Downed trees and unplowed roads made for a hollow, cavernous KLCC Microbrew Festival in 2014. Maybe it was that, or maybe it was excitement about the first one of the year, or maybe everybody was just thirsty. Thousands of Eugene area residents, and many others from out of town, migrated to the Lane County Fairgrounds this past weekend to sample beer cider, and mead from 75 breweries for the 13th annual event.
This particular festival is set apart from others in several ways. First off, entrants are also able to browse a room full of LPs and CDs for sale as a benefit to KLCC; flipping through records is much more fun with a beer in hand. There is, of course, live music. This year, Sol Seed and Jelly Bread provided the funk—appropriate, as there were pretty much zero sour beers in the house. The homebrew competition brought in nearly 200 entries of, on the whole, high quality brews. And this year’s Collaboration Booth featured a tour of Belgium, with 14 beers provided by all of Eugene’s breweries (and Hopworks).
Jeremiah Marsden (left) and Yours Truly showing off the custom Belgian Beer Steward shirts at the Collaboration Booth
This year marks the third “Tour” theme; 2013 featured English beers styles; 2014 was German beers. The idea of collaboration in this context is that all the area brewers get together and hash out a plan, pick styles (either from a hat or by general consensus), and have their version ready by fest time. The Collaboration Booth has long been set in a back corner of the fest, only visible to those who looked. This year, it was moved closer to the entrance for much better visibility.
One day, shortly after the collaboration had been set, Agrarian Ales brewer Tobias Schock called me up with a plan. In order to encourage the collaborative spirit and help inform the general public about Belgian beer, he suggested getting together a cadre of “Belgian Beer Stewards,” who could hang out by the booth and schmooze with the intent of educating. I suggested the stewards could wear shirts; after some discussion with the chosen stewards, a design was agreed upon; a friend made stencils and I spray painted a handful of Goodwill shirts. A few days before the fest, Toby managed to corral nearly all of the participating brewers and beer stewards into The Abbey, Claim 52’s tasting room in the SPROUT building in Springfield, for a tasting of the collaboration beers. Each brewer got a chance to say what went into the beer, and gave the stewards a chance to take some notes.
Toby also got together with festival organizers to make a special passport—a sheet with all of the collaboration beers listed that, for $5, would get you 1oz. tastes of all the collaboration beers. That turned out to be a particularly genius move. Not only were people stoked to try all of the beers without sacrificing tickets and drinking 42oz. of beer, but the number of people who purchased passports made the booth incredibly popular (and populated). The styles brewed ran the gamut from Witbier (McMenamins) to Hop Valley’s [Gen-Y inspired] Stretch Dark Strong.
Oakshire gave a very limited sneak peak of Hellshire V. The official release is March 14.
Part of the glory of Belgian beers is that they don’t necessarily conform to styles or tastes; each brewery had its take; beer menus generally call beer by color (i.e. Blond, Ambreé, Bruin). One blond may be hoppy, another with a sharp yeast ester. So to see 14 Oregon breweries put out interpretations of these malleable styles was particularly enlivening; none were exactly like, say, Duvel, but instead riffed and showed the brewer’s preference. It was the drinker’s job to appreciate the subtleties.
The rest of the fest was one of the busiest in its history; crowds lined up at every booth, happy and hearty. One challenge facing the fest is the food (or lack thereof). Fairground pretzels and hot dogs are fine for soaking up beer, but don’t really stand up to the variety and quality of beer on hand. There is some red tape that prevents outside vendors from setting up at the fest—if that were to be overcome it would be a boon to everybody.
Rumors about next year’s collaboration are mere whispers, but may involve the breweries pairing up in the conventional collaboration style. Or who knows, maybe we’ll get a tour of dead/recently resurrected beer styles, or beer brewed with kumquats. Either way, it’ll be a hoot.
More information about the fest, including the homebrew competition results, can be found here: http://klcc.org/post/2015-microbrew-festival-recap
Aaron Brussat, is a steward, skeptic, proponent, educator, brewer, and drinker of beer, and wants everybody to know the joy of Belgian beer. Go drink one now!