Best and Worst Beers of the 2018 Oregon Brewers Festival

This weekend is the 31st annual Oregon Brewers Festival, running over four days July 26 through Sunday July 29, 2018 and The New School has already went and tried the 80 or so beers so that we can tell you what’s worth trying and what to avoid. Between New School contributor Michael Perozzo and I, we each tackled one side of the fest running along waterfront park. Between the both of us we managed to try every single beer pouring this year, not all heroes wear capes, some wear ball caps, sport beards and glasses.

What’s different about this years OBF is they have added a separate tent to pour a few wines and ciders. For the purposes of this article we didnt venture over there, though I am sure they have some good stuff. OBF also shortened itself from 5 days to only 4 days by cutting the Wednesday. I thnk this did lead to an even busier start to the fest on Thursday.

Mike Perkins, Margaret Flerchinger, Nicole Kasten and Dylan Vandetta

Some of the interesting beer trends at OBF this year are the rise of Dessert/Pastry beers and Milkshake IPA’s. Not surprisingly there was a lot of fruit namely raspberry and lemon beers but the real surprise was orange/vanilla creamsicle beers and beers with Guava. There must have been a blowout sale on Guava at the International Market because we count no less than four guava beers at this years festival. Sure other fruits like lemon and raspberry may be more represented but those are more common summer beer ingredients while guava is still an obscure fruit from south and central America.

We have broken up our beer picks into three categories; Worth Trying, Recommended and Avoid.

RECOMMENDED

Great Notion: Juice Jr.

Many of you have probably already had this hazy IPA – one of Great Notion Brewing’s flagships. For that reason it’s not on the must try list but even including it in this lineup its a great example of what the Hazy/Juicy IPA trend is all about.

Anderson Valley Brewing: Framboise Rose Gose

Combining the red hot Rosé beer trend with the already popular Gose-style and Framboise yields tastily predictable results. Refreshing, dry berry tartness with the raspberries dominating the flavor, finishes dry with briny salt that makes you want to have another. Good one for people who don’t want to go full sour but enjoy a tart refreshing fruit beer sometimes.

Double Mountain: La Domestique

It’s nice to see more Grisette’s being made, especially if they are good as this complex yet easy refresher. Notes of lemon, cereal,  and stone fruit emerge from this light and slightly tart farmhouse ale that provides a much needed break from some of the other palate wreckers.

Boundary Bay Brewing: Currantly Hip Sour

Beautiful ruby red kettle sour that really highlights the currants which adds a real fresh cranberry and raspberry kool-aid note without the sugar. Highly recommended if you enjoy fruited sours.

Heretic Brewing: Goo

Another of the many dessert beers in the festival lineup, this is actually one of the good ones. Be prepared to have your palate awash in gooey chocolate and coconut with a slick, creamy, milkshake consistency.

New Holland Brewing: I like Pretzel Day

I didnt expect to enjoy this Stout, pretzels in a stout just sounds too extreme to enjoy more than a sip, but I was wrong. There is a reason this beer had one of the longest lines, it’s closer to a salted caramel stout in it’s execution. More creamy, chocolatey and salty caramel than nutty, bready, crunchy. If you are going to go dark this weekend, go New Holland Brewing.

Upright Berliner Weisse

Soured with lactobacillus and finished with a unique strand of brettanomyces, the Oregon Brewers Fest website says this Berliner Weisse was brewed in February in order to give time for the full development of the yeast character. The result is nothing short of amazing. Just a touch of funk punctuates a delightful sour ale that I look forward to going back for. 3.6% ABV 0 IBU

54-40 Rick & Mortmunder Lager

I could get schwifty with this beer all ding-dong day. 54-40 does lagers very well – this is no secret. Going from pour after pour of peach-this, lemon-that, guava beer-guava beer-guava beer… this Dortmunder-style lager was a very welcome change of pace. While OBF has become more and more of a fruit fest in recent years, this takes me to a dimension in time and space where science was science and beer was beer. 5.2% ABV 25 IBU

Heathen Raspberry Rhubarb Sour Ale

As I tasted through the south trailers (1-4) of the festival, this stood out as the best of the fest. It looks great with it’s deep crimson liquid, smells like rhubarb pie and is the perfect pucker-up pour. I’m no stranger to Heathen’s kettle sours, but they outdid themselves with this one. This was one of the longer lines of the southern half of the festival – and for good reason. 5.7% ABV 10 IBU

Everybody’s Brewing Guango Deep

I had to do double-take when I learned this beer was 9.3%. There are quite a few guava beers at OBF and this one rose above with the addition of mango (guava + mango = guango, get it?) and a bright hoppiness. As a hazy double IPA, it’s quite quaffable. Noticeably, the fruit flavors in this beer are not all from guava and mango puree. I think Everybody’s did an excellent job of creating a hop-forward, easy drinking summer boozer! 9.3% ABV 30 IBU

Cascade Belmont Street Bramble

This summertime sour sipper gave me all the feels. Goosebumps. Literally. This next-level offering is a blend of sour blonde ales aged for up to two years with raspberries and tangerine zest. It opens up all 5 senses from the first sip to the last. I’ll be back in line for this one several times throughout the weekend. 6.5% ABV 7 IBU

GoodLife Long Acronym

I guess ‘Dry-Hopped Oregon Wine Barrel-Aged Mixed Fermentation Blended Brett India Pale Lager’ wouldn’t fit on the trailer sign, so GoodLife chose to call this one ‘Long Acronym’. This lager is maybe the most complex beer of the south side of the festival. It’s tart and hoppy with distinct lager and brett flavors. Almost no two sips are alike as you discover new tastes to tickle your tongue. 7.8% ABV 45 IBU

Fred Bowman and Chris Hodge

WORTH TRYING

Freebridge Brewing: Summertime Radness

Though it doesnt say it in the name, this is a Rosé beer. Well, it’s actually a Berliner-Weisse since Rosé isn’t really a style, but this beer really goes for what it could be by using Merlot wine grapes and hibiscus for color and flavor. It’s light, tart, winey and floral.

a great lineup of craft breweries from Mexico

Agua Mala: Sirena

One of the half dozen or so Mexican breweries at the fest, all who seemed to have solid beers. I chose Aqua Mala to highlight because all, or nearly all the other Mexican beers are Pales and high on the bitterness while this is a crisp refreshing Pilsner with restrained hops. We need more of these at the fest.

Fortside Brewing: The Real Slim Hazy

Another hazy/juicy IPA that gets it right. Its pretty thick and sweet and incredibly pulpy. If that’s your thing then you will enjoy this beer.

Migration Brewing  Summertime in the 503

Hot new hop varieties like Azacca, Motueka and Simcoe make up a refreshingly light Pale Ale packed full of citrus and tropical hop flavors. You cant go wrong if you just want an easy drinking and bright ale full of fresh flavor that you won’t be surprised by.

Golden Valley Brewing: This Train is Bound for Hell

A light smoked lager inspired by those from Bamberg. This is a really drinkable and quite beautiful take on the classic smoked lager with just enough smoke to pleasant but not hot box out someone not quite ready for a pillow of smoke.

Hopworks: Completely Excellent

All of Hopworks trials on making hazy IPA have paid off, Completely Excellent is just that. A bright, fruit and citrus peel packed hop flavor quencher that’s plenty hazy but not chunky or yeasty but clean and juicy.

Thunder Island Brewing: Fuzzy Wit

Simple, light, bright and refreshing wheat beer with lemon and juicy peach flavors. It’s not too sweet with a subtle but noticeable peach juiciness.

Belching Beaver Brewing: Orange Vanilla Milkshake IPA

Long lines dont mean the beer at the front of them is good. This creamsicle flavored one from Belching Beaver is a perfect example, but I cant completely pan it because it nails that flavor of orange-vanilla creamsicle/sherbert ice cream cups or pops. If you enjoy that dessert beer thing that doesn’t taste like beer but accomplishes the flavors it’s going for, then you may even love this beer.

Ninkasi Fruited Gose

Everything about this beer was light. Light salt. Light fruit. Light tart. The result is a very gulpable gose from this year’s host brewery, Ninkasi. 4.2% ABV 10 IBU

Pelican To Peach Their Own!

Pelican Brewing Company has created a fruited lager that is decided not sour or tart – unlike most you’ll find at the festival. A light malt backbone puts 500 lbs of Oregon peaches on full display.  6% ABV 10 IBU

Zoiglhaus Elderberry Berliner Weisse

At just 2.8% ABV, this is as light and easy going as you might expect. The elderberry is right up front and carries through to a dry finish. It won’t get you where you’re going on your mission to get tipsy at a beer fest, but it was a welcome palate break and very enjoyable in the 90+ degree heat. 2.8% ABV 0 IBU

Breakside Limon Pepino

Holy cucumber, Batman. This lager packed ’em in there. And in no way am I upset about that. A light citrus zest complements the cucumber goodness in a beer that could be the very definition of “summertime”. 4.9% ABV 19 IBU

Scout Beer Psycho Killer Qu’est-ce Que Saison

If you haven’t done your research (nor read this review), you’d likely be surprised to find this midnight-dark pour at the front of a line for a ‘saison’. I’m happy to shed some light on this cold brew coffee-esque delight. The saison yeast and lager yeast combined with a seemingly higher carbonation level made this dark beer one of the lightest of the festival. 6.4% ABV 25 IBU

Fort George It Takes Two To Mango

Do you like mango? Then you’ll probably like this. 7.5% ABV n/p IBU

Oregon City Guavador Dali

Do you like guava? Then you’ll probably like this. 7% ABV 50 IBU

Old Market Punchy Peach

It’s a wonderful thing when a beer’s name prepares you for exactly what’s about to happen. Aptly named and delicious, Old Market’s OBF offering is an organic imperial wheat ale that was aged in pinot barrels for 7 months and topped off with local Oregon tart peaches. It’s peaches in the front, peaches in the back and punch of peach right where it counts in the middle. 7.8% ABV 5 IBU

Bayern Citra DumpTruck Summer Bock

Lots of great hop character from a literal truck-load of Citra hops. Bayern’s house lager yeast provides a lager profile that’s just barely noticeable – even champagne like. It gives the Citra hops time to shine and shine they do. 7% ABV 44 IBU

Backwoods Dreamcicle Kolsch

Gimmicky? Maybe. Delicious? Absolutely. Backwoods added Sunny D and vanilla to a Kolsch-style ale and the result will take you back to the days of chasing down the ice cream truck for orange creamcicles. That’s likely exactly what the brewers at Backwoods were going for and they nailed it. This beer taps into one’s inner child. 5% ABV 15 IBU

AVOID

McMenamins Edgefield: The Jester’s Nightcap

Dessert/Bakery stout gone wrong. It’s an Imperial Stout with cacao and vanilla, should be pretty simple but the base beer is acrid and slightly tart, The nibs taste burnt. Not sure what all is going on in here but I would have thought there was some other strange ingredient.i

Sasquatch Brewing: American Aquarium Drinker

I will give this squid ink gose points for creativity but it just tastes gross. It might be exactly what the brewers were going for but the flavors just dont work – brininess and acidity and an acrid, astringent bitterness like a beer coming back up after a night of heavy drinking

Wolf Tree Brewing: Spruce Tip Gruit

I like wolf tree brewing a lot but this overly sweet, cloyingly phenolic and weirdly sugar candy-herbal spruce makes for an interesting but difficult to drink beer that you will be done with after a couple sips.

Kell’s Mezcal-a-gose

I went into this expecting the subtle smokiness of mezcal over fruit, but the smoke was thick. So thick, it was difficult to get past. If you could feel your way through the smoke, you found yourself lost in salty sweetness. The combo of smoke, salt and sweet was not something enjoyable. 4.7% ABV 13 IBU

Great Divide Heyday Modern IPA (Hazy IPA)

This beer was billed as both “modern” and “hazy” yet turned out to be neither of those things. What I experienced was a dusty, piney and even sticky old school IPA. Murky? Sure. Hazy? Nope. It reminded me of the IBU wars of 2012 where the beer with the most residual bitterness would be crowned king of the castle. The OBF website description touts flavors of fruit, berry and melon – none of which I found in this beer. Who knows? Maybe I was handed the wrong beer altogether. 5.8% ABV 38 IBU

Iron Horse Crazy Aunt

Billed as a very fruit forward American IPA, I couldn’t get passed the butter-like off-flavor. The taste of C4H6O2 puts this one on the naughty list automatically.

Crooked Stave Do You Even Zest?

A beer name that left me asking the same exactly question of the beer itself. It wasn’t zesty. It wasn’t fruity. It wasn’t bitter. It wasn’t sweet. Not funky. Not tart. Not sour. It was just sorta… there. There’s nothing offensive about this beer. It just didn’t deliver on its description nor its namesake and left me wishing I had that token back. 7.5% ABV 31 IBU

festival founder Art Larrance (left) with veteran beer writer John Foyston

EVENT

31st Annual Oregon Brewers Festival

VENUE

Tom McCall Waterfront Park, 300 SW Naito Parkway, Portland, Oregon 97204

Four entrances: SW Oak Street, SW Pine St, under the Morrison St Bridge and along the sea wall at Pine.

DATES

July 26-29, 2018: “Always the last full weekend in July”

TIMES

Thurs through Sat, taps are open from Noon to 9 pm

Sun, taps are open from Noon to 7 pm

Mug & tokens sales close one-half hour prior to the taps shutting off: 8:30pm every night except 6:30pm on Sunday.

COST

The Oregon Brewers Festival is not a ticketed event, and there is no admission charge to enter the festival grounds. In order to consume alcohol, the one-time purchase of a 2018 souvenir plastic mug is required and costs $7. Beer, cider and wine is purchased with wooden tokens, which cost $1 apiece. It costs four tokens for a full mug of beer or cider or one token for a taste; it costs five tokens for a five ounce pour of wine; no tasters available for wine. The purchase of mugs and tokens is made on-site at the Mug/Tokens tent just inside the Oak Street entrance. Mugs or glasses from past festivals will not be filled; however, tokens from past festivals may be reused. The mug/token sales booth is CASH ONLY and does not accept credit cards or checks. The festival does provide eight ATM machines on premise.

MINORS AND PETS

Minors are welcome all hours of the festival with a parent. Dogs and other pets are not allowed (except ADA).

OFFERINGS

The Oregon Brewers Festival provides an opportunity to sample dozens of craft beer styles from 80 craft brewers, plus two cider makers and two wineries. The event also offers live music, beer-related vendors, beer memorabilia displays, home brewing demonstrations and an assortment of food vendors. The Crater Lake Soda Garden presents complimentary handcrafted soda for minors and designated drivers. Minors are welcome all hours when accompanied by a parent. Animals are NOT allowed.

DRINK RESPONSIBLY

The Oregon Brewers Festival strongly encourages responsible drinking and is pleased to be working with the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) on its SAFE RIDE HOME program, which offers $20 vouchers toward taxi rides; and $5 vouchers toward Lyft and Uber rides throughout the Festival weekend. Vouchers will be available to everyone on-site. Or take advantage of TriMet MAX Light Rail line, located just one block west of the festival on SW Oak Street (plan your trip at trimet.org or m.trimet.org). Attendees who wish to bike to the festival can park at the onsite Hopworks Bike Corral, where volunteers watch over bikes for free. Go by bus, train, taxi, Uber or Lyft, just don’t drink and drive!

BENEFICIARIES

This year’s festival has pledged $20,000 to two local beneficiaries. The House That Beer Built, a partnership between Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East and local craft breweries and beer-related businesses, will receive $10,000; as will New Avenues for Youth, an organization dedicated to the prevention and intervention of youth homelessness. Look for both organizations to have booths at the festival, including a Brewer Dunk Tank and cornhole at the New Avenues for Youth booth!

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

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