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The Best and Worst Beers of the 2017 Oregon Brewers Festival

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Lompoc Brewing crew with Dutch brewers

The 30th annual Oregon Brewers Festival kicked off yesterday to thousands of fans and drinkers. There are 80+ beers pouring at the fest and I was there to try as many as I could. As usual, I have put together a list of some of the beers worth seeking out and others to avoid. Naturally I missed some, especially from the northernmost trucks, but I did make it through more than half the beers. The OBF–the country’s largest outdoor beer festival–runs through Sunday, July 30th, at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park and is all-ages friendly, with food and craft vendors and live music throughout most of the day. So, get down there and tell us what you think of our picks!

 

Fun/Weird fact #1: There are at least three beers pouring this year modeled after a Gin & Tonic cocktail (Gigantic, Anderson Valley, and Coin Toss)

Strange Fact #2: Mexican-style lagers are super in vogue. I wrote about it yesterday and then found at least five new ones at the OBF that afternoon (Ecliptic, Ex Novo, Lakefront, Pelican, and Rusty Truck)

 

 

WORTH TRYING:

 

21st Amendment: Watermelon Funk
I have never been a fan of 21A’s popular watermelon wheat beer, but this Belgian/Farmhouse inspired version adds in some extra fruitiness and tanginess that the original was missing. French Saison yeast was a good choice, it both ferments out dry but also with a lemon quality and a little yeasty funk that comes with it. 6.7% ABV, 14 IBU

54-40 Brewing: Art AllAzzacas
How can you not go for a beer named after Oregon music royalty–Art Alexakis of Everclear fame? It also helps that this is one of the better IPAs pouring at this year’s fest, using the fruity and tropical Azzaca hop. 6.1% ABV, 65 IBU

Aslan Brewing: Disco Lemonade
If you’re familiar with the Bellingham, Washington-based brewery, then you may know this beer is a popular one at the brewpub, but I have never seen it in Oregon. It’s a very well-made refreshing Berliner-Weisse with no fruit added, just the natural zing and tartness of lemons. Perfect on a hot day and as a palate cleanser or refresher.

Breakside: Dreamboat
The description says this is a hoppier Witbier, but neither I nor “SNOB” Ritch could taste the classic Belgian yeast character or notable spicing of the style. It does, however, taste like a pretty clean and fluffy dry-hopped wheat with a great hop bouquet nose. 4.6% ABV, 15 IBU

Dunedin Brewery: Passionate Disenchantment
I was expecting this small Florida brewery to have a gem, but from the name I was expecting a Passionfruit beer. Instead, it’s a crazy combo of saison with chili peppers and coffee. It’s actually quite drinkable and tongue tantalizing and is certainly worth trying at the very least for something different. 6% ABV, 15 IBU

 

Jaime Rodriguez of Ninkasi (left) with Christian Ettinger of Hopworks

 

Ghost Runners Brewery: Chasing Fluffy Pink Unicorns
One of the early buzz beers of the festival was this heavily spiced pink gose made with coriander, peppercorns, raspberries, rose hips, sea salt, and hibiscus flowers. It’s tart, spicy, and overly sweet but interesting for at least 4oz. I wouldn’t be able to drink more than that. 5% ABV, 20 IBU

Gigantic Brewing: G & T
If you like gin or a gin & tonic, then this beer is for you. It’s packed full of what I would call borderline too much juniper for a huge spicy and floral nose and flavor with lime. How much you care for juniper will directly correlate with how much you enjoy this beer.

Oregon City Brewing: Plumbelievable!
There are a plethora of kettle-soured fruit beers at this (and every other) fest these days, but this is a great example of one done right with just the amount of fruit and a clean sourness and identifiable fruit variety. You also don’t see much use of plum these days, so that’s pretty cool. 5% ABV, 20 IBU

 

Erin Grey Kemplin (left) of Ecliptic Brewing and Amity Worden of New Belgium Brewing

 

Surly Brewing: #Merica!
Just a nice bready and slightly hoppy adjunct pilsner. Great for the summer, with bready pils, light corn sweetness and spicy Willamette hops. 5% ABV, 10 IBU

Vanguard Brewing: Berry White
A nice fruited wheat beer that you might think was kettle soured, but it gets its natural tartness from witbier yeast and raspberries. You might detect a little Belgian yeast phenols, but you will certainly taste the bready wheat and sweet tart raspberries. 5% ABV, 13 IBU

 

Brew Dad

 

RECOMMENDED:

 

Collaborator: Kentucky Kölsch
Tastes like a hoppy German-style pils but with something more…Portland homebrewer Charles Macaluso designed this German-style ale with dehydrated strawberries added at the end of the fermentation process that add a subtle fruitiness to this otherwise fairly crisp, bready and hoppy, light summer quaffer. 4.9% ABV, 18 IBU

Heathen Brewing: Mojito Sour
I was not sure I would like this beer and mint is a big risk in a beer. The nose here is all mint, but then when you get into it the lime adds a refreshing tart acidic zing. The fluffy light pilsner and wheat base beer makes a great underlying structure and the mint is refreshing and herbal. Certainly an unexpected delight. Cocktails, anyone? 5% ABV, 13 IBU

Old Town Brewing: Coconut Curryiocity
Another beer I did not expect to like. Old Town Brewing seems to use OBF as a way to release its craziest ideas, like the One Up Mushroom Ale from a few years ago. This coconut curry beer is light on those flavors and I have no idea what the base beer is here, but it’s just delicious and suprisingly drinkable. Although the description says to pair it with Thai food, I would just leave the Thai at home and pair it with white rice and saffron. 5.2% ABV, 15 IBU

 

Jack Harris and Spencer Gotter at the Fringe Fest

 

Pelican Brewing: Negra Pelicano 
The darker, maltier version of Pelican’s Pelicano Extra Mexican-style lager is one of the beers that is making adjunct beer cool again. Yes, it harkens back to Negra Modelo, but this is much fresher with some light hopping and cereal sweetness but light body. 5% ABV, 18 IBU

Perennial: Ship of the Sun
It’s hard to go wrong with Perennial and a mixed fermentation saison. This beer–along with Upright’s–are what the farmhouse beer lovers should be flocking to. Tart, earthy, creamy, dry, funky with some bright citrus hop character. 5.5% ABV, 24 IBU

Upright Brewing: Heirloom Saison
This sour strong saison spent over 18 months with a special carbonic chardonnay cask version of Upright’s Saison Vert, a black lime wheat based brew. This is like a solera, cuvee type of saison blending old and young beers for a unique tart, oaky and dry rustic saison. 6.9% ABV, 18 IBU

 

left to right: Amy Marvin, “SNOB” Ritch Marvin, Sean McMahon and Ben Love

AVOID:

 

Laht Neppur: Strawberry Concoction
Easily the worst beer of the fest is this abomination of a beer that the brewers should have dumped but likely couldn’t afford to after adding who knows how much strawberry puree. Unfortunately the nose is all buttery sour vinegar and nail polish remover. It’s like some fruit that accidentally refermented and now is just sharp burning alcohol and harshly acetic acid, with some strawberry sweetness just making the entire unholy concoction of aromas worse.

 

 

Summary
Event Name: Oregon Brewers Festival
Venue: Tom McCall Waterfront Park, 300 SW Naito Parkway, Portland, OR 97204
Dates: July 26-30, 2017
Website: OregonBrewFest.com
Social Media: @OregonBrewFest
Facebook Event: Facebook.com/events/1065560490238569/
Hashtags: #OBF #OBF17 #OBF30years

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

5 Comments

  1. Snob Ritch

    July 27, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    Ex Novo and New Holland Dragons Milk we’re also great.

  2. David

    July 27, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    The Cloudburst and Ancestry beers were also very good

  3. Jefe

    July 28, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    I’m a big fan of the Baerlic sour IPA. Stellar.

  4. Steve

    July 29, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Surprisingly, I really liked the Mojito Sour too. Took a sip from a friend’s glass and had to get a taste of my own. Ditto for the Gigantic G+T.

    But my favorite was the Natian “Full Pour” Imperial IPL.

  5. Sam Schwartz

    August 8, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    I thought the disco lemonade tasted like an f-ing sweet tart with zero subtlety, just all sour, and the Gigantic G & T was too much lime and not enough gin. Both of these would be on my “avoid” list. The best beer I tasted was Pfriem’s Guava Saison. Though I agree that Upright’s offering was very good.

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