PORTLAND – Oregon Brewers Festival
85,000 people can’t be wrong – can they?
The 28th Oregon Brewers Festival pulled in 85 000 over the last weekend of July 2015, for four days of sun, dust, dank, great food, genial crowds and of course – great beer. But what was it really like? Is it worth the trek? Are there really 60 + breweries in Portland? Is the city water really as close to distilled as it gets?
Answering the last question first – yes indeed – I refer you to pFreim Family Brewing IPA – having brought a bottle home to share – this has to be the softest mouthfeel ever, amazing, but don’t take my world for it check this report.
Anyway back to the beer. Friday at the brewfest was fine, sunny, dusty, with small queues and good fun. There were some great beers on offer over 96 taps and many not had before, but all good? No, there were a few average ones too, though it as all new so lots of great new tastes.
Portland is a makers paradise, not only home to 61 breweries but also about 50 ‘third wave’ coffee roasters including the famous Stumptown, a huge number of crafters, including a fantastic Contemporary Craft Museum, and plenty of Farm to Table eating options, Hipster heaven. From the Alberta Arts District to Mississippi, the Coffee Roasters and 700 food carts, this really is a paradise found for many people, not just a mecca for beer lovers, but it is easy to see how easily beer fits into the ethos of the city – lots of small breweries all making enough for the local community.
Brewery Tap Rooms, brewpubs, Growler stations (The Big LeGrowlski was my favourite) and bottle stores are easy to find, and if not offering food, there will be some authentic café nearby. Easily accessible from down town are better known names such as The Commons, Burnside Brewing, The Cascade Barrel House among many, but some are further afield. I started one afternoon at the excellent Ecliptic Brewing, wandered up through the newly gentrified area (yes that is a problem worldwide) up North Mississippi and past Stormbreaker Brewing, and along and down the next street to Hopworks Urban Brewery Bikebar, which is next door to Lompoc, and so it goes.
Portland can be an expensive city to stay in – I stayed at the Jupiter on East Burnside, a ten minute walk across the bridge to the city, a hip joint, will blackboard doors and cool stuff, replete with free condoms, but no open windows. Did I mention how affordable it was though. No fridge or things like that, but aircon, required for those hot days, and with its own bar/venue right on site – the Doug Fir. Very hip, good for breakfast, and drinks, and oh yes – I saw a Talking Heads and David Bowie tribute band one night. A good way to wind down after a day out eating and drinking.
Food carts are the way to go here, it would take you two years to visit them all, but some stand out, as well as much of the other food options. This is no Anaheim resort or San Fran diner, this is food. Enjoy real Belgian waffles, Georgian dumplings, some decent Thai, and best of all, out at the food cart “pod” on South East Division, Hawaiian Korean goodness. Some of these guys progress from foodcart to bricks and mortar – such as Lardo.
Back to the questions I posed at the beginning. The Brewers Festival is a fantastic event, but its only part of the reason you go to Portland – it’s a great event to base your trip around, but there is so much more to Portland that a visit at any time of the year is worthwhile, and it is impossible to see and do every brewery, foodcart, and coffee roaster. A minimum of five days is where I would start, with time to do one of the food walking tours, take in some of the different areas, take a brewery tour to visit something different, and generally relax.
The festival itself was on the waterfront, very accessible from anywhere. With no entry charge to get in but some ID and a wristband required for each day, it was easy, then you just buy your glass and tokens. So don’t forget to take your plastic glass back each day you go. On the non-weekend days the queues were short, and in fact they were short for many beers, but half an hour long for some of the popular ones – and frankly sometimes they were popular but not worth the wait. The Logsdon Farmhouse Ale was fantastic, but no queue. The Kiwi beers had queues at times, but not like the queue for the Belgian beers, which frankly weren’t as good. It was 1 token for a taster – and 4 tokens for a full glass. I opted for tasters as 20 tasters over an afternoon is still plenty!
The venue was a great size and the summer weather really helped the fun, though the heat and close crowd, and queue for the toilets can get a bit much if you let it. Was good to see a wide range of ages and the locals were very hospitable – I plonked myself at various tables that had a gap and got talking to plenty of locals and out of towners. Was good to be able to share the fact they didn’t know much about the kiwis or our hops.
We did a BREWVANA tour on a Sunday afternoon with a few Oregonians, a couple of home brewers from Hawaii, and me. Packed into the little bus we headed off to Coalition, Culmination and BTU, the first brewery/Chinese restaurant combo in the US. As some of these places are a wee way out it is worth the effort to tag along with the knowledgeable crew. Last day I stopped at Belmont Station out on 45th St, Eastside, and picked up a dozen or so beers to bring home. They made it safely once a trip to FedEx for some packing stuff, and although exceeding the allowance – I wizzed through customs no problem. Win Win. Now home and reflecting on my time – Portland is not only a great city to visit for beer, it is great fullstop for all sorts of reasons, not too mention the lack of sales tax.
So all in all, Portland definitely lives up to the hype!
SO WILL WE BE BACK?
YES INDEED – FOR THE 30TH BREWERS FESTIVAL IN JULY 2017
Get to Portland: On Hawaiian Air via Honolulu, or through LA or San Francisco on Air NZ.