I attended the Oregon Garden Brewfest in Silverton, OR, last weekend for the first time. Though the event has existed for many years, it has never quite made a mark on the beer geek radar. This year organizers really went out of their way to kick the whole thing up a notch by including a number of newer, up-and-coming breweries, some of the biggest local bands, and a pre-fest brewers dinner at the onsite resort that featured pairings with 6 different brewers, all of whom were in attendance.
Naturally, the first reason to head to Oregon Garden Brewfest is the beer itself, but the location should come in a very close second. Acres of meticulously kept gardens with different themes, paths and trails, and ponds and streams unfold across this rural hillside area, with a private resort perched up top. We scored a great free room courtesy of the organizers and were very pleased by a nice deck, great beds, and even a fireplace, refrigerator, and killer wi-fi signal. The bunks were just minutes from the main resort building, which houses a garden-side restaurant, banquet room, and fireside lounge bar.
After checking into our rooms on Thursday we gathered in the banquet room for the 6 course brewers dinner. In attendance were a lot of media folks and brewers, and even brewers not represented in the dinner itself came out for the fun. Not to brag, but details of the fantastic menu are below:
First Course – Cheese
Paired with Logsdon Farmhouse Ales – Barrel Age Seizoen Bretta
4-yr-old cheddar, herbed chevre and smoked Gouda paired with crostini
A great start to the dinner, the barrel-aged version of Seizoen Bretta was much improved over the regular. More rounded and softened funk from the yeast, but with a nice light tartness. I really enjoyed the herbed chevre spread over the crostini with it. Rating: B+Second Course – Appetizer
Paired with GoodLife Brewing – Traditions Pale Ale
Belgian Endive filled with a blend of olives, capers, roasted red peppers, and caramelized onions
Good beer and a tasty salad. Not sure the pairing was obvious, but still a solid progression. Rating: BThird Course – Salad
Paired with Seven Brides Brewing – Rose’s Imperial Pilsner
Warm potato salad with blue cheese, new red and Yukon gold potatoes tossed with sweet bacon dressing.
This is where the dinner faltered. The warm potato salad was good, and I quite enjoy a good potato salad. The Seven Brides Imperial Pis was, in contrast, god awful. A horrible mess that tasted nothing like a pilsner and more like a bad homebrew. Notes of yeast autolyzation, overly bitter, a bit of metallic and paint thinner flavors. It was a straight drain pour for everyone at our table. Rating: D-Fourth Course – Pasta
Paired with Widmer Bros. Brewing – Marionberry Hibiscus Gose
Portobello ravioli set atop hazelnut sauce
I gotta love the Widmer Marionberry Hibiscus Gose, originally created for last year's Portland Fruit Beer Festival. It's full of juicy fruit flavor and the subtleties of salt and hibiscus. This menu item actually did not make the final cut, as Widmer's brewers thought the pairing needed a little work. Instead of the ravioli, we got another salad with mixed greens, raspberry vinaigrette, blue cheese, grapes, and candied hazelnuts. Most of the items in the salad were of similar flavors to the beer, offering more of an unnoticeable transition, except for the master stroke of the blue cheese, which lent the pairing a tasty finish full of contrast. Rating: BFifth Course – Entrée
Paired with Gigantic Brewing – The City Never Sleeps Black Saison
Braised beef short rib slow roasted with a rich root vegetable demi-glace
Gigantic Brewing brought the first beer brewed on its new system. The City Never Sleeps is an unusual style of beer, an Imperial Black Saison. I actually have had a few similar beers, but this one stands out with a more bold touch. Fermented with this year's Cheers To Belgian Beers yeast (the Unibroue strain, I think), it tastes more Belgian than farmhouse, and is perhaps too heavy. Nevertheless, it is really good and a great beer to pair with this more savory dish. Rating: B+Sixth Course – Dessert
Paired with Hopworks Urban Brewery – Galactic Imperial Red
Poached pear with a mascarpone cheese filling
Possibly the worst pairing of the evening was Hopworks' mouth-scrapingly hoppy Galactic Imperial Red with the poached pear and mascarpone cheese filling. Both the beer and the dessert were very good individually, though! I just don't understand the thought behind such a bitingly bitter beer being put together with the sweet, soft, and creamy notes of the dessert. Sure, they contrasted, but they did not complement each other at all. Rating: D
The organizers were very generous, offering beer refills and leaving pitchers of all the beers out after the dinner for attendees to help themselves. I think everyone had a great time, and many of us stuck around chatting and drinking at the bar until last call. Good times were had by all.
The next morning, upon arising very slowly from an alcohol-induced coma, I scarcely made it back to the main building to indulge in the complimentary breakfast, dining by the windows overlooking the gardens. Afterwards we had some time to kill before the main attraction, the Brewfest itself, would start. Running into the Beer Goddess, Lisa Morrison, and The Oregonian's John Foyston, our crew consisting of Kerry Finsand (Taplister) and Charles Culp (An Ear For Beer) wandered around the extensive and beautiful gardens.
The festival itself takes place in the main foyer building of the gardens and an outdoor tent. They did a great job with the presentation and skylight to let sun into the space. The building was decorated with Christmas lights and a stage both outside and inside, where local favorites like Blitzen Trapper performed.
I was stoked to see breweries like Block 15, Flat Tail, and Gigantic represented. It seemed like pretty much every brewer was there too, a rarity in Oregon.
In addition to the previously-mentioned Gigantic Imperial Black Saison, I finally got to try the one and only year round offering from the brewery--the flagship IPA. Not surprisingly, it reminded me of Hopworks IPA, but more floral and citrusy, perhaps less bitter. The hops were a diverse, potent blend: Cascade, Centennial, Crystal, and Simcoe. Light-bodied and pungent, it will be a crowd pleaser.
Unfortunately we were there early, only the first two hours of the fest from noon until 2pm, so I regret to say I did not get the full scope of the fest. What I saw, however, was a great time. I can only imagine stumbling out of the festival later in the evening, buzzed, and getting lost in the gardens. Suffice it to say, it's worth driving the hour from Portland out to Silverton next year, as well as spending an evening or two here taking in the sights and enjoying the libations.