Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Portland vs. Austin: Beer Festival Edition

Wow!  Word out of Austin is that the bad feelings left by a botched beer festival last weekend is partly to blame for the cancellation of another festival there that was scheduled for later in the month.

Don't take what follows as gloating -- I swear it's not.  But reading about the failed Austin Beer Festival -- described on a Beer Advocate thread as a complete disaster -- is a surprising reminder to me of how good we've got it in so many ways in Portland.  I lived in Austin for almost 20 years, and I while I still love that town, I can say confidently that moving to Portland 9 years ago was the best thing that our family ever did.  I love returning to Austin for visits, but it's a place I could never live again.  Naturally there are more reasons for that than the beer festival situation, although reading the links above underlined some other differences between the two towns:

  • It was 90 degrees there Saturday (Portland's high was in the low 50's)
  • Everyone attending a Texas beer festival drives there in a car.  OK, 99%.
  • The organizers of the ABF aren't really plugged in to the beer community -- it's just another business to them
On the last two points, think of the central locations of Portland's big beer festivals, all well-served by multiple forms of public transit and easy to reach on a bicycle (granted, I used to occasionally bike out to Decker Lake where the ABF was held, but even then it wasn't a particularly nice ride).  Think also of the grassroots origins of all of the Portland festivals, and how they are staffed in large part by volunteers (which it sounds like was not the case in Austin).  And how about the 2 ounce sample size at the ABF?  I guess bike lanes are not the only proof that not everything is bigger in Texas.

This seems like a good place to mention that Portland's red-headed stepchild of beer festivals, the Spring Beer and Wine Fest, is happening this Friday and Saturday.  In the past I've been somewhat critical of the SBWF, though I attend almost every year, as I will this year.  This time, though, I'll think how bad it could be, and I'll consider my taster glass half-full instead of half-empty.

If you share my interest in watching train wrecks and you didn't yet click on the ABF stories above, they are interesting reading.  Glad I didn't get wind of it on April 1st or I would have thought it was a prank.


  1. I love you Bill but this post contains some sweeping generalizations based upon a festival run by scam artists. These guys had run a similar festival in Houston last year which was met with similar results. Widespread anger. Most of the knowledgable beer community in Austin knew this would be a train wreck and avoid the festival (including myself).

    We know the Austin beer scene is much younger than Portland's. But, exciting things are happening down here. The scene is exploding and with that comes idiots out to make a buck without regard to the results. That includes this debacle and the cancelled upcoming festival (which apparently was using the TX Brewer's Guild logo without permission). I remember several lame beer fests popping up from time to time in Portland that were clearly profit driven. Most people knew to avoid them.

    Like you I have spent time in both Portland and Austin (having moved to ATX last year after 5 years in the NW). Despite the summer heat, I am loving our move back to TX and specifically Austin. The similarities between Austin and Portland are endless. Give us some time. I believe in a few years we could put on a great festival during the cooler months that will have northwesterners jumping on planes to escape the rain (just like we escape the heat at OBF).


  2. Yeah, and what about the barbecue? Surely Austin gets some points for that.

    One day I will go to Texas, but not any day soon. Meantime, I'll watch the strange PDX-Austin beer blogger battle play out.

    (Sorry, I was signed in under a different account when I posted that last comment.)

  3. Oh, we're not battling, are we? I love Austin, I just love Portland more, and find it a better fit for me and my family. Plenty of people in Austin -- most of them? -- would disagree. Vive la difference!

  4. That Spring Beer Fest would be an embarrassment in any city, town or trailer park in the nation....


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