Brewmaster’s Corner-Episode #3:Of Bungs, Barrels, Brettanomyces, and Beer Fests"

By Oakshire Brewmaster Matt Van Wyk

As the summer season peaks its little sun drenched face around the corner, so does beer festival season (although the copious winter beer events seem to be keeping us equally busy these days). Surely brewers in Oregon are looking forward to NAOBF, PIB, OBF and other acronym labeled, beer rinsed weekends. But let us not forget the smaller and often equally as successful (from a ‘kick ass beer standpoint’, not a ‘make money for the owner of the fest’ sorta standpoint) events that are becoming part of the Oregon Beer Scene. In the last month we have experienced the Green Dragon’s Cask Festival and the Portland Cheers to Belgian Beers (PCTBB) held this year at Hopworks (HUB). Both of these fests were firsts for me, and for Oakshire. We sent a Watershed IPA cask to Green Dragon and La Ferme, a farmhouse ale to PCTBB and were very pleased to be honored with a top six vote in the people’s choice awards at PCTBB.

You’ll note the last time I spoke with you here in the hallowed halls of Brewpublic, I pointed out that the beer diversity, in a general sweeping stereotypical brush stroke, is very shallow. But, I followed that up with the realization that there really is a lot of different types of beer to be found in Oregon. It’s just that the bounty of Northwest IPAs cloud our beer goggles. And recently at PCTBB, and prior at the Green Dragon, further cleared my goggles and helped me realize that the beers that Oregon brewers are producing is not only of high quality, but is creative and diverse at the same time.

First of all, the cask fest at Green Dragon was held in April and I attended the second session. Several of the beer writers in Portland have weighed in on the good and the bad and the ugly, so I won’t waste bandwidth recapping the event, but instead will highlight a few points. Many reviewers seemed less than impressed with the festival, and perhaps Portlanders were as well, considering the attendance was rather low. Or was it that many don’t care for lower carbonated, warmer beer? I don’t know the answer, but what I can tell you is that many of the cask conditioned beers I tried were spot on and great examples of real ale. It was also nice to have Steve from Cheese bar on site to provide small cheese plates (which were part of your entry fee along with the choice of a bacon chocolate bar or a Kobe dog.) I just wish there were more than 17 beers available. Certainly more breweries need to be making cask conditioned ale, Oakshire included. Were there things that could be changed for next year? sure. No fest is perfect euphoria, right? And I’ll make some suggestions next year to Sam and crew now that I have experienced the fest. Bottom line, though, is that more people need to make real ale in Oregon.

Next was Cheers to Belgian Beers this last Saturday. Other than the fact that HUB did a great job of hosting this event, the highlight of the day was that I was originally under the assumption that the population of beer drinkers in Oregon that appreciated Belgian-inspired ales was so slim that I didn’t think many breweries made Belgian style beers. With thirty plus beers ranging from wild beers, to spiced beers, to traditional Saisons, there was a lot to choose from. And the way that each brewer succeeded in getting a unique performance from the same yeast is a nod to the talent that is Oregon Brewers. I was surprised that the yeast expressed itself so differently, but impressed as well. On Saturday, I started out by trying all the wild/sour beers and was impressed with many, but none more than Big Horse. Tart, complex. funky, fruity. Well done. Double Mountain and Full Sail are on my list of Hood River breweries that I need to get to, but now I have another to explore for sure.

Even the near misses for my palate at PCTBB were creative endeavors that I might not have attempted myself (no hops, uber session beer, and unique fruiting.) All in all, this was a fun afternoon drinking up the talent that is around us. And of course a special shout out goes to my friend Nick Arzner and his head brewer Steve who took the People’s choice award for their multi-barrel aged dark Belgian Ale. Not only was it creative and balanced, but delish to boot. And as has been tradition, Nick gets to pick next year’s yeast strain. Let’s just hope for me he gets to host too. It would be a closer trip! (Editor’s note: Read more from Nick Arzner himself here)

So, there’s some real brief thoughts from my world. Now, as I finish this up and go finish packing for the 14th annual Boonville Fest (which could become my fave), let me know, what’s your favorite “smaller” Oregon beer festival? One of the two aforementioned? Rogue’s Brewer’s Memorial Ale Fest? One of the fresh hop fests? Sasquatch? Oregon Garden Beerfest? Or something other that I should be going to? Chime in. No NAOBF, OBF, PIB or Holiday Ale Fest, they’re too big. And more importantly what makes it better? What needs to be changed?



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