This year’s artwork, designed by local artist Kirsten Karkanen, honors longtime friend of the Festival, Richard Frank, who passed away on January 28, 2017.
On Friday afternoon I spent some time at the Oregon Brewers Festival, which celebrates its 30th year this summer. I attended last year with family and we all had a blast, so I was definitely looking forward to it again this year. It did not disappoint (full disclosure: I was provided with a mug and tokens by the Festival organizers). I also learned something about my own current beer preferences—it took having a feast of tasting opportunities at my fingertips to see where my inclinations are these days. Spoiler: it’s beer brewed with or flavored with fruit.
The Oregon Brewers Festival, according to the organizers, is “one of the oldest and best-loved craft beer festivals in the world” and attracts tens of thousands of attendees each year (about 80,000). It takes place at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. There are four entrances: SW Oak Street, SW Pine Street, under the Morrison Street Bridge and along the sea wall at Pine; it takes up about the space of six blocks.
The festival is free to enter, but to taste you must buy a commemorative mug for $7 and tokens (wooden pogs) for a dollar apiece. Each token gets you a generous sample, and five tokens gets you a full mug of beer. Personally, I find five tastes to be preferable to a whole mug, since this is a fantastic opportunity to try out a whole slew of different beers. Root beer costs $1 or one token.
Of course, you must be 21+ to drink. They’ll give you a wristband if you’re legal; yes, they check IDs. These are really nice wristbands, too—they even have a number for Radio Cab on them, if you find you’re not in shape to drive. In my opinion, taking transit is the way to go, where there is no risk of drinking and driving. The Oak/SW 1st MAX station is conveniently a block away.
There’s also food available—northeast African chicken and lamb, pizza with a crust made with beer, fish and chips (which smelled really, really good), gyros, fries, and more. I did not try any food on Friday, but last year I had the northeast African food and it was really good.
And I have to give a shout out to the Crater Lake folks who run the Soda Garden, a place that serves non-alcoholic beverages for designated drivers and children, and provides activities for the kids. This year they offered their excellent root beer as well as an apple ginger soda. I thought the apple ginger was a little sweet, but after a few minutes I could feel the warmth of the ginger expand through my chest. Unexpected and fun.
We heard some of the live music accompanying the festival that afternoon, Mars Retrieval Unit, who were funky and rocking out to a happy crowd. I could not sit still while they were performing—they were a joy to hear. I liked them so much I bought their CD. And remember what David Letterman says, “Never take the opportunity for live music for granted.” So I recommend you take some time to listen to the band who’s playing when you’re there.
But truly, the main attraction is the beer. On Friday I tasted nine beers plus a glass of root beer, which I already knew would be good. Here is what I tried, in the order I tried them, with my initial thoughts. Mouse over each brewery’s link to see their description of the beer or, refer to this document for the details.
Cal Estúpido, Ex Novo Brewing Company
This Mexican lager is flavored with lime and sea salt. I found it to be light, a little bitter, and I could definitely detect the citrusy lime; for me, the salt was almost undetectable.
Session Grapefruit IPA, Heretic Brewing Company
Just so you know, I love grapefruit beers, and in this IPA I could really taste the grapefruit—it had an almost juicy mouthfeel, and that’s the good news. However, I did not care for the way it smelled, which was distracting. It was my least favorite of the beers I tried on Friday.
Strawberry Rhubarb Blonde Ale, Portland Brewing Company
The strawberry flavor was more prominent than the rhubarb, which was mildly disappointing. It was sparkly, almost like like champagne. It had a nice balanced feel to it.
Blood Orange Wheat, Full Sail Brewing Co
This was my favorite beer of the day. It was light and fruity with a prominent blood orange flavor, which added a nice sweetness. It was sparkly, and smelled like… sunshine, in beer form. Very easy to drink. I would buy a growler or six-pack of it without hesitation.
Tigers in Tiny Spaces, Cloudburst Brewing
This pale ale felt heavier compared to the beers we had tasted prior to it. It was a bit fruity, somewhat hoppy, with a sweet finish. I also gotta admit, I tried it because of the name.
Kiwi Sparkle & Pop, Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB)
This fruit beer was tart! But refreshing at the same time. I liked that there was a little bitterness to balance it out; I could almost taste the tannins of the kiwifruit, the part near the skin. There was little to no sweetness present.
Disco Lemonade, Aslan Brewing Co
This Berliner Style Weisse was also sour. It tasted like tangy lemonade with a tiny touch of yeast flavor. No sweetness, and quite refreshing—even a little salty at the end. This would be an interesting mixer with something sweet.
Negra Pelicano, Pelican Brewing Company
This Mexican lager tasted smooth and placid, and quite a bit sweeter compared to the previous sour beers. I found it had a narrow flavor range, but those flavors were rich. It was thirst quenching, and easy to drink; I think it would go very well with food.
Guava Saison, Pfriem Family Brewers
This was my runner up favorite. I loved how fruity and juicy this beer was. It was a little sweet, which I liked, and easy to drink in the very best way.
The Oregon Brewers Festival continues Saturday and Sunday, July 29-30. On Saturday, taps are open from noon to 9pm. On Sun, taps are open from noon to 7pm. Mug and tokens sales close one-half hour prior to the taps shutting off—8:30pm on Saturday and 6:30pm on Sunday.