When the going gets tough, the tough don their rubber boots and rain jackets and get to drinking great craft beer!  It was the Oregon Brewers Festival, after all - and there's nothing that says Oregon more than rain and great beer.  So we slipped and slid through the mud to get tasters from some of the eighty-six different breweries featured at this five-day event. 

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.
Cider Weiss

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!

Deschutes Brewery
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.

Ecliptic Brewing
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.

Heathen Brewing
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.


Other notes:
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

Zioglbier, paired with fried mortadella.
Before last night, I was a virgin to beer-pairing events.  This is not for lack of want by any means, but a product of the fact that for the better part of the past twenty-five years, I've been either a vegetarian or a pescatarian.  Have you ever seen a vegetarian beer pairing event?  I didn't think so.  I read that Stone Brewing did a vegan event a while back - god bless them - but that's the only time I have ever heard of such a thing.

Is it for lack of demand?  I don't think so, even in Portland - a place where people will wrap anything in bacon.  Three of my closest beer-geek friends are vegetarians and I would bet they've never been to any beer-paired dinners either.  I found myself one night complaining about the absence of vegetarian options at beer events to a couple of people when one of them said to me, "Why don't you just organize one?"

Because I am neither chef nor professional brewer, I had never even thought of such a thing...but why not?  So, I've taken on this challenge.  I have a couple of very talented (potentially) interested parties but have no idea where to begin.  Where does one begin with a new challenge?  Education.  Research.  Which leads me to the reason I found myself ingesting cow, pig, chicken and duck; pate and rillettes; liver, heart and breast last night.  Yes, I am taking one for the team.  I've signed up for multiple beer-pairing events - marrow and all - in order to better understand how these events happen and what makes them work - or not work.

Presentation was impressive
I'd also never been to Imperial Bottle Shop and Taproom before and was really impressed by the owners' engagement with the customers -and despite the pervasive, new-development concrete, which always puts me off a little, and the slightly too-bright lighting (all the better to see the color of the beer though!) it was a pretty inviting atmosphere. 

The presentation of the food - provided by Laurelhurst Market - was stellar (except for serving on paper plates) and the pairing with The Commons beer was very well done - the flavor intensity of food and beer were SPOT-ON, and the flavors complimented each other well.

I have to admit, while I admire the shit out of The Commons for their creativity and experimentation (and they're one of my favorite Oregon breweries), I haven't liked ALL of their beers.  That being said, all five beers at the pairing last night was excellent and clearly mindfully-selected. 

I'd already tried three of the beers before: Madrone (a dry-hopped amber saison with a lot more flavor than the traditional version, a great balance, a touch of funky fruitiness, a mild sweetness with a dry, spicy finish), Walnut (a roasty Belgian-style porter with a dry, slightly bitter finish - much like a walnut, in fact), and the Ortucky Common (their collaboration with De Garde - another one of my favorite Oregon breweries.  This one is a unique dark rye sour, a bit of toasted chocolate and a lot of sour throughout).  All great beers.  You can often find bottles of Madrone in stores and I suggest picking it up. 

I've been wanting to try Fleur de Ferme for a while, and this was a treat which did not disappoint me.  Fleur is a dark farmhouse ale brewed with lavender, hibiscus and chamomile - and, as one might expect there are beautiful, bright floral, herbal notes which are well-balanced by a dark roastiness.  Probably not for everyone (in reviews, people seem to either love or hate it - which is usually a sign of a truly unique beer).  I, however, love the addition of lavender to certain styles of beer and I think The Commons pulled it off really well.

The biggest surprise of the evening (besides the fact that the beef heart was delicious) was the unfiltered Zioglbier, an obscure style from Franconian Germany.  It poured a hazy, medium-golden orange with great head retention and lacing.  The aroma was subtle, with distinct lager yeast character and a slight fruitiness.  The flavor was a lot more pronounced, refreshing with citrus and fruit, a distinctive lager yeast character - a slight bready malt profile, but not overpowering - and a great earthy, spicy finish.  I usually don't like lagers (don't judge me, I'm trying), but this one was exceptional - and the woman next to me said exactly the same thing.  If you have a chance, check this one out.

Thanks to the fine folks at the Imperial Bottle Shop and Taproom.  Check them out.

Reserve a case.  Drink one now.  Put the rest in the cellar.  Repeat for the next five years.  Or ten years.  Or twenty. Do a vertical tasting.  You will not be disappointed.

Drink it in front of a fire. 

Pair it with your favorite bourbon or scotch.  Pair it with an amazing cheese.

And send me one too.

I fell in love with this beer in 2008 and have bought a case nearly every year since.  Alas, I have very little self control and it is, therefore, all gone.  I wish you better luck, my friend.

I will let Deschutes tell the story themselves:

We wanted to give you all a heads up to let you know that The Abyss 2013 launch is set for November 14th at our pubs in Bend and Portland. From 11 am 'til close, enjoy samples, snifters and special food menu items made with this dark and delicious beer. Take home bottles and swag for yourself and your craft beer loving friends and enjoy vertical flights from previous years to compare to the 2013 version. 

Don't live in Bend or Portland? Be on the lookout for The Abyss at your local grocery stores, liquor stores, bottle shops, pubs and bars that carry Deschutes Brewery's specialty beers all year round. A limited amount will be shipping out to all 23 states in our distribution footprint from our brewery warehouse the week of November 18th. Please ask for it at your favorite craft beer locations and watering holes and if you are having a hard time locating this beer, try using our beer finder tool.

Haven't heard of The Abyss? This imperial stout is filled with dark malts, brewers' licorice and black strap molasses and is then "dry hopped" with vanilla beans and cherry bark making it rich and complex. Top that off by aging this precious liquid in bourbon, Oregon oak and pinot noir barrels for a taste you will never forget. Age a bottle upright in your cellar (or dark, cool closet) for a year or two...or three, and enjoy with food, friends and family!  And be sure to tune in to our website and social media channels on the 14th for a behind-the-scenes look into The Abyss.
Yes, I know: I'm late.  Lauelwood's Megafauna was released in July but I first had a chance to try it only recently at The Hop and Vine this past Sunday for the final event of Killer Beer Week.  I'd heard the buzz about Megafauna...there was a lot.  Honestly, I was a little burnt out by then with the big, bold Northwest imperial IPAs.  They'd all started to blur and become conflated in my mind, all having a similar character: a powerful, intense bitter finish with a heavy, bready malt backbone - attempting to strike some tenuous balance, but becoming like syrup as they warm.  There would be one ideal and quickly fleeting temperature for these beers, at which point the malt and hop characters were perfectly balanced. Serve it too cold, and it was just bitter, serve it to warm and it was like drinking from a can of malt extract.  And my question always was: why?  What are they trying to hide with so much of everything but no space for nuance or complexity?

I will now apologize for thinking Megafauna would be another one of those.  How wrong I was. 

From the Laurelwood website:
This beer takes its name from the oversized animals of the Pleistocene Era, or Ice Age. Large saber toothed cats, hairy elephants, sloths the size of buses roamed the frozen tundras. Everything was big and/or hairy, with extra horns, tusks, teeth, etc. A tough time to be fighting for survival…Like those massive animals, this beer is huge with hop aroma and flavor. We used several new aromatic hop varieties to get a layered and hop oil soaked beer which, unlike the frozen tundra, isn’t bitter, and finishes dry. The Aroma and flavor are layers of Pine, citrus and tropical fruit and the beer is a pale gold. We hope you drink it in good health and keep warm.
9.5% ABV / 140 IBU / O.G. 20.5° Plato
At 9.5% ABV and with a whopping 140 IBUs, one would think this beer could be compared to the big, hairy beasts of the Pleistocene era.  But I would compare it more to a hummingbird: deceptively delicate, but powerful. It pours a pale gold with a lighter body - definitely NOT loaded down with those bready, syrupy malts.  The aroma is floral, citrusy and FRESH.  My friend described it well: it's the smell of opening up a fresh bag of hops.  And the flavor is similar: complex with fresh hops throughout - floral citrus, fresh fruit and pine and a very well-integrated, delicate and balanced malt profile.  Not overly sweet, a dry finish - and you would never know it packs such a punch as there's no discernible booziness at all.

Because Laurelwood brewer, Vasilios Gletsos, is a pretty good friend of mine, I think I haven't given him a fair shake because I didn't want to be biased.  But after recently trying Laurelwood's Pumpkin Ale - one of the only pumpkin beers I've ever liked (the other one being Propolis Mabon Farmhouse Pumpkin Ale, or Alaskan Pumpkin Porter for a delicious spiced chocolate take on the pumpkin beer) - and now Megafauna, I'm now, objectively, convinced: Vasilios is a master.  You need to keep an eye on Laurelwood because there will surely be more great things to come.

As of Monday night, Megafauna was still on tap at The Hop and Vine, so go out and get some before it's gone!
Me, enjoying Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti
Congratulations to all the winners of this year's Great American Beer Festival (#GABF13)...

I just wanted to send a special shout-out to all the Oregon breweries who were able to get in this year.  Both Colorado and Oregon took home a lot of medals, illustrating that these two states are both at the apex of the craft beer renaissance. 

There were also a lot of great breweries from all over America - some of which (like 3 Floyds, which I've always wanted to try!) don't get distributed to Oregon.  BOO!  Last night, I was lucky enough to enjoy the gold medal winner for the Chocolate Beer category: Great Divide Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti.  Delicious, and certainly no surprise.

You can see the full list of winners.
Or the full awards ceremony on the Brewing Network.

Or you can check out my summary of all our Oregon friends who won.  You guys rock #craftbeer!

This was my first Zwanze Day, and I'm sorry to see it end.  I have been told that it was quite a bit less crowded and chaotic than it was last year.  I can attest to the fact that it was very calm - no lines, no crowds, no crazy, just a lot of great wild and sour beers. 
    If you are an embittered skeptic, you may find it gimmicky.  But for the die-hard beer geeks, there is something almost magical about taking a sip of this year's Cantillon at the same time that people in Belgium - Canada, Italy, Japan, and the myriad of other countries around the globe - are taking their first sip of this year's Cantillon.
    The 2013 Zwanze Day offering was entitled Abbaye de Cureghem.  Named for a fictional abbey, this one was a tongue-in-cheek take on a traditional abbey ale, blended with lambic, aged six months, then a secondary fermentation in cask or bottle.  This was a beautifully-balanced beer, with a hint of Belgian yeast character and candied fruit - primarily this was a very interesting take on a non spontaneously fermented - yet very wild - beer.

I was asked yesterday which Cantillon beer was my favorite.  It's always so hard to pick a favorite when they're all so different.  My American taste for innovation and boundary-pushing naturally made me a fan of the Abbaye de Cureghem.  And I was - of course - impressed by the Cantillon Gueuze, which was my first taste of the day.  I always love the Champagne character of a good Gueuze.  This one had a great lemon-lime character, along with a hint of apricot, a beautiful bright straw color and excellent head.  Then, there was the 2010 vintage of the Lou Pepe Framboise...The Lou Pepe fruit lambics are in a class by themselves - with a base of 2-year old lambic aged in wine barrels, then the addition of 300 grams of fruit, aged in Bordeaux barrels, and a secondary fermentation after adding sweet fruit liquor, the complexity and tart balance is beautiful.  Then add a couple of extra years of aging and...well, I suppose this one would have been my favorite of the Cantillons.

I think one of my favorites of the day, however, was not actually a Cantillon beer.  Sacreligious, I know.  It was the 3 Fonteinen Intense Red Oude Kriek.  This was very cherry-complex, meaning it left nothing out of the cherry experience.  There was the tartness, of course, and a slight sweetness, but there was also an earthiness and tannic quality to it as well.  Really, this was a gem that stood out to me, and following it with the Cantillon Kriek was a bit unfair.  It left the Cantillon version, sadly, tasting like pie cherries and not much more.
    Another favorite was The Bruery Tart of Darkness.  I'd been wanting to try this for a while, so it was a treat, and my propensity for style-bending beers was certainly soothed by this lovely tart stout.  A difficult style to pull off, for sure, but they did it.  The influence of souring critters and wild yeast was prominent, but with an underlying roasted chocolate that was very well-integrated.  Another surprisingly delicious beer from one of my favorite breweries.
    Also a treat to try was Crooked Stave - which is a brewery that doesn't usually make its way to Oregon - Surette, which was a wood-aged farmhouse ale with Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus.  Also interesting was The Commons Braam, a sour stout with blackberries - mind you, not much to look at (a muddy, thick concoction) - but a very interesting flavor and an admirably bold style.  I did not have a chance to try the Block 15 Framboise Rouge, which I'm certain was excellent.  Block 15 made one of my favorites at Puckerfest this year - Cuvee Rouge - and they have proven themselves to be a world-class brewery. 

Overall, I had my favorites and those which didn't stir my soul quite as much.  But what does it all mean when you're comparing an excellent beer to a world-class beer?  Everything I tried was wonderful, and I can't wait to go back again next year. 

Cheers! ~ Craft Beer Gut
Anyone who knows beer knows that Deschutes makes some great standards - well known and well-poured beers around town such as Black Butte Porter, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Inversion IPA, Obsidian Stout, Chainbreaker White IPA...and the list goes on.  But some of you who are less Beer Geek and more Casual Beer Enjoyers may not know about the Deschutes Reserve Series - which illuminates the truly phenomenal brewing standards of Deschutes. 

The reason casual beer drinkers may not know about the Deschutes Reserve Series is not simply due to ignorance or lack of desire to know necessarily, but that these Reserve Series bottles are as hard to spot as a Boa in the wild (which I have also been known to search for, though with perhaps a little more apprehension).  A person practically needs to queue up at the door the night before to get a bottle.   

One of the relatively easier to find Reserve Series beers is The Abyss, one of my all-time favorite imperial bourbon-barrel beauties.  I discovered The Abyss for the first time in 2008, a year after it's first seasonal release, and drank the entire 11% bottle myself it was so delicious.  If you can get your hands on one, I would recommend aging it for at least two years because it brings out incredible complexity that is, sadly, lost drinking it in the first year.  In fact - just get an entire case, and then you can drink one now and save the rest.  Get a case every year, and you can do a vertical tasting of different years later on.  This is a truly amazing experience.

Another Deschutes Reserve Series bottle that is even harder to find is The Dissident, a Flanders-style Oud Bruin (sour brown ale) which is a blend of beers aged in pinot noir and cabernet barrels for eighteen months.  This is a beer that, in my opinion, rates right up there in complexity with Westvleteren 12 (acclaimed as the Best Beer in the World by many) or Abbaye de Saint Bon Chien, which you may have tried for a whopping $12 a glass at The Puckerfest recently (totally worth it, by the way).  Some of you might be thinking I'm sacrilegious right now, but just try aging this one for a year or more, and then tell me I'm lying!  And on top of that - instead of paying $12 a glass (or taking a trip to Belgium to beg from the monks), you only need to spend about $15 for a bottle.

The Dissident - Deschutes first incredibly-successful attempt at a sour beer - is now being followed by a second: The Green Monster, just released.  I wish I could tell you how it is, but being unemployed now...well...OH THE TEMPTATION!!!  You'll just have to tell me how it is.  But hurry, because it's probably already gone! 

Donate to my beer fund (genegeek@gmail.com), or simply read about Green Monster below.  Cheers!

"GREEN MONSTER   The upcoming release of this unique beast was mentioned in the last issue of The Bitter Truth and we're back to tell you that Green Monster has officially been unleashed. This sour beer spent 39 long months in Oregon Pinot barrels while it metamorphosed into something delightful and delicious. Given the alchemy of this mistake turned into gold, less than 1000 cases of 22 oz bottles were produced. You can hunt down a few bottles at our pubs and tasting room NOW or take your chances finding it at a specialty bottle shop near you."
RESERVE SERIES  7.3% Alc. By Vol.
#craftbeer #beer #pdxbeer #sourbeer @DeschutesBeer
Holy moly...this sounds GOOD!  Tapping this fine barrel tonight for Tap-It Tuesday!  I'll give it to you in the Cascade Barrel House's own words:

This NW style sour is the uber brother of Pater, barrel aged with 175 lbs of Bing cherries in 15-year-old Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels for 13 months, then aged in Pinot barrels for 13 more months. Fresh cherries were added just before serving for balance. Aromas of dark cherries and wine are noticed up front. Dark cherries, oak, leather and Bourbon on the palate are followed by tart notes of tart cherries and dried fruit on the palate. The finish is of dried cherries, leather and oak. Warning, Dieter will take you for a ride; you may hear techno music in the morning. Auf Wiedersehen!

  13.5% | $8 glass | $3 taster

Enough said!  #craftbeer #pdxbeer
Migration Brewing taps their new Portliner Weisse TODAY! This is Northwest take on the traditional Berliner Weisse. In limited supply, so get it while you can.

"The Portliner is a slightly tart wheat beer with notes of lemon citrus and a dry, crisp finish. Brewed with acidulated malt and a sour mash, this is a perfect guzzler for the final days of summer."
ABV: 3.6% IBU: 8

‪#‎craftbeer‬ ‪#‎pdxbeer‬ Migration Brewing Company @MigrationBrew