The Changing Oregon Brewers Fest

The first edition of the Oregon Brewers Fest came in 1988, when micros enjoyed little cross-state distribution. The breweries were local and, by today's standards, few. As the fest aged, it became a showcase for national breweries we couldn't regularly get in Oregon. As it aged more, local breweries, unable to get a slot in the year's showcase event, organized alternative fests. They wanted to put the Oregon back in the OBF. I'm not sure which approach is best, but one thing that didn't change was the number of taps: it stayed at a rigid 72.

Then a few years back, the OBF decided it would try to grow with the times. The number of regular taps grew slightly (it's now 86) and it has steadily tilted back toward Oregon. Where few small, local breweries could ever have had a chance for a slot in 2005, now a bunch do--including one nano. And for the first time since I've been doing "OBF by the Numbers" (look for that tomorrow), Oregon breweries occupy more than half the taps (51%).

I think the other big change is a move toward specialty beers. In past decades, breweries saw the OBF as a chance to introduce Oregonians to a beer they were pushing in the market. They may have been great beers, but it takes a bit of the luster off a fest when the beers are available at the local Fred Meyer. This year Goose Island, Dogfish Head, Ninkasi, Elysian, Burnside, Oakshire, and Amnesia, and Deschutes (Widmer, too, but they've been doing that forever, bless their hearts) are pitching off-speed stuff.

Little fests started competing with the OBF several years back, and they regularly put together line-ups of better and more interesting beer. The OBF had a choice to make: accept its place as the fest for the masses, the giant kegger by the river, or tune things up and become relevant as the premier big event on the calendar. Good to see they've selected door number two.