Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2011 Portland Fruit Beer Festival

By most accounts this weekend's Portland Fruit Beer Festival was a raging success -- I'll address some of the gripes later in the post. Hats off to beer impresario Ezra Johnson-Greenough and the Burnside Brewing crew for hitting the ground running. I've been referring to this year's festival as the "first ever", since there was no telling whether it would succeed well enough to be repeated next year, but I guess I was too timid, because even the T-shirts at the festival proclaimed it to be the First Annual, and the tasting glasses staked out the territory of the 2nd weekend in June. Plans for next year involve closing the stretch of NE 7th adjacent to Burnside, doubling the square footage of the festival.

The beer highlights for me were:
  • Ninkasi Pinot Barrel-Aged Oatis with Cherries: beautiful taste of cherries, chocolate, and oak
  • Lompoc Cherry Fechter: classic cherry pie taste in a light ale; reminded me of Bridgeport's cherry Stumptown Tart or Upright's 2009 Four Play, high praise for me
  • Laurelwood Mango Mint Pale Ale: nicely balanced with a tiny hint of mint and a little whiff of mango
  • Hopworks Chupacabra Chile Stout: an instant classic, rich coffee stout with dark dried-chile notes but not too much heat
  • Breakside Brewer's Bramble: uniquely flavored amber ale, an homage to the gin cocktail called the Bramble
  • Block 15 Psidium Guava Farmhouse Ale: I went on and on about this tasty little number in my festival preview; brewer Nick Arzner was pouring his own brew Saturday afternoon
There were plenty of other enjoyable beers at the fest.  Probably my biggest disappointment was the Widmer Raspberry-Hibiscus Gose.  It wasn't bad -- and it was hands down the prettiest beer served -- but it wasn't quite what I wanted.  I was thinking along the lines of the tarter Goses from Upright and Cascade, and I would have liked a little more grain backing up the giant dose of raspberries.  Several people told me it was one of their favorites though, so take my review with a grain of salt.

The PFBF was also my first experience with pouring beer at a festival since I got my OLCC card a couple months ago.  I had a great time pouring at the rare beer taps on Saturday during the quiet early hours, before passing the torch to Angelo and Margaret when the going got tough.

Some people who arrived late Saturday afternoon had a few complaints about the festival.  It was very crowded by that time, and several of the beers had already run out: Alameda, Ninkasi, Breakside, Upright, and Fort George were early casualties.  There was also some confusion about the rare-beer taps; the system was explained in the festival program, but apparently it could have been explained more clearly, or in bold-faced type or with better signage.  Many people didn't understand that the beers rolled out two or three at a time, some on Saturday and some on Sunday, in a particular order but with no set schedule.

But these were minor hitches, and things were surprisingly well-organized -- including alphabetical order at the beer taps and a nice pint glass for samples -- for a first-time festival.  It was better for the festival to run out of some beers than for it to lose a ton of money on its first outing, which was by no means an impossibility.  Saturday's attendance of 2,600 people was higher than what the organizers expected for the entire weekend; Sunday's 1,200 people were just icing on the cake.  Even though the lines got a little long the first day, it was nothing like, say, OBF lines, and they flowed pretty quickly, especially in the rare beer area.  While I'm comparing the PFBF to other beer festivals, consider that all but one of the rare beers went for only $2 a sample -- compare that to the Portland International Brewfest, where you have a tough time finding something interesting for $2, and $5-$7 samples is not uncommon.

All in all, it was a very promising start for an exciting new festival.  Check it out next year.

Further reading:


  1. I got there with two like-minded fellows about 90 minutes after the gates opened on Saturday and we had a pretty good time. The upside of attending festivals early is "low crowds, everything still available" and this was no exception. Yes, you might not be around when Oakshire drops their rare entry, but I'm okay with that trade off.

    I would agree that the "Rare" rotation could have been documented a bit better, but complaints are obviously going to be louder from those standing in a 5-deep line and finding that out vs. those in line for 10-minutes and finding that out. When in doubt, get there early.

    Got to disagree on the Ninkasi - the pinot was there, but I failed to pick up any major influence of the cherries. Agree on Hopworks (wanted to rename it Hot and Filthy) and the Bramble (didn't have it here, but did at the PCTBB). Also enjoyed Breakside's Mango IPA and Alameda's Huckleberry version of Yellow Wolf.

    I'm sure Year Two will be an improvement on several levels.

  2. There's no accounting for taste, is there? I'd put Widmer in my top five and say the Laurelwood was the biggest dissapointment. Laurelwood was the only beer I was telling people to avoid (which, perversely, convinced someone to try it)--the rest were one variety of winner or another.

  3. Wow, two disses on my beer choices.

    As for the Widmer, I heard from a lot of people with really good taste that they loved it. Oh well. It wasn't bad... for me, it was just all raspberry and nothing else.

  4. Thanks for the link. So you know my favorites, here's my biggest disappointment and the one I warned people away from: Hopworks Red Delicious. Not only did it have a metallic quality but it tasted like dirty dishwater. Overall, a great time and I can't wait for year 2.

  5. Loved the Block 15 Psidium---favorite beer of the fest.

    Overall though, had a good time at the festival, but really enjoyed sitting at the bar after drinking the Burnside beers. Had not been overwhelmed with their stuff earlier, but really enjoyed the Oatmeal Pale and the new Berliner-Weisse---just great stuff.