It's tough work, but someone has to do it.
I'll be honest - I haven't been to OBF in many years. My crowd-anxiety and dislike of drunk frat boys has kept me away. It's understandable that the oldest and biggest Portland beer festival should draw a crowd, but...eh...not for me. I figured, though, that if I went just after the festival opened on Wednesday, the crowds would be bearable and the frat boys to a minimum. Bonus that it rained, leaving only the die-hard craft beer enthusiasts, writers, and other craft beer industry folk. My people.
Naturally, I didn't have a chance to try all the beers, otherwise I wouldn't be alive to write this. But here's my take on a few...Keep in mind that the "Author Picks" are completely subjective and, while I love all styles if they're done well, I tend to gravitate toward the Belgians and sours.
10 Barrel Brewing Co.
10 Barrel took the gold home at GABF 2013 with their Berliner-style Weiss, German Sparkle Party. This Cider Weiss was a blend of this award-winner and a Granny Smith and Pink Lady cider. I'm not much of a cider drinker but I was looking forward to seeing what 10 Barrel is up to these days. There was a nice crisp, cidery and funky nose with - thankfully - a very dry, tart finish. Clean, crisp and refreshing - definitely has some cider character but without losing the dry, tart Berliner Weiss nature. Not overly complex but well-done.
Beer Valley Brewing
Heavy Sugars Honey Ale
This would not have been my first choice for beers to try because I had it in my mind that it would be too sweet for my liking but I tried a bit from a friend's glass. Brewed with Alfalfa honey and flavored with Oregon plum, cherry and blueberry purees and containing absolutely no hops, the smell is dominated by fresh honey and strangely reminiscent of cheese. The flavor is nothing like that though, which is interesting in my book. A very drinkable, surprisingly dry honey ale. Worth a try.
Cigar City Brewing
Blood Orange/Dragon Fruit Florida Weisse
Finally - a beer by Cigar City which has been unadulterated by collaborations (mind you, I am completely pro-collaborations! It's only that the Cigar City/Widmer collaborative series was a bit disappointing...as was the Cigar City/New Belgium Lips of Faith collaboration). From all the buzz about Cigar City Brewing which comes rapidly through the interweb to the West Coast, I was pretty excited to try this one. After searching for a while and not finding it, a friend told me that this super-secret beer was the one without the sign. Naturally.
Brewed with blood orange and dragon fruit, a type of cactus with a flavor reminiscent of kiwi and pear, pilsner and pale wheat malt, then fermented with Lactobacillus, this beer was a tart, fruity and incredibly well-balanced Berliner-Weiss style. Although it didn't exactly blow my mind, it's definitely worthy of competition against some of the great American wild and sour ales produced in the Great Northwest.
Keep an eye out for Cigar City's famous imperial stout scheduled to tap Friday at noon in the specialty, two-token section. When Cigar City ran out of this beer not too long ago, there was nearly a douche bag riot!
Ester the Farmhouse Maiden <-- Author Pick
I'm always excited to try a Deschutes one-off, seasonal or Reserve Series beer. While their old regulars (Mirror Pond, Black Butte Porter, etc.) are solid, their special beers can be downright mind-blowing. A saison brewed with Vienna and spelt malts and flaked oats with the addition of pink peppercorn, lemon verbena, sumac and dried lemon; this one definitely stood out for me and managed to not disappoint despite my high expectations for it. It was every bit as complex, spicy and herbal as one would imagine while still retaining a pretty impressive traditional and well-balanced saison style.
Perihelion Crimson Saison
I'm always interested in trying the next Ecliptic beer to see how the brewing technique and style is evolving. Brewed with pale and wheat malts, Sterling hops and rhubarb; this was a solid, slightly spicy saison with a lingering bitter finish. Not mind-blowing, but solid.
Ex Novo Brewing Company
Black and Wheat
Ex Novo is one of the newest breweries to open in Portland and is the only non-profit brewery there is (to the best of my knowledge). I was excited to try my first Ex Novo beer- a black raspberry beer brewed with wheat and Pilsner malts and Amarillo hops. I really, really wanted to like this one because these guys are so damn nice and have their hearts in the right place. Unfortunately, based on this one beer, I think they need to hone in on their recipes a bit. Sorry guys, it just wasn't great - or rather, not even really good. Not yet, but give these guys some time and keep your eye on them because they've got a great business model and I hope they succeed wildly.
Mega Dank (IPA)
Unfamiliar with Heathen Brewing thus far, I had to try it - especially with a name like this. I have two words for this beer: HOP FORWARD. If you are a hop head, DO IT! Brewed with Pilsner and Vienna malt, the malt profile is subdued enough to really showcase the hops: Ella, Nugget, Columbus, Amarillo, Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic. An explosion of dense, resinous pine with a lingering bitterness. Quite good.
Klamath Basin Brewing Company
Breakfast Blend IPA
This wasn't on my list of must-tries but someone I was chatting with suggested I try it. Brewed with two-row, Munich and Vienna malts, Cascade, Chinook, Mosaic, Falconer's Flight, Simcoe and Summit hops and flavored with espresso beans, this is the IPA and coffee lover's dream. The IPA and coffee combination has always seemed like a strange one to me, but they pulled it off very, very well - with a strong yet pleasant coffee flavor and a well-integrated lingering, bitter finish. Well done!
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales
Straffe Drieling (Belgian-style Tripel) <-- Author Pick
I have never. NEVER. Had a bad beer from Logsdon. So trying this one was a no-brainer. And once again, this did not disappoint. Brewed with Pilsner malt, Hallertau hops, chamomile and coriander, and using pear juice as a secondary fermentation sugar; this beer had an intense and complex flavor. For me, there was a dominant muscat grape flavor. Didn't really pick up too much on the pear - likely because it integrated so well with the cidery, pear notes of the Belgian yeast. I also didn't pick up any of the chamomile but the coriander showed up a little, along with a slightly bitter, lingering finish. So good, I had two.
Upright Brewing Company
Old News Saison <-- Author Pick
A light amber saison brewed with Amarillo, Santiam, and Willamette hops - late in the boil to keep bitterness down and bring out the complex hop character. I make no attempt to hide the fact that I may be one of Upright's biggest fans. I cannot remember ever disliking a single beer I've tried of theirs, and while this saison isn't the most experimental of their beers, it certainly conforms to the incredibly high standards of quality and flavor that Upright is known for. A very good saison, dry with a spicy finish and a nice Northwest hop character to balance it out.
I was told by multiple people that the GoodLife Brewing Nothing As It Seems coffee blonde was quite good.
Also on my list of beers I wanted to try: Boneyard Bone-A-Fide Pale Ale, Boundary Bay Double Dry Hopped Mosaic Pale Ale, Cascade Raspberry Wheat, Central City Brewing Red Betty Imperial IPA, Crux Fermentation Project Off Leash NW Session Ale, Elysian Perfesser (Belgian Blonde with plums and Brettanomyces), Gigantic Who Ate All the Pies Strawberry Rhubarb Gose, Mazama Rasplendent raspberry hibiscus wit, Scuttlebutt Jalapeno Tripel, and Sixpoint Barrel-Aged 3Beans.
So much beer, too little time! Cheers!
For more info on the Oregon Brewers Festival, visit their official website