Oregon Brewers Festival - 1996

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Friday's opening day saw hot sunny weather encouraging thirsty festgoers for the 1996 Oregon Brewers Festival in Portland, Oregon. The entrances were very poorly marked and even repeat visitors could not easily tell whether they had to stand in the block-long lines or whether their advance purchased sampling mugs allowed them fast entry through the gate entrance. Once past the agonizing entry exercise the layout was very efficient. Two large tents hosted the "adults only" tasting areas while food and non-alcoholic beverages were available in-between. Unfortunately for paying customers who were also accompanying little ones, toddlers were prohibited from entry into the tasting areas. This made for a comical but pathetic scene outside the tasting tents as multiple baby strollers and their occupants started to accumulate outside of the tent entrances. By next year we can expect a support group to be on hand to help out these beer orphans and possibly prevent the life-long trauma caused by bureaucrats at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

From Boundry Bay in Bellingham, Washington came their Scottish, dark brown in color with a dry malty flavor and finish. From Skagit River Brewing Company the Steelie was dark brown color with an even flavor balance, slight sweetness but distracting aftertaste. From Tallship Ale Company came their Smoked Porter, smoky aroma, very smoky flavor matched with a creamy body and nice head. From Eugene, Oregon, the Wild Duck Brewery had a dark amber brew with a fruity and estery aroma followed by a malty and hoppy flavor. From the midwest came the Sprecher Black Bavarian, light-bodied, with a sharp black malt flavor. The Steamwater appeared a dark amber color with a crisp dry malty flavor and subdued hop aftertaste. The Siletz (Siletz, Oregon), was also a dark amber color with a hoppy aroma, and flavor balance that tilted toward the hops, and finished again on the hoppy side. From Bison, you know, the guys in Berkeley, came their Juniper Smoked Ale, with its harsh smoky flavor, light body, and overall spicy character. The omnipresent Rogue IPA boasted 53 IBUs and the hop aroma and flavor confirmed that. Its medium body and nice mouthfeel caused it to rank toward to the top of the days offerings. From Hazel Dell in Vancouver, Washington was their Pale Ale. A 1052 starting gravity and 4.4% alcohol (by volume?) make the initial impression while the dark amber color and nice hop and malt flavor complete the experience. The Scottish Ale from Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City, Oregon was a hazy dark gold color and weighed in at 4.5% with a flavor balance that tipped toward the hoppy side but with a noticeable dry malty character. Their Ice Axe IPA was malty sweet with a medium body, creamy mouthfeel and medium hop flavor. From across the Pacific came the Firerock Pale Ale from Kona Brewing, Kona Hawaii. At 6% ABV the dark gold brew offered a nice hop over malt flavor balance. The Harrison Hollow Brown Ale from Boise, Idaho was visually opaque with a dry, black malt flavor and very dry finish. The Seattle-based Elysian ESB had an even flavor balance matched to its medium body. Most memorable of The Wise E.S.B. was the hoppy finish. Produced by Philadelphia's Hoagies & Steaks, "Oregon's smallest craft brewery", their Portland Brown Ale was a dark brown color with a medium body, slightly coarse malty flavor, and a clean finish. From Cave Junction, Oregon came Wild River with their Pilsner; straw-colored, very clean hoppy flavor, and overall nice impression. From Twin Falls, Idaho was the Twin Falls Lager, a light straw color with a clean light crisp hop flavor and aftertaste. The Mudshark Porter from Fish Brewing in Olympia, Washington offered a medium body, even balance, with a slightly smoky flavor and chocolaty finish.

Although lacking the horse barn odors of last year's event, the 1996 OBF did have one serious drawback, the beautiful green lawn of Portland's Waterfront Park was replaced by a multi-acre sand box. Under-performing contractors were assigned the blame. Most observers seemed to agree that common sense was absent when organizers distributed painted coffee cans to the picnic tables labeled "designated smoking area" on one side and "non-smoking area" on the other. The enforced isolation between the tasting tents and other areas didn't seem to bother most people but did have the effect of producing stroller orphans gathered outside the tent entrances as parents were forced by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to abandon their infants in order to get a taste of beer. Speaking of tastes, the "fill line" on the plastic tasting mugs was no longer labeled "6 oz" and subsequent measurements revealed that in fact pours to this level only resulted in samples of between 3 and 4 ounces. This unpublicized decrease in value with no accompanying decrease in $1 sample cost was neither appreciated nor unnoticed by consumers. Let's see if Ralph Nader brings up this consumer issue during his Green Party presidential campaign. Experienced festgoers noticed the inadequacies right away and turned to buying "double" samples for $2 that resulted in full 12 ounce servings. The good news was that the light rain that arrived late was actually welcome for its effect on reducing the three-day dust cloud. Maybe next year will combine the excellent mix of food, beer, and activities with consumer-friendly value in the beer tasting experience. The volunteers from the Oregon Brew Crew always do an excellent job making this fest fun for all, with appropriate consumer feedback we should be able to prevent the deterioration of values seen in the world's largest attended beer tasting event, the Great American Beer Festival.

Oregon Brewers Festival
July 26-28
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Portland, Oregon

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - July, 1996

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