Weekend In Review: 2012 North American Organic Brewers Festival

2012 NAOBF

The last weekend of June marked the return of one of Oregon’s best brew festivals, the North American Organic Brewers Festival (NAOBF). Held at Overlook Park off North Interstate Avenue in Portland, the eleventh NAOBF’s grounds are arguably the best venue for an outdoor beer festival anywhere. And, despite some early humidity and the expected occasional rainfall that comes with late June in Oregon, the fest again came out a winner.

L to R: Lisa "Beer Goddess" Morrison, John Foyston, and Chris Crabb at 2012 NAOBF

beer signage at the 2012 North American Organic Brewers Fest (NAOBF)It was apparent that Oregon craft beer festival organizer and media coordinator Chris Crabb was a big force behind the success of this year’s NAOBF. Crabb also is a key component behind both the Holiday Ale Festival and the mother of all Northwest beer shindigs, the Oregon Brewers Festival. Working long days in preparation and during the fest, Crabb saw to it that all the ducks were in a row for this, the only organic festival of its kind (at least to our knowledge). She was at the fest at 4 a.m. on Thursday to coordinate television interviews with brewers and representatives. At 11 a.m. a media tasting that provided samplings of some of the festival’s highlights began. Here, Lisa “The Beer Goddess” Morrison directed a group of us through about a dozen recommended picks that would be featured to the public when the gates opened at noon. Here’s a look at some of the brews showcased for the 2012 NAOBF:

Alameda Yellow Wolf of Thailand – A distinctly interesting spin on Alameda Brewhouse’s acclaimed imperial India Pale Ale, the Yellow Wolf of Thailand, a hoppy 8.2% ABV beer made use of dried mangoes, flaked coconut, ginger, and Thai basil. To suit it toward the organic palate, brewer Carston Haney substituted Yellow Wolf’s gain bill with organic malts keeping it at more than 95% certifiably organic.

Pink Boots Society's Teri Fahrendorf and Alamda Brewer Carston Haney at 2012 NAOBF

Bison Honey Basil – A beer that we are becoming quite familiar with, here is another beer that makes use of basil. But here, with this Berkeley, CA summer seasonal, there is an absence of hops which allows the whole leaf basil and organic clover honey to shine atop a caramel and sticky yet light herbaceous body. One of the few brewery’s at the fest to be able to boast 100% organic certification, Bison even utilized organic hops in their other brews such as their Organic Chocolate Stout, which was also a smash hit at the fest.

Ashley Routson from  Bison Brewing at 2012 NAOBF

Fort George Spruce Budd – Another interesting example of alternative spicing was this spruced up beer from Astoria, OR’s Fort George Brewing. Like Bison, it is of a 100% organic classification, making use of 120 pounds of young spruce tips (35 pounds per batch). With a base of organic Pilsner malt, the complexity of the spruce infused into the ferment of Spruce Budd, was quite remarkable. Cool almost minty herbaceous notes developed into new flavor profiles as the beer warmed. Certainly a polarizing brew that was quite talked about at NAOBF.

Dynamic duo Tim and Jana Daisy Ensign at the 2012 NAOBF

Hopworks Ace of Spades – The king of the hoppy brews at the festival, this 2009 Great American Beer Fest gold medal winning imperial IPA delivers row upon row of palate pleasing punch for the hop heads in the audience. Amarillo, Cascade, and Centennials were added to every stage of the mash  (wort, kettle, dry-hop). The outcome is a big citrusy, piney oomph.

Hopworks Urban Brewery's Jaime Rodriguez shows off the new canned brews at 2012 NAOBF

Laht Neppur Strawberry Cream Ale – Another beer that lured in many festival goers was this pale ale with fresh and pureed strawberries added. From Waitsburg in Eastern Washington, Laht Neppur gets its name from owner and brewer Court Ruppenthal (Laht Neppur is Ruppenthal spelled backwards). Ruppenthal is an accomplished wine maker in addition to his prowess as a brewmeister. This light summer session at just 4.75% ABV was certainly one of the most popular offerings at the festival, and for good reason.

Empty pitchers soon to be put to use at the 2012 NAOBF

The Commons Haver Bier – Getting it’s name from the Dutch word for “oats”, the Haver Bier from Portland’s hottest new brewery, The Commons, this summery Saison was hands down one of the most talked about beers at this year’s NAOBF. The oats provided a nice creamy mouthfeel that worked nicely alongside the crisp and bready Pilsner malt. The result was a dry and ulitmately refreshing Belgian beauty worth multiple quaffs.

Laurelwood Deranger Imperial Red – Here’s a beer that most seasoned beer geeks around Portland have become quite familiar with over the years. Another hearty hop head’s hero, this organic offering delivers 8.6% ABV and claims 100 IBU of hops bitterness. Like Laurelwood’s Freerange Red on steroids (well, perhaps that isn’t the best analogy for an organic beer), Deranger isn’t playing around when it comes to a big bold bite of malty and hoppy gusto.

Volunteer server Don Gilson with a pitcher of Laurelwood Deranger Organic Imperial Red at the 2012 North American Organic Brewers Fest (NAOBF)

Elliott Bay Olde Burien 600 Malt Liquor – It’s a treat for Oregonians to get their paws on some of the brews of Elliott Bay Brewing in the Seattle area. Normally not available down in Oregon, they are known for a wide array of styles that suit the palates of most Cascadians. This unique beer was an almost ironic spin on the adjuncteous swill that most craft drinkers associate with malt liquors. Claiming 95-99% organic classification, this lager offers a sweet bready flavor derived in part from a 20% rice and corn bill. Lightly hopped, the malty 7.4% ABV body carries sweet and almost nutty notes through. If you gotta drink an 8-ball of malt liquor, make it an Olde Burien 600 and leave alone the Olde English 800.

Upright Brewing Reggae Junkie Gruit – Now in its third year at the NAOBF, this perennial favorite from Portland’s Upright Brewing is a hopless wonder with a flavors unlike any other beer you’ll ever experience. Instead of hops, brewers Alex Ganum and Gerritt Ill use a blend of lemongrass, hyssop, bitter orange peel, and Sichuan peppercorns. Like many of Upright’s beers, the base beer is a saison; this one with a touch of flaked spelt.

Upright Brewing brew crew Alex Ganum (left) and Gerritt Ill at 2012 NAOBF

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales Seizoen Bretta – Quickly asserting themselves as one of America’s prominent farmhouse breweries, Logsdon of Hood River, OR is taking wild Brettanomyces ales to a new level. Brewer Chuck Porter and owner Dave Logsdon took home a gold medal for their Peche N’ Brett brew at this year’s World Beer Cup in San Diego, and their Seizeon Bretta is a beautiful presentation of crisp complexity. Brewed with a bit of wheat  and oats, the interplay of the malt underpinning and New Zealand hops with a slew of yeast varietals results in one of the most choice beers to come out of Oregon in some time. Oh, and we should mention, it’s always 100% certified organic, event the locally sourced beeswax that the bottles are dipped in.

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales brewer Chuck Porter on Fox 12 KPTV before NAOBF

Two Kilts brewer and co-founder Chris Dillon at the 2012 NAOBFSeveral other organic beers and ciders were enjoyed throughout the day at the 2012 North American Organic Brewers Festival. Other highlights included Vertigo Brewing’s High Dive Rye, Wandering Aengus’ Traditional Dry Oaked Cider, Lodgson’s Kili Wit, Mateveza’s Yerba Mate IPA, Finn River’s Currant Cider, Hopworks’ Rise Up Red, Oakshire’s Save the Farmhouse Ales, Two Kilts’ Calluna Vulgeris/Heather Ale, and Unita’s BABA Black Lager.

Not all of the beers and ciders sampled on this fair day (we pretty much tried ’em all) were to our liking, but one thing is for certain, organic brewing is a niche that is clearly asserting itself in today’s market. And despite some misconceptions about organics, the limitations of sourcing organic hops and other ingredients doesn’t have to be perceived as a hindrance to brewers. In fact, it is evident by the assortment of innovative and imaginative craft brews presented at the NAOBF that organically-minded brewers push themselves to be more creative with their ingredients, methodology, and execution of their products. Cheers to organic beers and sustainable food everywhere!

Here’s a look at a bunch more pics from the 2012 NAOBF: