Friday after work we dropped by the grandly-named North American Organic Beer Festival, which was up in Overlook Park this time around. This is the first edition of the festival that I've been to, and we all thought it was a pretty good event. I'm not what you'd call a strident organic type, but when you see the word on beer it tends to indicate the brewers put a bit more time and care into their ingredients. I'm always in favor of that, and who wouldn't be?
If you put the word "organic" on something, certain other things are inevitable, even now in 2007. Which means this beer festival looks a little different than most: Patchouli, occasional tie dye, a band with bongo drums, another band whose singer finished the set by reading from some annoying Hunter S. Thompson book. Lots and lots of people arriving on bikes (and I'm quite curious how they got home). Vendors advertising home solar power, Flexcar, that sort of thing. It's one of those "only in Portland" things, but one I can handle, with only a minor amount of amused eye-rolling. As I've said before, I'm not precisely in the "organic" core demographic: I've only been to one Grateful Dead show, in Eugene around 1990 or so, and only because a friend begged me to go. And I no longer own any tie dye or patchouli items. I am, however, in the core beer demographic, and I'll happily tune out the bongo drums if there's good brew to be had.
Here's a pic of just a few of the vast armada of bikes lined up at the festival, chained up to the high fence the OLCC's jackbooted thugs insist you have around all beer events in this state. So that particular bluenosed regulation turns out to be useful for once, for a completely unrelated purpose.
Anyway, on to the beer:
- El Torero Organic IPA
- An IPA from Portland's Alameda Brewhouse. First beer of the day. Decent IPA, floral hops instead of citrusy. I might've appreciated it more if I hadn't arrived hot and thirsty.
- Hop Lava, Double Mountain (Hood River)
- I have a bad habit of hitting the double IPAs early when I go to beer events. It's not really the best idea, if you plan to drink anything other than double IPAs. Still, I stubbornly persist at doing this. I suppose I'm just not a very strategic thinker where beer's concerned. In any case, this is quite a good double IPA. A lot of them end up being too sweet for my taste. The idea is to strike a balance between the malt and the hops, it's just that not everyone agrees on what "balance" tastes like.
- India Red Ale, Double Mountain
- My wife says this was good. I didn't get to taste it. Double Mountain was supposed to show for the Spring Beer & Wine fest, and we were kind of disappointed they weren't there, since this beer sounded pretty good. May need to track the place down next time we're out in Hood River.
- Hopworks IPA
- Hopworks is a new brewery founded by the former head brewer at Laurelwood. They've got a pub opening later this summer out on Powell, which may herald the start of gentrification down there. Gentrification on Powell -- who'd have ever imagined that? In any case, this was a nice IPA. I thought they were trying for more of an English style than you tend to see in Portland, not quite so many hops, more biscuity malt, and a bit drier. But the guide says it's Northwest style, with all the classic NW hop varieties inside. I don't see any reason to doubt the guide's guidance, so I think I'll chalk this up to having a double IPA immediately prior to this. I'll guess I'll just have to try it again once the pub opens. I don't know what it'll be like, but I know you'll be able to get there on TriMet bus #9, one of the Frequent Service lines. And it'll be a short stagger away from the Clinton St. Theater, with its attached brewpub.
- Hell's Kitchen (i.e. the potato beer), Crannog, BC
- I actually wasn't surprised this doesn't taste like potatoes. Potatoes are a fairly neutral-tasting source of fermentable starch, which is why you see them used to make vodka a lot. A good, dry Irish-style Red. It's a shame the Crannog folks are up in British Columbia and don't seem to have wide distribution down here. I could drink more of this. And I have a sneaking suspicion it'd go really well with potatoes.
- Backhand of God Stout, Crannog
- A really great dry Irish stout that isn't Guinness, which is a rare thing indeed. They nailed the lactic and astringent notes, which is where people usually mess up. Too often you just get a dark, dry, sorta-roasty beer, drinkable but nothing to write home about. This one's not like that. To give you some idea, my wife picked this over the red when we were at the Crannog booth and didn't want to trade with me, which is saying a lot.
- Standing Stone Double IPA
- I remember really liking this one, but it was late in the afternoon and the details are a touch hazy. Standing Stone is out of Ashland, so hopefully I'll be able to track this down again. I can tell you it didn't taste like the previous double IPA.
- This is a yerba mate beer from the Butte Creek folks. Yes, yerba mate, that stuff Argentinians drink out of gourds instead of swilling $5 lattes like civilized people. Wisecracks aside, this was the big surprise of the festival as far as I'm concerned. I wouldn't have thought an herbal, tea-like flavor would go well in beer, but it does, or at least I thought it did. It had a very refreshing quality about it. It'd be great on a hot day after mowing the lawn, if I had a lawn, which I don't. It'd also be great on a hot day after doing absolutely nothing, which I'm eminently capable of. Did I mention that yerba mate's loaded with caffeine? Did I mention that I'm a caffeine-based organism? I'm hesitant to say this would be a good morning wake-me-up, but it might be worth a try, at least.
- Roots Chocolate Habanero Stout
- I think this is the consensus choice as the beer of the festival. I only had a sip of it, a complete stranger was ahead of me in the line for the men's room and had acquired a rather evangelical fervor for the beer and wanted me to try it. It really was great. You wouldn't think this would be the ideal condition to try a chocolate habanero stout, impatiently standing in line in the hot sun. That can't be anywhere near the ideal condition, so it must be even better than it seemed at the time. Scary. A certain macrobrew calls itself the king of beers, for no obvious reason except marketshare. If there really is such a thing as beer royalty, though, this cocoa-n-chile beer has got to be the Aztec emperor of beers.
- Roots East Side Abbey
- I went back later hoping to get a full glass of the stout, but they'd just run out. They had an abbey-style ale instead at the Roots booth, so I had a glass of that. It was fine, although it wasn't the beer I really wanted. I probably ought to have asked what the abv was before getting a whole glass.
- Lucky Lab Rose City Red
- Your standard dry red style. Got up to track down another red for my spouse, and decided I'd have some too instead of waiting in another line. I'm glad I did. I can sometimes be a bit of a hop bigot, going "30 IBU's? You call that beer?" But 30 is what this clocks in at, and I liked it a lot. A mug of this would've gone great with food if I'd been interested in any of the festival's healthy organic food choices, but sadly it was not to be. At 4.2 abv, it'd be a good session beer too -- everyone could stand their round without getting loaded to excess. Or at least not to what I'd consider excess. The guide says this red's made without crystal malt, and the color comes from using Munich and dark malts in the right proportions. I'd love to be able to tell you I noticed a substantial difference, but I didn't. I will, once again, blame this on the other beers I'd tried earlier (and there'd been several at this point), rather than blaming my untrained and insensate palate. Hey, I'm the one writing this, I can blame whatever I want. Describing a beer as a "dry red" makes it sound like a wine or something, which it most definitely is not. A dry red wine is what I'm having right now as I write this, actually, but I wouldn't dare to attempt to describe it. Describing wine is an art reserved for highly paid experts and pretentious rich twits, and I wouldn't presume to horn in on their turf. Someday, maybe, wine will become an everyday beverage in this country the way beer is, but I'm increasingly convinced it won't happen until the very last baby boomer hoofs it off to the great Woodstock festival in the sky. But this post is about beer, and I digress.
- Lompoc Bald Guy Brown
- I'm pretty sure this is one of the Lompoc's usual seasonals. I didn't realize they were doing the organic beer thing now. Maybe it's just the 5th Quadrant up in trendy North Portland that's doing the organic beer thing. I dunno. I wish I had more to say about this, but it was late in the day. I remembered I'd had some after reading the guide again. They've probably still got it at all the local Lompoc outlets. The original location on 23rd is still my favorite, about the least pretentious, least upscale microbrew spot in the city -- except with really good food.
- Hop Van Boorian
- This is advertised as a "Belgian IPA". It's not the first thing I've tried that's been described that way, and the more of them I try, the more I think there's no such thing as a "Belgian IPA". Crossbreeding two popular styles seems like a no-brainer, but I've never tried one that's made much of an impression on me. It's quite a shame, really. By this I don't just mean US brewers trying to make Belgian styles but with more hops. I've run across a few beers from Belgium that claimed to be hoppy US-style beers, complete with hop cones all over the label, and still, no dice. The result is inevitably a little of both styles, but not enough of either. Belgian yeast/microbial flavors just don't seem to mesh up all that well with hops, period -- with the possible exception of Orval, which is definitely not a beer for all tastes.
Oh, and here's a sunset at the festival, FWIW. I'm not sure why I took this. Possibly there was beer involved.
Updated: Linkies from Venti's Cafe and Basement Bar and the NAOBF itself. Hooray, interwebs!