Oregon Brewers Fest
Yesterday kicked off the 4-day wonderment known simply as OBF. It looked and tasted as awesome as you’re imagining: 86 breweries (over half from the state of Oregon of course, with Pacific Coast neighbors making up close to the other half), 86 beers (plus over 50 more in the Buzz tent) 75 degrees, and when it’s all said and done Sunday night, some 80,000 beer lovers will have partaken in the 24th annual rendition, making it one of the oldest and largest fests in the country.
There are roughly 200 summer beer fests, but other than the granddaddy of ‘em all, GABF in Denver, few show off the breadth and talent of such a vaunted region of brewers the way OBF does. I moved to Portland at the start of last winter, and I smiled through what has been called the wettest winter on record the whole time, knowing I’d be rewarded with days like this—sun shining on the crowd situated along the Willamette River, everyone dropping wooden tokens purchased for a buck to try a cornucopia of summer styles. Perhaps cornucopia is the wrong word to describe authentic, all-malt craft beers.
Actually, aside from the 19 IPAs (not counting the black ones which around here we call Cascadian Dark Ales such as Columbia River Brewing’s Nyctophobia) and a handful of summery Kolsches and Helleses, there were plenty of wheat beers. One of Portland’s newest breweries in a pool that includes 40 is Burnside Brewing and they rolled out their Gratzer, a Polish smoked wheat beer. You can count the number of American craft iterations of this nearly-extinct style on one hand of a clumsy shop teacher’s fingers.
And while the majority of American hops are grown in nearby Yakima Valley just across the state line in Washington as well as our own fecund Willamette Valley, I counted no fewer than 3 mint beers! From Turner, OR, Gilgamesh offered its Mint Kolsch (actually more of a gruit since in lieu of local hops they added local mint), a Portland nanobrewery named Natian delivered a pony keg of Hint O’ Mint to the Buzz tent, and Dogfish Head represented with a beer called Black & Red that was “dry-minted” to the point where one whiff conjured up memories of 31 Flavors Mint Chip ice cream cakes. (The “red” came in the form of raspberries, which seemingly slathered that ice cream cake in jelly.)
In a state with almost as many beerfests throughout the year as there are hop bines in the valley, most of them we keep cozy and to ourselves. But from the map on the fest grounds asking attendees to place a pin showing where they traveled from to attend, it’s clear that OBF is the one that shows off why Portland is Beervana.