Monday, July 31, 2006

Brüfested

Oregon Brewers Festival 2006

octopus mural, fish brewing

So it was a weird foray to the Oregon Brewers Festival this time around. We were going out of town for the weekend, which ruled out Saturday & Sunday. This also precluded staying out late on Friday, and unfortunately that meant the beerbloggin' meetup wasn't doable. Going to a beer festival on Thursday seemed... unnatural, somehow. So I figured, ok, I'll just make it an extended, ah, lunchbreak, since nobody hangs around the office after 3 or so on a Friday in July anyway. My wife's gotten tired of all these beer festivals all the time, and certain otherwise dependably pro-beer friends & coworkers were unreachable / busy / rearranging their sock drawers / etc., so I figured, ok, I'll just go by myself. That was the weird part. You don't really get into the spirit of the thing unless you go with a group and everyone gets tipsy. But hey, I've been there and done that before, at the last few OBFs I've gone to. So I figured this year I'd try to delve deep into beer geekage, plot out what I wanted to try in advance, do "tasting notes", and eschew the distractions of people to socialize with. Because I'm a gadget geek as well as a beer geek, I hauled the camera and Blackberry along. Are you rolling your eyes at me yet? Go ahead. Be my guest. Please. Hell, I'm rolling my eyes at me. The original plan was that I'd blog from the brewfest itself, but I just sort of didn't get around to it. Rereading my notes, I'm kind of glad I didn't do that, although I now have the fun task of trying to interpret and translate my notes into proper English without a drop of beer in me.

Believe it or not, I wasn't (very) tipsy when I took the top photo. I was actually juggling the camera, a taster cup, a program, and a bite to eat, and somehow I got the idea I needed to take a picture right that minute. So ok, it wasn't the first sample I'd had, but still, I mostly knew what I was doing, and I didn't drop anything. It would've been far easier if digital cameras weren't all designed exclusively for right-handed people. (Prejudiced bastards.) I took a few other photos but they're all more or less like this one, so one's probably enough for now. Still, all this ubergeekage helped with the stigma of just up and going by myself, since I could always rationalize that I wasn't really alone, because of my vast global internet audience, and so forth. I'm doing all of this this for you, just remember that. This is all very fitting and appropriate, you know, because in a way the OBF is just like the Internet: It's a series of tubes.

Anyway, I went over the list of beers and came up with a short list of stuff to try. I'm not superhuman, I'm not 23, I'm not a complete fool all the time, and basically there's just a limit to the number of samples you can try and really enjoy (i.e. taste) at a time. If I'd tried it before, or I've seen it in the grocery store, it was off the list. In general, anything really dark and malty was off the list, because I just wasn't in the mood for that. I ended up with a short list of mostly IPAs, and I more or less stuck to the list, except when I didn't. One thing I didn't do was decide what order to try the beers in. That seemed way too anal-retentive, and I figured, y'know, I'm just tasting beer here, not invading Poland or whatever. Although in retrospect it might've been a good idea to save a couple of beers for the end, as I'll explain below.

Without further ado, and in chronological order (if I remember right):
  • Bell's Hell Hath No Fury...Ale Started off with a non-IPA, a rich 'n malty Belgian dubbel, which I tried because of the name. A good example of the style, I expect, but I didn't really get into it. Mostly reminded me that I wasn't in the mood for rich 'n malty.
  • West Coast IPA from Green Flash Brewing. What is it about beer from San Diego? It's about the last place you'd expect to have multiple breweries churning out huge, hoppy, cutting-edge beers. With that climate I'd assume the locals would subsist on nothing but chilled white wine and olives, but apparently not. It's a mystery, but it's a really really good mystery. This was a really great IPA. The program insists that it's available in bottles locally, although I don't recall ever seeing it.
  • Epiphany Ale from Iron Springs Pub & Brewery. The program asserts this is an "ode to the Cascades hop", but I didn't really pick up on this. Lots of bitterness, but not so much of that nice citrusy flavor. I felt cheated. Maybe this was because of the previous beer, though. Go from 95 IBUs down to 69, and the second beer just won't impress as much as it otherwise would. This wasn't terrible, overall, it just wasn't what I was expecting.
  • Ned Flanders, from Rock Bottom. Lessee: Belgian yeast, strong tartness, marionberries, aged in bourbon and wine barrels. Really complex. Wow. This is not your usual beer. You have to like the Flemish Red style to enjoy this. Which I do, but in serious moderation. If there'd been another like this at the festival, I would've picked just one to try, not both. If you're not 100% in the mood for a beer like this, and you get a normal-sized glass of it, drinking it will seem like work, which is not to be desired in a beer, any beer. You definitely want to rinse out your taster mug after this one, so your next "normal" beer doesn't pick up all sorts of bizarre flavors. I don't want to sound negative here, because I really liked this one. It's just that I also tried a lot of beers like this at the International Beerfest a couple weeks back. I think it's the style du jour. Next year it'll be something else.
    Shortly after I tried this, I ran across a guy who was shambling around shouting that this was the best beer at the festival. I wouldn't go that far, myself, but he'd clearly just had a religious experience. Or a few taster samples too many. Or perhaps both.
  • Pliny the Elder from Russian River. My tasting "notes" just say "OMG HOPPY" plus a line of asterisks. I'm serious. Please note this was not my first sample of the day. The ever-helpful program says this could be described as a "hop wine", although it's listed as a double IPA. 100 IBU. I probably should've saved this one for last. It's the last one I marked as a favorite. I think this beer temporarily shorted out my hop-sensing apparatus; on a couple of subsequent beers I noted that I knew they were hoppy, but couldn't really tell that they were.
  • Standing Stone Double IPA Way less hoppy than the last one, or so it seemed, and a lot more malty & caramelly. Not my favorite of the day, but I think this is just not a summer beer. Would probably go great with Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Whoop Pass from Skagit River Brewing. Another double IPA, more bitter & less malty than the last one. I think.
  • Organic Revolution X, Butte Creek Brewing. This one I said I could sort of tell it was really hoppy, but I couldn't taste the hops as well as earlier in the day.
  • Hazel Dell IPA, the first of three moderate ABV, moderate IBU (40-50) brews I ought to have tried earlier on. My notes mentioned that all 3 tasted like English pale ales (although the 3rd isn't even an ale at all), and a relatively restrained style like this just isn't the same after a few hop grenades.
  • Boundary Bay Double Dry Hopped Pale Ale: See previous comment.
  • Anchors Away Steam Lager from Lucky Lab: See previous comment.
    Updated: I thought I'd give this one another try, so I popped over to the newish Lucky Lab outpost at NW 19th & Quimby for a pint. It's really closer to an ESB than an IPA, and kinda like Anchor Steam but not a clone of it. If you think about it, "California common" or "steam beer" (whatever you want to call it) is more of a production technique than a specific style. Lager yeast, ale temperatures, and maybe a special fermenter to handle all the frothy excitement this combo generates. That's all there is to it. That's the entire "secret" of this tasty freakshow. All the rest is just ingredients, and you can do as you like in that department, so long as it tastes ok. A really dark one might be tasty, sort of a porter - schwarzbier hybrid. Mmm. I wouldn't say no to a pint of that.
  • Sunrye, special OBF recipe from Redhook. My notes say "Nice change from hop bombs. Refreshing." That pretty much sums it up.
Elsewhere, there are several OBF posts over at The Brew Site (and photos here), and more at Beervana. A report on the festival at Gone Ronin. Strangely, there's almost no overlap between the beers he tried, and the ones I tried. Sounds like I missed out on a few tasty beverages there, but hey, I was trying to stick to a theme. A brief tidbit at Overheard in PDX. And here's yet another person complaining about the event. Going to the OBF is sort of like visiting the Louvre. Don't even think about trying every last beer at the festival, or seeing every painting in the museum. Because you can't, and you'll ruin your enjoyment of the few you get to by making yourself all frantic over the attempt. Have a theme, but don't beat yourself silly trying to stick to it rigorously. Ideally, pick a theme that's completely different than mine, so there's no chance you'll be ahead of me in line. And be sure to go when the barbarian hordes aren't there, or you'll be miserable, guaranteed. BTW, in case you're wondering about that cool octopus mural, it's on the side of the Fish Brewing pub up in downtown Olympia, WA. Remember how I said I was out of town over the weekend? I was away from the beerfest, but definitely not away from beer. Mmmmmm..... beeeeeer......
Updated: Two more OBF posts to pass along, one at BlueOregon, and another at Chattering Magpie. Updated II:More OBF posts, at Bad Ben's Brewing Blog, Rooftop Brew, and Zeros and Ones. The last one actually references several of the same beers I tried, amazingly. I'll have to disagree about the Scullers IPA -- I had it in bottled form once and hated, hated, hated it. But hey.

3 comments :

Jeff Alworth said...

Mmmmm, Pliny ....

Ghost Dog said...

Not all that strange that there wasn't any overlap in what we tried, really. I suppose if my visit had a theme, it was find the darkest stuff, then go after the wheaty stuff, then go get some Fearless Scottish Ale. :) I'm not a big fan of the IPAs as it seems most locals are (I'm a VT transplant, but didn't grow my beer taste there - have no idea what most VTers lean towards...).

Thanks for the link!

Andy said...

I hate Scullers too. Bottle, tap and cask.