Oregon Brewers Fest Preview

Today begins the 21st installment of the Oregon Brewers Fest. Our fairest celebration of good beer has passed through adolescence and is now ready for her first legal IPA. Good beer is so firmly established in Oregon that we forget how much has changed in such a short time. When Widmer, BridgePort, and Portland Brewing (now MacTarnahan's/Pyramid) threw the first OBF--essentially a kegger to promote craft beer--we were in the tail end of the Reagan administration. There were only 124 craft breweries nationwide (there are nearly as many in Oregon today). The fest featured 16 beers from 13 breweries, and was a hit from the start. There are many reasons Oregon is now known as Beervana, but the OBF is among the most important.

When Art Larrance and his cohorts first put the fest on one score and one ago, they were trying to promote craft beer; they did better than that--they helped jump start Beervana. This is the weekend of our annual suds sabbath, and if you are feeling oppressed by the noise, chaos, throngs, and long lines, remember what this fest has wrought, and raise your cheap plastic mug (another oppression to sensitive palates) to this event. Under the tents of the Fest, we find our cathedral; the OBF is the beer geek's Notre Dame. So Cheers! Prost! Sláinte! L'Chaim! Happy 21st, OBF!

Now, to the beers....

Ten to Try

Recommending beers you've never tasted poses a challenge to the previewer. One could safely fall back on those one knows and recommend with calm assurance--for example, Pliny and Ninkasi Total Domination. But we don't go to the Fest to enjoy beers we love, we go there to try the new and exciting. Later this afternoon I'll have a chance to go to the media guided tour (updates thereafter), but for now I will rely on my sometimes spotty wiles, read between the lines of the descriptions, and come up with my best bets for interesting beers to try. As always, reader beware. For the sake of amusement, I'll go in reverse alphabetical order.

Widmer Full Nelson IPA (Portland, Oregon)
Description: A huge IPA with a rare New Zealand hop (Nelson Sauvin--hence the beer's name). The Widmers always brew something special, and this is the 2008 edition.
Who will like it: Hopheads and hop connoisseurs interested in trying a new variety.
Stats: 1.088 OG, 10% abv, 70 IBUs.

Surly Coffee Bender (Brooklyn Center, Minnesota)
Description: Bender is a regular beer at Surly made with five malts and oatmeal. To this they have added estate Guatemalan coffee to the beer after fermentation. Guatemalan coffee is known for its gentle character, so it should complement a brown nicely.
Who will like it: Fans of malty beers and those who, like me, will be needing a caffeine fix roundabout midafternoon.
Stats: 1.058 OG, 5.6% abv, 40 IBUs.

Roots Calypso (Portland, Oregon)
Description: Okay, sure, you could literally walk across the bridge and try this, but it's too exotic to ignore. A wheat beer made with apricots and scotch bonnet peppers--the extremely spicy relatives of the habenero used to spice Caribbean dishes. Not clear if it will be sweet or spicy or a little bit of both.
Who will like it: Fans of experimental beers. Really experimental beers.
Stats: 1.044 OG, 4.4% abv, 14 IBUs.

Laughing Dog Rocket Dog (Ponderay, ID)
Description: I am playing a hunch on this one. It's a red rye ale that promises layered hopping.
Who will like it: Everyone, if my hunch pans out, but mostly hopheads and fans of the dry, spicy quality of rye beers.
Stats: 1.062 OG, 6.9% abv, 67 IBUs

Green Flash Hop Head Red (Vista, CA)
Description: A crowd-pleasing hoppy red that should be nicely balanced and tasty.
Who will like it: Based on the stats and the reputation of the brewery, this may be as close to a universal beer as you'll find at the fest.
Stats: 1.062 OG, 6.3% abv, 45 IBUs

Goose Island Matilda (Chicago, Illinois)
Description: The more I read the description, the more I wonder if this isn't an Orval-inspired Belgian. In any case, the yeast contains some of the dangerous Brettanomyces, which is enough to lure me in.
Who will like it: Anyone tired of hops and looking for something new and interesting. And fans of native son Barack Obama.
Stats: 1.062 OG, 7% abv, 32 IBUs

Fifty Fifty Foggy Goggle White (Truckee, California)
Description: Of all the Belgian wits here this year, I am most intrigued by Fifty Fifty's. It is made not only with a unique stew of spices (orange peel, lemon peel, chamomile, coriander, rose hips), but the brewers employed a sour mash, a mixture of yeast strains, and a little lactic acid for tartness.
Who will like it: This may be a step beyond for casual drinkers. I'm guessing the beer geeks will love to try to sort out which flavor characteristics are contributed by which processes and ingredients. An easter-egg hunt in a beer.
Stats: 1.062 OG, 6% abv, 21 IBUs

Caldera Ginger Ale (Ashland, Oregon)
Description: Caldera is one of Oregon's premier breweries, but this offering is something different--a pale ale spiced mainly with ginger.
Who will like it: Truthfully?--people who don't like their beer too "beery." But those who like offbeat beers with adjuncts (like me!) may also appreciate it as a contrast.
Stats: 1.042 OG, 4.7% abv, 10 IBUs

BridgePort Hop Czar (Portland, Oregon)
Description: BridgePort's latest "Big Brew," with lots and lots and lots of Nugget, Chinook, Centennial, and Cascade hops. It should be a quintessential Northwest hop bomb.
Who will like it: Hopheads.
Stats: 1.071 OG, 8% abv, 100 IBUs

Boundary Bay Dry-Hopped Crystal Pale (Bellingham, Washington)
Description: A single-hopped pale made for the OBF. Boundary Bay is one of those small breweries with exceptional beers and an outsized reputation. I have no doubt that this beer will add to the mystique.
Who will like it: Fans of well-made, classically Northwest ales (ie, everyone).
Stats: 1.056 OG, 6% abv, 45 IBUs

Wild Cards

Rogue Glen (Newport, Oregon)
Never discount a Rogue. Like Widmer, the boys from Newport often send a "buzz" beer to the fest. Glen is made in honor of Glen Falconer, late brewer of Eugene's Wild Duck. Perhaps John Maier is honoring Glen's most famous brew, Sasquatch Strong with this one, which weighs in at 8.7% and 74 IBUs.

Rock Bottom Congo Queen (Portland, Oregon)
Rock Bottom's interesting entrant is a Sorghum-based beer made with ginger, coriander, juniper berries, grains of paradise, lime zest and lime juice and fermented with the yeast strain from this year's Cheers to Belgian Beers (LaChouffe).

Kona Macadamia Nut Brown (Kona, Big Island, Hawaii)
A new beer from Kona. A brown ale made with macadamia nut honey. Dunno if the honey contributes nut flavor, but I was impressed enough by Kona beers when I was there in January that I'm willing to take a shot. A good beer to try early.

Golden Valley Cote d'Or (McMinnville, Oregon)
The brewery translates Cote d'Or as "golden slope," but I like the one I found on the internet--"golden hillside." It is a more poetic nod to the brewery's name and to the rolling hills and valleys of Yamhill County. This beer is a strong Belgian golden aged in oak barrels, a growing specialty of the brewery.

Flying Fish Dubbel (Cherry Hill, NJ)
This is a much-anticipated abbey ale from a well-regarded brewery, but I'll confess that last year's bourbon-aged variant left me cold. Still, I'll give this one a shot, so much do I love Belgium and New Jersey.

Standing Stone Almond Brown Ale is made with almond flour and could be transcendent ... or weird. Old Market sends a kitchen-sink beer, Hopcask Triple Tripel, a Belgian with lots of hops (Saaz, Tettnanger) and aged in a bourbon barrel. From the Hillsdale McMenamins comes Madman Jack's Insane, winner of the Hillsdale Brewfest and a burly 8% beer with a shocking 113 IBUs. You have probably had it already, but Allagash White is one of the first witbeers brewed in the US and the flagship of this most interesting Portland, Maine brewery. Bison Chocolate Organic Stout is a tasty fan fave and a nice, sweet alternative to some of the hop bombs.