What's Hopping at the Oregon Brewers Festival
Twenty-five years into its lifespan, the brewers' buffet along the Willamette River in Portland's Tom McCall Park has grown into a sprawling, five-day affair featuring roughly 85 different beers, roundtable talks with brewers, homebrewing demonstrations and thousands off folks finding their favorite new beer four ounces at a time. It brings in throngs of beer lovers and appreciators, but it also brings in dozens of hard-pretzel necklaces, foam hop-shaped hats and exultations of "Woo!" that wash over the crowd either like a vocalized version of The Wave or a spilled beer in a crowded pub, depending on your mood at the time.
It's either one of the greatest beer gatherings the Pacific Northwest has to offer or a really good reason to head to the coast or Columbia River Gorge while beer tourists occupy your local barstool. Then again, the beers on tap tend to have a similarly split personality and can either send a sampler looking for a six-pack of it or leave them wondering if craft brewers live in the same drinking world as everyone else.
In the words of the writer's father-in-law, who accompanied him for this year's trip to OBF, "Why does every IPA have to taste like citrus or grapefruit these days?"
It's grating and perplexing, but there is some reasoning to it. First off, it's summer. On the same days as the brewers festival, more than 2,000 costumed folks and their innertubes are going to hit the Willamette for The Big Float and Jacque Tati's Tour De Fete will be screening on the roof of a hotel parking lot. A little outward exuberance isn't out of the question, especially considering all those pretzel necklaces and "woo" will be replaced with a grey pall and indoor voices by the end of September.
It's the same reason few of the Imperial Pale Ales at OBF taste overly malty or flowery and why you'll be hard-pressed to find a porter or a stout at all. Drinkers, especially the largely populist OBF drinkers, want something refreshing, and brewers trying to reach them are more than willing to slake that thirst. Alameda Brewing, a brewery in Northeast Portland known for its Black Bear XX Stout, brought a light ale made with huckleberries. Cascade Brewing, a Southeast Portland mainstay known for extremely sour, barrel-aged Belgian-style beers, came with a simple raspberry wheat. Delaware's Dogfish Head, so known for owner Sam Calagione's experimental bent that it was featured in the TLC show Brew Masters, came 3,000 miles just to serve its relatively simple Namaste witbier.