Portland International Beerfest Preview

Portland International Beerfest
North Park Blocks between Davis and Everett

Friday: 4pm - 10pm

Saturday: 12pm - 10pm

Sunday: 12pm - 7pm
Attendees pay $20 for 10 beer tickets and official PIB glass; additional tix $1. Cash only. Pours of 4 ounces cost 1-4 tickets (half the beers are just one ticket). Children, no; dogs, yes. Official website.

And so it begins. In just a few short hours, volunteers will begin pouring some 147 beers, presenting you with a painful quandary: how do you choose? (Yes, you must choose: with just 23 hours of fest time, you'd have to move at a lethal 6.4-beer-per-hour pace to try them all. Don't do it!) I have spent a fair amount of time studying the beer list posted one the website, and damned if I know how I'm going to taste my much-attenuated list of two dozen+ "must try's." But perhaps we can at least bring some order to the winnowing process.

For those of you who attend every year, looking for the new trends may be one way to identify likely suspects. Craft brewing is an international phenomenon, and PIB is a great way to see how breweries are influencing one another. You can be sure that if a brewery discovers a cool hop on one continent, brewers will be using it a year later on another continent. (Nelson Sauvin are the lupulin du jour.) So what's hot now? Stouts, for one thing. There are 17 stouts and Baltic Porters at the fest, 13 of them imperial. The leaders here are the Scandinavians, who appear to have been inspired by their dark winters, but this is really a worldwide phenomenon: breweries from ten countries have brought these beers.

Brewery collaboration is suddenly very big, too, and not just for neighboring breweries. Of the half-dozen or so collaboration beers on offer, only one seems to be by countrymen breweries. Will this create a Beatles-like fizz of creativity (sum greater than the parts), or a muddle of compromise?

Finally, barrel-aging is so widespread that it's now hard to call it a trend. I remember way back in the day (2005), you'd be wowed if someone got a hold of a decent bourbon barrel in which to age a beer. In this year's line-up beers have been aged in: Islay malt barrels, 40-year-old cognac barrels, burgundy barrels, and a 100-year-old sherry cask (!). If you're not barrel aging, you're not trying.

Interesting Beers
Get any ten beer geeks to look at this list and collectively they'll advise you that every beer pouring at the fest is interesting. And they'd be right. But we must all use our wiles and judgment to get the list pared, and so I have selected a modest sixteen beers here for your consideration, trying to balance countries (Germany, Denmark, Italy, England, Belgium, Netherlands, and Czech Republic), style, and type (seven are on draft, nine in the bottle). Except for my recommendation on the hefeweizen flight, I've tried none of these beers--that's another of my criteria, novelty--so there are likely some duds. Also, I eschewed all of the Double IPAs because I've grown weary of the style. If you must have one--and most of you will feel you must--try one from Denmark or Norway ;they seem to understand the Zen of hopping. That style aside, here's a list of some fair diversity:
  • Urige Dopple-Sticke Alt, Germany. Purportedly the hoppiest German beer in production, in the lovely altbier stile. (Draft)
  • Cantillon Saint Lamvinus, Belgium. A lambic aged in a burgundy barrel. (Bottle)
  • Mikkeller USAlive, Denmark. A strong Belgian-style ale made with a combination of brettanomyces and Orval yeast. (Bottle)
  • Hofstettner Granitbock, Germany. A hellles bock made in the stone beer method of heating rocks to boil the wort ("granite bock"). (Bottle)
  • Dupont Avril Table Beer, Belgium. I will confess to finding Dupont irresistible, and this wee 3.5% table beer is no exception. They're also pouring Moinette, and I wouldn't be shocked to look down and see that in my glass at some point, either. (Draft)
  • Birrificio Montegioco Quarta Runa, Italy. A beer made with peach, purportedly dry and refined. (Bottle)
  • Hefeweizen Flight, Germany. Here's what you do: you and three friends get a simultaneous pour of the four traditional hefeweizens (Ayinger, Franziskaner, Kapuziner, and Weinhenstephan) and see which is best. What an opportunity! (Draft)
  • Fantome Pissenlit, Belgium. A saison made with dandelions. (Bottle)
  • Slaghmuylder Witkap Singel, Belgium. A beer in the rare singel style, brewed by the only secular brewery ever allowed to use the designation "Trappist"--though not any more. (Draft)
  • De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis, Netherlands. "Hell and Damnation" is a stout made with obscure Czech Premiant hops and aged in a 40-year-old cognac barrel. (Bottle)
  • Le Coq 6-Year-Old Imperial Stout, England. The allure is right there in the title. (Bottle)
  • Reissdorf Kolsch, Germany. An authentic kolsch from Cologne and served on tap, the way delicate beers like this were intended. (Draft)
  • De Ranke Cuvee De Ranke, Belgium. A sour ale made with a mixture of yeasts from Rodenbach and an unnamed lambic brewery. (Bottle)
  • Cantillon Mystery Beer, Belgium. Whatever it is comes in a keg, and depending on how many tix they're asking, I will probably take the plunge. (draft)
  • Oppigårds Well-hopped Lager, Czech Republic. A 5% pilsner with a hearty 50 IBUs. (Bottle)
  • JW Lees Harvest Sherry, England. This is not my fave brewery, and normally I would keep on moving. But in this case, the 100-year-old sherry cask is hard to ignore. Pours at 2pm on Saturday only, in what is sure to be a scrum. (Draft)
There are a few American beers one might keep an eye on, too. Very often these are cheaper, and you have a chance to see how good American brewing stacks up against the world's best. A few that caught my eye:
  • Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout. Eventually I'm going to find a DH I like. It's 22%, so be careful.
  • Bell's De Proef Van Twee. A two-continent collaboration, seasoned with brettanomyces. How can it go wrong?
  • Great Divide Oak Aged Chocolate Yeti. I nurture a prejudice against Colorado beers, but Yeti is the exception. Put it on oak and add chocolate and I bet it's still damn tasty.
  • Mead. There are five here, and if you've never had a mead, check them out. (Try to find the driest you can--maybe the agave?)
  • Rogue John John Hazelnut. Aged in a rum barrel, but only 5%--intriguing.
  • Cascade/Rac Lodge. Ask around and find out what Gansberg sent--if it's the kriek, don't delay!
Ah, the best laid plans. Even trying to winnow, I still mentioned 26 beers. This is the trouble, and it doesn't get any easier once you arrive, in situ, and find yourself with three imperial stouts in your gullet. Godspeed.