We’ve said it before and it will undoubtedly be heralded once again – there really isn’t anywhere else on this planet, or at very least, on this continent, that holds a candle to Portland, Oregon when it comes to craft beer. As the last statement was typed, there may have just been another craft brewery open in what we know as Beervana.
The pinnacle of the region’s festive embrace of craft ales and lagers is without a doubt the month of July. It just makes sense for so many reasons, especially the climate. Despite the reputation that Oregon has deservedly earned for being a gray and rainy place, the summers here are simply unbeatable. Sure, this might not be until July that the season hesitantly reveals itself, but once it does, it is not to be beat. For the most part, little humidity and rain within a temperate quasi-rain forest climate means perfect beer sessioning weather. And if you’ve spent much time in the Midwest or East Coast, you know that the mugginess of those parts can really get to you. Further, for such as lush green environment, the Pacific Northwest, well, in most parts, is in comparison free of the pestering black flies, mosquitoes, minges, no-see-ums, etc that make portions of the summer months intolerable in said eastward regions. When people question why craft beer is king out here, one variable other than the obvious soft water and proximity to incomparable and bountiful hops is the climate. The dark and drizzly overcast months that keep the conifers happy between the Coastal Range and the Cascades is also quite conducive for enjoying Porters, Stouts, and other bolder styles that mightn’t be as approachable in other climate zones. Then when summer rolls in, there are so many light and quenching brews to appear that the opportunities appear limitless.This is why for the past seven years, July has been officially declared Oregon Craft Beer Month (OCBM).
This year’s Oregon Brewers Festival (OBF) marked the events 25th anniversary. Eighteen of those years, Chris Crabb (who we’ve mentioned here on Brewpublic quite a bit for her work in “Keeping Portland Beered”) has been at the helm and organizing things from the most minute detail to helping to execute OBF’s most involved and anticipated features. Nine months of planning with her dedicated team paid off once again in 2012.
We arrived at the annual Brewers Dinner, one of our favorite features of OBF Weekend. Taking place on the Wednesday before the fest, the dinner isn’t at all about the food. In fact, the food is your run-of-the-mill meat-centric spread of beer fest foods. No, the dinner is a unique gathering of some of the key players, including the Oregon Brewers Guild appointees, led by Executive Director Brian Butenschoen. For more than seven years, Butenschoen has worked alongside Oregon’s contingency of craft beer producers and manages the arduous and never-ending task of serving and protecting the prosperity of craft beer here in the Beaver State. Brewers, industry figures, and advocates from all over Oregon and beyond come to Tom McCall Waterfront Park each summer to share in this special gather which features an assortment of craft beers that are not available at the main event which kicks off the following day. The dinner pays homage to those who make Oregon the greatest craft beer producing state in the country while celebrating craft beer’s important social and economic impact to those who live here.
Each year the OBF gets officially kicked off on the Thursday of the last full weekend of July. It begins with a brewers’ brunch at a varying location around town. This year’s brunch was hosted by Cascade Brewing at their Barrel House just across the Willamette River on Belmont Street in Southeast Portland. Following food and breakfast brews, an army of fed and thirsty brewing folks, many of whom were also at the brewers dinner the night prior, decend upon the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in a celebratory parade led by Portland Mayor Sam Adams (really his name, no joking). Upon arriving at the park at high noon, two barrels of Cascade beers were tapped. Full casks of sour Summer Gose ale and hoppier India Pale Ale were served to the dedicated crowd which seems to exponentially grow each year upon opening.
By early afternoon on Thursday and again on Friday, scores of folks from all over the grid arrive at OBF, cramping up tents and making for elongated lines at more than 100 different beer stations, including a recently implemented Buzz Tent featuring one-off and rarer pours such as sour ales, barrel-aged brutes, smoked lagers, fruit beers, and everything in between. An extra token is required for these rare beers, but so often it is worth it for the opportunity to encounter a brew that quite possibly will never become available to you again.
By late Friday and into Saturday, the crowds reach their peak. Fraternal and sororal howls, hoots, and bellows increase in frequency as things heat up. It is often at this time that we escape the confines of a packed house and seek out refuge at satellite events that are never in short supply this time of year in Beervana.
On Friday evening after putting in a handful of hours pacing through some of the mainstay beers missed the day before and some newly tapped Buzz offerings, we found public transportation to The EastBurn just across the river on East Burnside. Here Dave Chappell (no, not the similarly nomenclatured comedian) of Elysian Brewing was celebrating a birthday beer or four with friends. We couldn’t miss out on toasting one of the best in the biz, so we chinned up for a brief malty tipple before catching a ride to Roscoe’s Pub in Portland’s Montavilla Neighborhood on the east side of Mt Tabor.
Roscoe’s is well known as one of Portland’s finest craft beer watering hole with 16 rotating taps of highly sought after goodies. Since it was the last Friday of the month, Roscoe’s was hosting one of their monthly beer summits. The particular theme of July’s summit was fittingly “All-Oregon Craft Beer.” Not just your average flagships, publicans Jeremy Lewis and Quyen Ly made sure to, as usual, locate some fantastic beers from around the state. A particular favorite for us on this night was Upright Brewing’s Cuvee Lactovasilios, named in honor of Laurelwood Brewmaster Vasilios Gletsos.
Since we were in the Montavilla ‘hood, we made a point to check out the newly opened Beer Bunker just kitty corner from Roscoe’s. Here we were stoked to find about a dozen taps of craft beer flowing and a few hundred bottles within a somewhat sparsely populated cooler. The Beer Bunker just opened in recent weeks but it is sure to be a go-to spot for craft beer lovers around Mt Tabor. A knowledgeable, friendly, and enthusiastic staff made our experience even more enjoyable. For the warmer and drier months, the Bunker offered lots of outdoor seating for patrons. Read a full review of it here.(Note to the pub if you are reading this: Get a website. If you have one, make it findable from a search engine. This would help you out for sure.)
By Saturday, we were done with the OBF but certainly not done with what the rest of OCBM had to offer. We found a corner perch at the legendary Horse Brass pub in Southeast Portland to spend time catching up with family. Our intentions were to drop in to Belmont Station’s Fringe Fest just up the street, but we figured that mayhem and merriment were at zenith levels up there and opted for the somewhat more subdued and spacious realm of the good ol’ Brass. Our quaffings were not of the beer ticker approach. A Radeberger Pils here and a Cascade Lakes India Red Ale here – each by the imperial pint – and a few more, and it was a mostly mellow family day.
Sunday, however, we lunged head first back into the flames of on-burning beeriness. Portland’s best beer corner has to be 12th Ave. and Division Street in the Southeast quadrant. Here you’ll often times find Renaissance Man and beer blogger John Foyston catching a bottle of Anchor Steam over a book at The BeerMongers, or Publican Jesse McCann taking in some two-wheeled race on a television at APEX. We decided to make a day of this fine corner of pivo paradise.
At the Mongers Publican Sean Campbell held court while we caught some of London’s Olympic Summer Games on the TV and sampled out some bottles of beer shared by a regular constituency of Beer Advocate faithfuls. Two particular highlight of the day were bottles of wild ales from Ale Apothecary near Bend, Oregon that included La Tache and Sahalie. Both deeply nuanced and complex offerings that make us want to seek out more from brewmaster Paul Arney. A frothily topped Victorian measure of Epic’s Hop Syndrome Lager did justice on this warm and partly cloudy summer’s day.
At APEX, we shared a tall mug of Velten’s Pilsner with the man, Jesse, himself and took in some of the day from a front patio’s picnic table. After many hours of concerted imbibing, it was off to the Cascade Brewing Barrel House to score some bottles of their 2011 Strawberry Ale, a rare soured release available only at the brewery’s two pubs. While there we decided that sampling a number of house devised sour ales was a valiant course of action and enjoyed the likes of Cherry Bourbonic Plague straight from the barrel as well as a delicious Elderberry sour ale.
Some things in the beer world can so easily be overdone, but never travel back to the esteemed Horse Brass. Just a few more big pints to steady the ship and were were off. Our sails high in the night breeze and our six day weekend just one day away from the grand finale.
To be continued.
View more photos from OBF weekend here.