The Best and Worst Beer of the Oregon Brewers Festival

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Yesterday the 28th annual Oregon Brewers Festival kicked off with brunch and a parade under surprisingly dim skies. Crowds seemed big, but the lines were thin and we managed to sample a significant amount of the lineup to bring you a list of the best and the worst of the beers. We tried most of the beers we wanted to and have come out with our best beer recommendations, worthy sippers, and what to avoid.
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Of note this year is that there seems to be fewer tables with chairs in the tents. Where it used to be all large communal seating under cover, the tables have now been pushed out onto the backside in open air against the riverfront walkway. Instead, there are standing bistro-style tables under the tent. Also, the south side of the fest has a smaller tent that is pushed way to the back eastside, yielding an open-air experience near the beer trailers on that end. You’re still pretty much all under cover on the north side.
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The “International Tent” is in the same spot as last year, slightly south of the middle of the fest. It’s nice to see that all these beers are now only 1 ticket–that makes us more willing to be adventurous, as these are pretty hit and miss.

Onward towards our beer recommendations…

Recommended:

Burnside: Smoked Berliner-Weiss

Did you know that the resurrected style of Gratzer–a smoked wheat beer–is actually originally a sour? Modern interpretations have not been, until this one by Burnside Brewing, though its not billed as a Gratzer. Smoked Berliner-Weisse is very pale, like a wit, with a mild tartness, sourdough bread notes, and a prevailing but very restrained smokiness. Two flavors I was afraid would clash but are handled very delicately here.

Fremont Brewing: Summer Ale

Possibly my favorite beer from Fremont Brewing, packed with juicy and fruity hop flavor and the standard crisp finish.

Hopworks: Evie Radshine

The Radler and Shandy trend has left me lukewarm, but as I suspected, Hopworks’ Imperial IPA version works wonders for the flavors, giving them more punch, and the bitterness counteracts the sweetness of the lemon soda well.

Laht Neppur: Flaming Peach

This small brewery’s beers keep getting better, and this cayenne-infused version of a standard peach beer is the best yet. Light but medium bodied, fruity and slightly tart with a spicy but not burning chili. It’s like Burnside’s Sweet Heat, only if apricots were replaced with peaches.

ParrotDog: Riwaka Secret

If you’re looking for a dank hop bomb made with some exotic varieties, this is the beer for you. Made with New Zealand-grown Riwaka and Victoria Secret hops, this imperial IPA has a hugely dank, fresh nose on top of a rich, malty body. The hops impart notes of tropical fruit, ganja, and some pine and grass. A must-try beer.

Sixpoint: Little Raspy

Light, sour, pink, bubbly, and very refreshing.

Wild Ride: Quencher

A terrific take on a session IPA melded with a citrus IPA. A light but flavorful body uses white wheat and carapils to up the mouthfeel but not the maltiness; there is also a bit of acidulated malt to add a subtle acidicness. Finally, Calamansie lime is added to amp the citrus and tart citrus fruit flavor up, and that combines well with the hops and malts. One of my favorite session IPAs ever; I hope they bottle it.

Worthy Brewing: A Walk on the Wild Side

Brewed for the Beers Made By Walking event, A Walk on the Wild Side is a rare off-the-beaten path treat from this Bend brewery that usually sticks with well-established styles. A complex saison, it has citrusy lemon esters, notes of pepper, flowers, grass and earthiness. It’s still light and easy drinking for the summer.

Worth Trying:

Claim 52: Runnermass

Another take on a lemon soda radler. This one uses a kolsch as its base beer, with results as you might expect.

Ecliptic: Aurora Crimson Saison

A refreshing saison with the addition of rhubarb, which adds a new kind of fruity complexity.

Fish Tale: Fish In A Barrel

Smells like a brettanomyces sour, tastes of tart wine. A dry, complex, yeast-driven saison.

Flat Tail Brewing: Big Green

For lovers of hoppier saisons in the vein of The Commons Urban Farmhouse Ale and Upright Five.

GoodLife Brewing: Jay Bird

A solid summer wheat beer, though nothing to write home about.

Green Flash: Soul Style IPA

Available in bottles and 4-packs, it’s a perfect example of the San Diego-style IPA, packed with hops like Citra, Cascade, and Simcoe and dry-hopped.

Lagunitas: Sucks 366

Hopheads looking for an imperial IPA should look for this one. Deep levels of hops get both peppery and dank, as well as fruity and quite bitter. My only complaint is the alcohol shows a bit in the flavor and thickness of body.

New Belgium/HUB: B-Side Peach IPA

Light, fruity, and smooth hoppiness with a bit of peach juice on the finish. Perhaps not as peachy as I would like, but still pleasant and easy drinking.

PINTS Urban Brewery: Honey Bunches of Oats

Chewy oats and malts, slightly sweet, and fruity honey finish.

Upright Brewing: Golden Goat

A strange new beer from Upright, the Golden Goat is a spiced Biere de Garde that is open fermented with a lager yeast. The unique spicing sets it apart–sun-dried black lime adds a bit of zestiness, but it’s the muña muña–a minty herb from Argentina–that affects the flavor the most.

Viking Braggot: Gypsy Tears

Braggot style beers of roughly half honey and half malt can tend to be too sweet or strong, but Viking Braggot has freshened this one up with organic hibiscus and blueberries to add a bit of tartness and refreshing berry and flower spice notes.

Widmer Brothers: Widmeritaville

Seemingly one of the most popular beers of the festival (based on the line), this margarita-inspired beer truly leaves behind beer and tastes more like a margarita mixer. Just add tequila!

Avoid:

Old Town Brewing: 1-Up Mushroom Ale

I wanted to like this beer, I really did, and I applaud Old Town Brewing for the creativity and effort that goes into this candy capped mushroom ale. But, the flavor is so musty and savory it’s hard to drink, combined with the malty body and some toasted notes, I think it would be hard to handle more than a few ounces of. Reminded me of a charbroiled vegan mushroom burger patty in a glass. Maybe worth trying though out of curiosity alone.

Yeastie Boys: Gunnamatta

Billed as an American-style strong pale ale brewed with Earl Grey tea, the tea and bergamot oil completely take over the nose, palate, and finish. This one sticks around on the palate, too, leaving a finish of citrusy oil and bitter tannins. Maybe you’ll dig it if Earl Grey is your favorite flavor, but others should beware.

Portland Oregon’s Waterfront Park hosts the 28th Annual Oregon Brewers Festival July 22 – 26, 2015!

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

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

Discussion

  • Travvy Puckvist
    Travvy Puckvist
    Thu Jul 23, 2015 5:39 PM

    Has there ever been a “good” mushroom beer? I’ve seen a few breweries do it, but it seems to be a tricky beer to make. I am a little bit biased, but I thought the Pumpkin Biere de Garde from Breakside was a pleasant way to add candy caps, it sat within a few adjunct ingredients: ginger, sea salt, and pumpkin.

    So, to me, it seems like mushrooms have to come with some balancing of flavor/body. Otherwise…they’re just gross.

    Your experience with mushroom beers?

    • Samurai Artist
      Samurai Artist
      Fri Jul 24, 2015 7:30 AM

      I have had some good ones but the Mushroom a bit secondary:

      Upright Oyster Stout Firkin with Black Truffles
      Upright Gose with White Truffles
      Fort George: Truffle Shuffle Stout

      So maybe truffles are the secret?

    • Steve Armbrust
      Steve Armbrust
      Fri Jul 24, 2015 3:50 AM

      I really think this is one of the poorer OBF lineups. There are very few big beers, very few really hoppy beers, and very few weird, out-there beers. It all seems to be about less, or session, beers. My advice, boycott anything that uses the word “session” in its title or description.

      • Stu
        Stu
        Sat Jul 25, 2015 3:31 PM

        Thanks for the mention – shame you hated the beer but it was extremely popular so I’m not bothered.

        I loved the festival and town.

        Cheers!

        Stu McKinlay
        Yeastie Boys

        • Samurai Artist
          Samurai Artist
          Mon Jul 27, 2015 12:45 AM

          I personally did not have it but editor “El Gordo” added it to the avoids. I dont think he hated it as he never said that and noted if you love Earl Grey it might be worth trying.