8.2% and its 10 malts offered a smooth and smoky flavor with a clean finish. Whitefish Mountain brought its Nut Brown that offered a hazel nut character in a nice malty-sweet flavor setting. The now famous Belgian Red from Wisconsin's New Glarus had a great cherry aroma and flavor with an excellent balance between sweet and tart. The opposite end of the quality spectrum was represented by the Salmon Creek Scottish. Its phenolic character was beyond anything expected from a smoked or peated malt that it went un-drank.

The food booths in between the beer tents were well marked and well stocked. The restaurants in attendance were very motivated to attract customers with reasonably priced light food and they did just that. Cuisines included German, Greek, Irish, Italian and Mexican. Also on hand were malt and hop suppliers, showing consumers what quality ingredients are in their craft beer. The HomeBrew Supply of Oregon had its equipment on display and was a welcome sight as a compatible vendor at a top beer festival, whereas the cigar vendor was much less appreciated. The ample supply of five gallon water dispensers minimized chances of dehydration but also made for a mess when people used them to rinse. This festival's lengthy hours offer plenty of relaxed sampling time before the crowds get too dense. The three-day festival ran Friday and Saturday from 12:00 pm to 9:00 pm and Sunday from 12:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Token sales ceased one half hour prior to closing. The last weekend in July seems like the optimum time for this event so look for it to continue in that slot again next year. The Oregon Brewer's Guild and the Oregon Brew Crew continue to do an outstanding job organizing this popular West Coast event. Let's hope it retains it consumer-friendly approach and doesn't fall victim to the evils of commercialism or prohibitionsim like other events across the U.S.

Oregon Brewers Festival
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Portland, OR
503-778-5917
www.jhw.com/brewfest

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - October, 1998

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