The Definitive Guide - Portland International Beerfest

Portland International Beerfest, July 13-15
North Park Blocks
Friday 4-10pm; Sat noon-10pm; Sun noon - 7pm
$1-$4 for a 4 oz serving (four bucks is rare); $20 buy-in up front (tickets and a glass); five free tickets in the first hour of each day
NO KIDS this year
The Portland International Beerfest is simply the most interesting, most pleasant beer festival of the year. True, there are few local beers--but then, you have several other fests that highlight Beervana. This is, rather, a showcase for the world. The range of beers is enormous, and far broader than is available any other time of year at any single location. It's one of the few fests you can take your friends who "don't like beer" to--because whether it's a mead, a lambic, or a traditional Norse moonshine beer, there's going to be something for everyone. So hit the bank, have a hearty meal, and head to the Pearl.

For the sake of user-friendliness, I've tried to arrange this guide in groups that may attract different kinds of drinkers.

The Old Classics
Oregonians are, somewhat counter-intuitively, less cognizant of world styles than beer geeks elsewhere. It comes from not having to work to find good beer. Well, now's the chance to bone up. There are nearly two dozen world classics at the fest, either landmark standards of the style or well-regarded, established examples.
  • German Lagers. Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse - Only had Widmer?; try the original. Another classic is Spaten Oktoberfest, the world's first (brewed originally in 1872). Ever wondered why a lot of beers end in "-ator" (Terminator et. al.)? It's because of Ayinger Celebrator, the world's most famous doppelbock. A kin to porter, schwarzbiers are black lagers, and with their sweet/dry, faintly hoppy palate, they appeal to ale fans. You can try one of the classics, Monchshof. An interesting style of beer that inspired All of those beers are on tap.
  • British Ales. The pickins are a little thinner from the isles, but there's a nice selection of Samuel Smith's ales, brewed in Yorkshire in the traditional open slate squares. Although the brewery has changed hands, another historic ale is Le Coq Imperial Stout, the original sent to Russia.
  • Belgium. There are only seven brewing Trappist abbeys in the world, and three are at this year's fest: Rochefort (founded 1595), Westmalle (1836), and Orval (1931). The devilishly strong Duvel is the world standard Belgian strong, and Rodenbach Grand Cru, which was purchased by Palm in 1998, is the classic Flanders red.
  • Other Countries. The original pilsner, from Plzen, Czech Republic, is fairly readily available, but it's here too--Pilsner Urquell. I don't know when Poland's Browar Witnica started producing Big Boss Porter, an obscure representative of the Baltic porter style, but it's worth a taster (it was a crowd-pleaser last year).
New Classics
There are a few new beers that have become world classics in their own right and are worth seeking out: Traquair House makes a traditional Scottish Ale from the brewery in the oldest house in Scotland. It's a wonderful beer. The "Mad Brewers," microbrewers of 80s vintage, have an amazing winter beer called Stille Nacht (Still Night). Grotten Brown, a Belgian Brown designed by the illustrious Pierre Celis, was called "beer of the year" in 2003 by Michael Jackson. Try a true mild ale--and try it early--with Coniston Bluebird Bitter, a classic British bitter and champion English beer. Recall Hair of the Dog's "Jim" from last year's Winter Ale Fest? A secret ingredient was Maredsous, available this year. De Ranke's Kriek isn't a traditional, spontaneously-fermented beer, but it is regarded as a delicious example of the style (unlike, unfortunately, the commercial Lindeman's, also at this fest.) And although this isn't a classic yet, how can you miss a barleywine aged in a cask of the most famous Islay single malts? JW Lees Harvest Legavulin can't be missed.

Odd Beers
I haven't the faintest idea whether these beers will be sublime, horrible, or neither, but they stand out as unique. In no particular order: Tmsisje GUIDO, a Belgian made with honey and raisins; De La Senn Stouterik, a Belgian sweet stout (?); Eisenbahn Lust is a Brazilian beer made in the methode champonoise (it will sparkle and fizz like champagne); Hitachino, a Japanese brewery specializing in weird beers, is sending XH, a strong Belgian aged in a Shochu cask (a traditional Japanese liquor). Hanssens has mixed mead and gueuze for Mead the Gueuze, which seems like a really crazy idea, but maybe crazy enough to try. They also have a strawberry lambic called Oudbeitje. Two more of note that must be mentioned just for their names: iQhilika African Birds Eye Chili Mead (South Africa), and Haand Bryggeri Norwegian Wood, the traditional Norse Moonshine beer.

There is apparently a brewing renaissance in Scandinavia, because there are (in addition to the moonshine) five Norwegian and Danish beers: Haand Bryggeri Dark Force (imperial stout), Nøgne-Ø Porter, Nøgne-Ø Imperial Stout, Ølfabrikken Porter, and Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast Stout.

The Belgian Bigs
Although a number of Belgians have been brewed for centuries, what really characterizes the country is its love of innovation. In the past, they have been inspired by England and Scotland, and now it's the West Coast. Everything is hoppy and huge. I dunno if they'll be good, but see what Beervana has inspired in Brussels: De Proef Saison Imperiale and La Grande Blanche (imperial wit). De Proef K-O stands for knock-out, and at 10%, it will.

Cheap Drinks
Okay, I know many of you will ultimately look at the price and decide against the Bird's Eye Chili Mead (four tickets) and instead note that the Zatec Bright Lager is a buck. There's nothing wrong with this, but if money becomes your sole guide, you will inevitably miss out. Especially given some of the real jewels at two bucks. No worries: I got your back. Here's the pick of the litter:
  • One ticket ($1): Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, Spaten (Ur Marzen/Oktoberfest and Optimator), Coniston Bluebird Bitter, Monchshof Schwarzbier, Black Boss Porter, Sam Smith's Taddy Porter.
  • Two tickets ($2): De Proef Saison Imperiale and Grand Blanche, Maredsous 8, Ayinger Celebrator, Grotten Brown, JW Lees Harvest Legavulin, De La Senn Stouterik, Kerkom Bink Bloesem, Nøgne-Ø Porter, Isle of Skye Wee Beast, Rodenbach Grand Cru.
There are some pretty interesting domestics here, and I'd normally gush about them. But this may be the last time you see Hitachino XH, so choose wisely. (I recognize that this is tough to do; my beer of the year last year, Ninkasi Believer, is comin' to town. Still.)

Not counting my cheap drinks picks, that's 36 beers--too much for any single trip. I guess I'll have to go twice. I'll update you after I go tomorrow, and do the same in comments.