Monday, June 29, 2009

Organic Brewers Festival 2009

Beer festivals are hitting Portland right and left now that summer is officially here. Friday I was able to squeeze a trip to the North American Organic Brewers Festival into my lunch hour thanks to the earlier Friday start time of 12 noon. That's not bad: exercise (biking to and from Overlook Park), lunch, a little socializing, and some beer tasting all rolled into one. And if anyone asks, I just say I'm at lunch.

The NAOBF has a lot of things going for it. Good organization, starting with arranging brewery stations in alphabetical order. A venue that has a more open feel than the cramped confines of the PIB or the narrow, dusty half-mile of the OBF. A format that allows breweries to exhibit more than one of their beers.

Last year I was actually complaining about the venue, mainly because the lone tree in Overlook Park provided too little shade on such a hot day. I closed my report by saying "Hopefully next year it won't be 100 degrees out". My wish came true: the weather for the NAOBF was perfect this weekend. Even if it had been hot or rainy, the addition of tables and chairs under a good-sized tent made for a much better setup, and suddenly Overlook Park seems like a great place to hold a festival.

The fact that a brewery can bring more than one beer to the festival may not seem like a huge deal, but I think it makes it possible to please beer snobs and more casual festival-goers at the same time. For example, Hopworks hit three targets at once by bringing their popular IPA, their entry-level Lager, and a new offering: Secession Cascadian Dark Ale. Something for everyone.

My favorites from Friday were:
  • Standing Stone Double IPA (cask-conditioned): rich and flowery IPA from the firkin
  • Hopworks Secession Cascadian Dark Ale: malty and smoky with flowery hops
  • Upright Reggae Junkie Gruit: fabulous lemongrass flavor
  • Nelson Brewing After Dark Mild: caramelly and satisfying but light
  • Roots Gruit Kolsch: lovely and yeasty, less citrusy than Upright
My first sample of the Roots gruit had me very confused: the tap lines had been crossed, so for the first couple hours of the festival the Roots Pale Ale was being served as the gruit. It tasted suspiciously bitter for a hop-free beer, and I had to wonder what herb they had used for that: dandelion? quinine? Once the mistake was corrected, the world made a lot more sense, and it was fun to compare the Roots gruit with the Upright gruit, which it inspired. The gravity-dispensed Standing Stone IPA was a real treat. The Cascadian Dark from Hopworks was the only beer I went back for a full cup of: it presses all my hop and malt flavor buttons. I hope it becomes a regular part of the HUB lineup.

Upright and Captured by Porches were at the NAOBF for the first time this year. But what happened to Hair of the Dog -- which won the People's Choice Award last year for Blue Dot -- and Walking Man? Surprising to see those fine breweries drop out of the lineup. Another gripe is the double-token charge for some of the bottled beers. I would certainly have tried the low-alcohol hefeweizen from German brewery Lammsbrau, but I couldn't bear to part with $2 for a tiny taste. Surely the cost of the bottles can be recovered on $1/sample. Or you can consider the festival's charge of $6 for a disposable plastic cup as a way of subsidizing loss-leaders like that.

Last year was my first time to attend the NAOBF, and I was kind of lukewarm towards it. I definitely got a better impression this year. The weather played a role in that, but I think the addition of the tent was a good move, and giving the hard-core snobs an earlier opening time on Friday was nice also. I'll be looking forward to it next year.

[Update: The People's Choice Award winners at the festival were 1. Standing Stone Double IPA; 2. (tie) Crannog Backhand of God Stout / Hopworks Secession; 3. Oakshire Watershed IPA.]

1 comment:

  1. This looks like a great Beerfest. Portland has a great beer scene. I am jealous. I think I need to make a trip to the Pacific Northwest.