Kudos to the organizers of this year’s Portland Spring Beer & Wine Fest who did an excellent job in providing great beer and a fun and festive environment to enjoy it in. More than 80 craft beers were present at this year’s event, making it the largest to date. Further, the weather, well, cooperated by raining and making an indoor beer festival quite accommodating.
On Friday in the late morning, Brewpublic was fortunate to be a part of a media preview session lead by Lisa “The Beer Goddess” Morrison and coordinated by our good friend Laura Herbert. These ladies were a big part of the growing success of the Spring Beer & Wine Fest. The Beer Goddess took a group of us and our esteemed colleagues around the floor of the Oregon Convention Center to discover the 2010 bounty of brews.
Highlights from 2010 Fest
1. Gilgamesh Brewing had prime real estate at this years fest. Located at one main entrance points of the hall, these up and comers from Turner, Oregon (just south of Salem) made a splash with two delicious beers. The highlight for the big time geeks in the pack was their Black Mamba brew. This beer was no hops beer brewed with black tea and tangerine. Despite a murky brown-amber appearance, the beer bequeathed a world of complexity and balanced flavors unlike any other beer we’d get to try all weekend. Robust and mildly piny with a nice hint of tannins from the tea and teetered by a nice citrus snap of the fruit, Black Mamba, for a group of us in the media, really was the buzz beer of the event. Yet, in all reality, the people’s choice often goes to the hoppiest, booziest beer in the lot. Fortunately, Gilgamesh had a big floridly hopped IPA to serve as a great counterpart to their gruit.According to the brewery: “This is a 60 minute IPA. We add our 3 favorite hops every minute during the brewing process, and then another pound per barrel added during fermentation.”
To add to the likability of Gilgamesh’s fine products, we were pleased to discover they were also a family affair run by the Radtke family, including Mike and Kari, Matt and Megan, Lee and Eileen, and Nick and Lani. Brothers Mike, Nick and Matt handle most of the brewing and father Lee is a handyman who helped to design some beautifully artisan woodwork including their counter top bar and back splash. Gilgamesh recently upgraded to a 7-barrel system and will soon be putting forth more of their great beer including the Hopscotch (which they claim is their most popular brew), a Chocolate Mint Stout (also hopsless), and winter seasonal Cranberry Saison.
Look for more from them at beer festivals around town as well as at their Portland release event on April 17, 2010 at The Eastburn.
2. Block 15 Brewing of Corvallis, Oregon doesn’t hold back when it comes to great beer. This year’s festival was no exception. Brewer Nick Arzner was on hand to serve up two of the biggest bad-ass beers in his repertoire. The bourbon-forward Pappy’s Dark Ale blew up our palates with an explosion of dark malts and oceans of oaken boozy goodness. Also from Arzner’s brewhouse came Nebula, another great rainy day dark ale. Nebula aka Naked Oat Stout is as the brewer describes: “a truly contemplative brew. Hints of fresh coffee, dark chocolate, and caramel with a velvety brown head. Golden naked oats provide a sweet-nut flavor and a smooth satiny finish. 18 IBU’s, 6.8% ABV.”
3. The Widmer–Oregon Brew Crew (OBC) Collaborator series of beer exemplifies what a large craft brewery can accomplish when it sticks to its roots and supports the framework that helped it become great. At our tasting, Widmer co-founder Rob Widmer was on hand to share in three Collaborator brews when he could have been manning Widmer’s own table of delicious brews. Now in their 26th year, Widmer’s humble approach to the craft has allowed these small batch brews to be converted from homebrews to more communally available commercial draught favorites with the assistance of pilot system brewer Ike Manchester. Pouring at this year’s Spring Beer & Wine Fest were Ale-X, a dark brown winter seasonal ale developed by Brew Crewers Chris Hummert and Mark Easton. The beer is called named after Easton’s son, Alex, and featured a full bodied richness with dark crystal malts and big bitter hops with just a bit of roastiness. There are notes of chocolate, toffee and nuts that fade to a relatively dry, hoppy finish. A nice medium-strength Northwest ale at approximately 6.5% ABV.
Also featured at the fest was a forthcoming specialty from OBC Collaborator Series known as Daft Bitter. Brewed by Bill Schneller and Chris Johnson. Conceived as a “Slow Beer,” this easy drinking light beer is an answer to all of the big barrel-aged behemoths that seem to be overwhelming palates and livers. This lighter bitter (which Schneller says came out a bit bigger than they’d anticipated is still quite a crisp, enjoyable, and yes, sessionable brew.
Lastly, a fruity, caramelly, and boisterously hopped winter warmer known as Sled Crasher was also available from the Widmer-OBC Collaborator Series. This 8.7% ABV brew was put together by Noel Blake and promises to “warm the cockles of your heart” if not set your liver ablaze. Dark brown with a fluffy white head it played out like a heft and hoppy amber and may have better suited us a few months back during the doldrums of winter, but hey, we loved it all the same.
Other beers worth mentioning at the fest:
Astoria’s Bitter Bitter Imperial IPA was vying to regain the people’s choice crown for a forth consecutive year at the fest. With overbearing, cutting hops bitterness, this taste bud bruiser/palate eraser claims a mammoth 138 IBU (supposedly the human tongue can only detect around 70 bittering units). Not a terribly exciting for those not enamored by overdosing on hops, but still, people seem to really love punishing Northwest lupulin. Brewer John Dalgren was on hand to pour the flagrant flagship. Perhaps even more interesting was Dalgren’s West Coast Lager, a vibrantly hopped beer with both snappy yeast twang and flowery and fruity citrus attitude.
A new beer at this year’s fest, and new to the Oregon market, was Lhasa Beer of Tibet. A product of Carlsberg (though not promoted openly as such), Lhasa’s table was smattered with gimmicky giveaways (we got a free hat) and a tour de force of marketing prowess by President/COO George Witz. Going into tasting Lhasa expecting something reminiscent of Singha or a typical Chinese-like adjunct-laden American light lager, we were pleasantly surprised to discover some prevalence in the Saaz hops character as well as a “maximum possible quantity of Tibetan barley.” Being from an area aspiring for Utopia doesn’t make this beer necessarily worthy of Beervana, but being from the more-the-merrier mindset, we thought the social responsibility side of their marketing made some positive efforts.
Other interesting beers included Ninkasi‘s first malt liquor known as PK N’ice, Laurelwood‘s always delicious Workhorse IPA, and a special collaborative blended honey, oaked brown ale from Red Hook called 8-4-1.
The highlight of this festival as with most successful ones was the great crowd of beer enthusiasts and friends who shared in the event. It was great to see so many brewers pouring their own beer and available to discuss their products. Thanks to Steve Woolard and the Spring Beer & Wine Fest crew for a great weekend!
Check out more pictures from the fest on our Flickr page.