Celebrating Beer in Portland  

Oregon craft brewers bring their pride and joys to downtown Portland for the Oregon Brewers Festival the last weekend of July every year. So do many microbreweries from Washington and California, as well as ones from as far away as Hawaii and New Hampshire.

The Oregon Brewers Festival, in its 11th year of "celebrating beer" as the logo says, could easily be mistaken for Hop Head Heaven. The Beaver State grows the largest percentage of hops in the US and it shows. Opening at noon on Friday, and continuing on Saturday and Sunday, this festival attracts folks from all over the country.

Donned in a shirt from a mid-west brewpub each day, my husband and I stepped up to the challenge of tasting, evaluating and savoring. Imagine our delight in choosing which of the 72 beers, each from a different brewery, to sample next! We tried to concentrate on sampling brews that aren't available locally and that we hadn't had before.

If you like strongly hopped beer, this place is for you. Pale Ales, ESB's and IPA's abounded. Almost everything we tasted was good or great. Here and there something missed its calling: a Kolsch that tasted more like a light ale or a Weizen that could use a bit more wheat; they were still nice, very drinkable beers.

I can safely report that a good time was had by all. My hat comes off to the Oregon Brew Crew and the entire Festival program.

Admission is free and beer is sold using wooden tokens available at the gate. One token, which cost $1, bought you a four ounce "taste," and three tokens bought you a 14-ounce mug. You had to buy a souvenir mug in order to be served. There were plenty of water coolers available where people rinsed their glasses.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park is a lovely setting. The white tents and canopies arranged along the Willamette River provided shade from the hot sun and plenty of places to sit and take notes. Plenty of food was available, the crowd control was handled well and there was even an ample supply of port-o-johns.

I’m sure that every festival attendee had their favorites. Here are a few of ours:

UPA, Umpqua Brewing Company, Roseburg, OR
An amber colored and high alcohol Pale Ale made with Two-Row Pale and British Crystal malt and a touch of flaked barley. Columbus and Cascade hops gave it a smooth, yet slightly sweet flavor.

India Pelican Ale, Pelican Pub and Brewery, Pacific City, OR
A robust, gold-colored India Pale Ale made with all Northwest ingredients. The Cascade and Chinook hops resulted in one of the bitterest beers at the festival. 55 IBU's, by the way, for all of you keeping score.

Blue Heron Ale, Bridgeport Brewing Company, Portland, OR
A wonderful medium bodied, copper-colored Pale Ale that's soft on the palate, but finishes crisply. The Northwest Cascade hops and Pale Ale, Chocolate and Caramel malts come together superbly.

Wisconsin Belgian Red, New Glarus Brewing Company, New Glarus, WI
This was a 1996 Gold Medal Winner from the Great American Beer Festival. Incredibly enough, as good as the Kriek served at la Becasse in Brussels.

Kolsch, Ice Harbor Brewing Company, Pasco, WA
They did it! An American brewery producing a real honest to goodness Cologne-style Kolsch. A very special combination of Pale and White Wheat malts with Hallertauer and Crystal hops reaching out for their own gold medal.

You need not wait until next summer to enjoy Northwest beers though. Portland has 25 breweries and brewpubs. There are another ten within 25 miles. All together, the area produces between 250 and 300 different labels. In fact, more than 15% of the beer is only available on draft from "on premise" locations.

Portland is a pleasant place to spend a weekend or visit on a quick side trip when you are on the West Coast for another reason. There are many interesting drinking establishments within walking distance of each other right downtown. The average pint sells for $2.00 to $3.00 in a local ale house.

Places like Bridgeport Brewing, Tug Boat Brewing, Full Sail Brewing and Portland Brewing will give you a warm welcome and serve you a great beer any time of the year. Stop in sooner than later. You won’t regret it!