Thursday, July 24, 2008

Happy to be in Beervana

It’s Oregon Beer Week, and that makes it an amazing time to be in Portland.

It began with an event I missed - the Portland International Beer Festival – due to bad planning, bad luck, and excessive fiscal prudence. But there are gobs of other events, including Meet the Brewer events at the Green Dragon, hospitality parties, Fred Eckhardt’s Beer and Cheese tasting, and no end of other options. This is not Beervana for nothing.

But my focus is on the main event – the Oregon Brewer’s Festival, starting today at noon at Portland’s Waterfront Park, and several of its satellite warm-ups.

The first of those events was last night, at the sold-out Brewer’s Dinner, a fancy name for a gigantic picnic with some 25-odd kegs of beer flowing through the capable hands of several dozen happy, well-fed volunteers. The salmon was, once again, absolutely outstanding. Not only that, but for the first time in over ten years of participating in this event, I finished off all of the scrip that comes with admission.

Of course, that’s because they reduced the number of half-pints you can get down from eight to six, and I had to rush to get my last one in. I finished with the sublime Bourbon-barrel Stout from Old Market Pub, a wonderful surprise from a place that usually hasn’t impressed me with their beer. It fit right in with the wide array of strong, full-flavored, full-bodied ales and a handful of lagers from which we had to choose.

Today, events begin early, with the Brewer’s Breakfast at 9 AM at the Rogue Ale House, the Brewer’s Parade from there to the festival, the ceremonial firkin-tapping at noon to open the festival, and the media tour for VIPs at 12:30. (Somehow I qualified. I’m not arguing the point.) The festival (for those of you who just emerged from under a rock) runs 12-9 thru Saturday and 12-7 on Sunday, as the kegs (it is hoped) run dry early that day.

I’ve been asked whether I sensed a theme at this year’s OBF, and I do. It’s Wit, both for the clever names and outrageous concoctions being presented, and for the prevalence of Wits and other wheat beers at the fest. (I wrote the program, so I have advance information: there are five Belgian Wits and 6 other wheats out of 72 beers on tap today. You won’t need a sandwich to get your glutens this weekend.) Clever names include Lagunitas’s Hop Stoopid, New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk, and 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon. I think that says it all.

The ones I’ll be anxious to try, besides the Hop Stoopid and Dragon’s Milk, are Full Sail’s LTD 02 (Bock), and Collaborator Resurrection Rye, and Minneapolis-based Surly Brewing’s Coffee Bender. That ought to start the morning right, if the brewer’s breakfast doesn’t. I’ll also sample the handful of other Imperials (IPA’s, stouts, and strong ales), particularly Widmer’s Full Nelson Imperial IPA.

There’s also this tidbit that helped kick off beer week on the right foot for me. Leaving Laurelwood Pub after an early dinner on Saturday, I passed a young man in a Laurelwood shirt – clearly an employee - wearing plastic gloves, cleaning out the sandpit ashtray in the parking lot. Despite the grunginess of that job, he wore a big smile as he said to me, “Hey, thanks for coming in!”

I smiled back and said, “Always a pleasure.”

“That’s really great to hear,” he said, still grinning.

That kid’s positive outlook, even while doing such a distasteful job, made me want to return to the pub more even than the great beer, tasty garlic fries, and friendly staff inside. And it made me even more happy that I live in the greatest beer city in the world.