The 2013 Oregon Brewers Festival: More beer than you can shake a stick at (without hitting some bro in the snout)

Matthew Kory, September 11, 2013

First, there was beer. That would have been fine on its own. But there was more. More beer, yes, but more other things. Like heat. From the sun. There was lots of that. Maybe more than beer, but maybe not. There was a lot of beer. There were definitely more people than beers, but you probably would have expected that. It all would have been okay had there been, say, room to move. Or breathe.

Ah, first world problems. Or maybe breathing is second world. I can't find my manual.

If you've ever been to a beer festival before, you may know what I'm talking about. The beer trucks were lined up on one side of the park stretching as far as the eye could see, which in this case was about six inches in front of you, or closer if that's where the back of the head of the person in front of you was. Had you been able to see, you'd have noted that the Oregon Brewer's Festival took place at Tom McCall Waterfront Park along the banks of the Willamette River in beautiful Portland, Oregon. The park runs along the river and the beer festival stretched along its most prominent portion, from the Morrison Bridge north to the Burnside Bridge. (In Portland, all distances along the water are measured in bridges.) The effect (or affect, I can honestly never remember) was a series of football fields lined up end to end, but instead of football, people lined up to drink beer. Which was probably better, though if you're talking about the NFL, maybe exactly the same.

The most prominent feature of the BrewFest was the lines. Lines that started at the beer trucks stretched through the tents in the middle of the park to the edge of the river. That made getting beer a time consuming venture. That meant the entirety of the BrewFest was spent waiting in lines, or waiting to wait in lines, or deciding which line to wait in. Really, there was a lot of waiting. And there was, presumably, a lot of beer, but after a few hours in the heat, bumping into people, getting bumped into, having my beer bumped, having other people's beers bumped, and all the rest, I was ready to go. Where? It didn't matter. Somewhere where I wouldn't be bumped.

But all that is really ancillary in a way. The whole point was the beer. And as I may have noted in between complaints about people, heat, people, people, more people, lines of people, etc, there was a lot of beer. I mean a [your swear word of choice]-load amount of beer. There were, by my count, 85 different beers (though that includes a few gluten-free varieties that you may or may not wish to count). If I tried 85 beers, even with the BrewFest's new three ounce tasting pours (as opposed to their old four ounce tasting pours), I'd quite simply be dead.

So you try to pick and choose your battles. And to me, that is the majority of the fun of a BrewFest, trying beers you've never seen before, trying beers you've never heard of before, trying beers you've only had in bottles before, and trying beers that you've loved in the past, and sharing all of that with close friends you've known over decades and thousands of other close friends you've known over the last few seconds. And if you love to do those things, which I do, then there isn't much better place for you than BrewFest.

The problem was, with the lines as long as they were, and moving as slowly (mostly) as they were, trying beers was an impossibility. If it took 30 minutes to get to the front of the line, which wasn't uncommon, I'd have finished my three ounce pour of Terminal Gravity's Craft Malt Liquor 25 minutes before I got to the front of the Rogue Beard Beer line. This means, at one of the largest beer festivals in the land, I'd be without beer in my glass for about 50 minutes out of every hour. This also meant it would take me five hours to get my 20 three ounce pours. That's five hours to drink, in essence, four beers. That, as the kids say, is not good.

There is an obvious solution here, but it's an unpalatable one to me: don't order three ounce tastes, order full glasses of beer, as with four tokens instead of just one, a full glass of beer would be yours for the quaffing. And that is exactly what I did. But there was a problem with this strategy, namely fewer beers will be tasted. I can only consume so much alcohol (an admittedly small amount) and once I hit that point, I've learned from experience that I have to stop drinking. I'd rather try three beers than drink a whole glass full of one, but may hand was forced. Forced, I tell you!

Even so, I was able to try a bunch of different beers that had I not attended the BrewFest, I wouldn't have tried, and certainly not back-to-back. I tried:

1. Well, I don't remember. But I did try a whole lot of different beers. I tried IPAs (I recall Ballast Point's Sculpin IPA was particularly enjoyable), Pales (Dick's Brewing's Orange-infused Pale Ale was quite good), and weird stuff (Burnside Brewing's Marionberry Berlinerweisse, and 10 Barrel Brewing's Swill, a very fruity German-style radler beer, of which I had never tasted before). I also tasted beer from possibly my favorite brewery ever, Hood River, Oregon's Double Mountain Brewery, who brewed an IPA called Clusterf*ck (yes, they use the * on the bottle), which is hopped solely with cluster hops.

So when it got down to the beer, it's hard to beat the Oregon Brewer's Festival. The scenery is gorgeous as well (when you can actually see around the guy in front of you to see it), and the beer selection is crazy nuts. So despite all that complaining, I'm totally going again next year. I'm just going on a day when it's not so crowded. I'll let you know when I find it.