The 32nd annual Oregon Brewers Festival kicked off on July 24th at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, featuring 101 beers and ciders. The New School drank every last one of them so you don’t have to. Below you will find our picks for the best and worst beers and ciders to seek out this year. But first, some primer…
2019 is the first year the Oregon Brewers Festival is actually all Oregon beer, and they have also increased the cider presence. In previous years, there were perennial classics from out of town that will be missed, like Russian River, 21st Amendment, Surly Brewing and others. Craft beer is more local than ever and a common complaint is that the festival should better represent the state. This means there are actually far more lesser known Oregon breweries at the fest and quality is probably more inconsistent than ever, but in that you get some real discoveries. It was nice to find some great beers from breweries I wasnt expecting. The name of the game this year was “fruit.” In past years we have seen a lot of IPA’s and lagers are definitely increasing and fruit has been on the rise for awhile, but it almost seemed like more than half the beers this year were fruited.
Last year the fest dabbled with adding ciders and wines; this year the wine seems to be gone but they have doubled down with a full trailer full of cider all the way on the north end.
They did away with the music. There used to be a large stage near the center of the festival with live music all day, now it’s a DJ tent.
No more Buzz Tent or International Tent. This was a separate area created for beer geeks to showcase one-off and small batch stuff. Instead of that we have a new Meet the Brewer tent and brewer dunk tank. Check the schedule of who will be there and when.
The layout has changed. The south end of the festival beer trailers are now on the east side rather than the west side like usual. Apparently this change was made to utilize the trees on the SW side of the park for shade. It does provide a larger shaded area with more breeze than the huge tent on the north side. The only negative is wading out into the open breezeway between the taps and the opposite tree lined side. A small price to pay unless you are stuck in a long line that runs out into the sun.
As a primer for the following reviews/ratings. These can be brief and not necessarily every beer and cider is included for the sake of brevity. If you find one missing it’s means we didnt think it was particularly good or bad.
Gateway Brewing | Portland Gateway Summer Stout | Stout (Summer) You don’t normally go into a summer brewfest in the park looking or a Stout, but one really does stand out in this lineup of light, tart and fruity beers. Gateway Brewing hits the mark with a simple, easy drinking brown stout that’s not bitter at all and has just the right amount of coffee, cocoa, chicory notes and some oatmeal for body.
Buoy Beer Co. | Astoria die Bierleichen | Pilsner (German) An impressive German-style pilsner. A hint of honey and graham cracker make this equally complex yet quaffable. Die Bierleichen translates ‘The Beer Corpses’ and our prediction is that many of these pilsners will find their demise at the hands of festival goers this weekend.
Hopworks Urban Brewery | Portland Juicy Lager | Lager (Dry Hopped) Loving the new school dry-hopped lagers or Italian-style Pilsner trend. It’s like old school day drinking summer beer meets the latest and greatest hops.
Ecliptic Brewing | Portland LIGO Key Lime Gose | Gose (Key Lime) This year’s Brewers Brunch and OBF Parade hosts did not disappoint in their beer offering. In a fest full of goses, this one delivers exactly what it says it is with wild applause. A world-class key lime pie, if ever you’ve drank one.
Pelican Brewing | Tillamook Jamacito | Lager (Hibiscus Mojito) More well known for making very true-to-style beers, Pelican flips the script on it’s ear with a mojito-inspired lager with lime, hibiscus and mint. A cool summer refresher that was a highlight of the festival’s southern trailers.
LABrewatory | Portland TepaCzech | Pilsner (Tepache Inspired) I am not normally a fan of fucking with a lager by adding out of style ingredients or techniques but this blending of Czech-style Pilsner and pineapple really worked. First and foremost this is a pilsner but you can smell and taste the pineapple and there is a very light spicing. This serves to add a little tropicalness to the bready, crispy lager while letting the base style shine. I’d say its about 80% pilsner there and 20% tepache.
Sunriver Brewing Co. | Sunriver Sunriver Roll | Lager (Japanese Field) Expect cravings for sushi to follow this expertly crafted rice lager with ginger and just a hint of wasabi. Don’t let the word ‘wasabi’ lead you astray. This is a must try lager that you’ll taste once and return for a full pour of.
Ram Restaurant & Brewery | Salem Bubble Berry Brut IPA | IPA (Brut Blackberry) The Brut IPA is not dead yet and enterprising brewers are still exploring this style and what it could become. The Ram has hit their Brut IPA with blackberries and citrusy hops so you get the light and dryness of a Brut IPA, the citrusiness of NW hops and the local berry jamminess that adds a perceived sweetness back into the beer.
Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider | Portland *Gluten Free Saint Citron with Cherry | Cider This is like a salted summer fruit cocktail with lemonade being the dominant flavor but background kumquat pith and citrusy and tea like Persian black limes round out the fruity, refreshing bouquet.
Rogue Ales & Spirits | Newport Picaro Negro | Lager (Mexican Dark) It’s hard not to enjoy a light, malty, creamy and crisp Mexican-style Lager in the summer, but what if you made it dark like a Porter? The “negro” style of dark lager is a refreshing change of pace with everything you like about a light Mexican-style Lager but with a little bit of cocoa and caramel from toasted malts. This is one of the darker ones, pouring like a dark brown ale with a little bit of extra sweetness and fullness to the mouthfeel but still finishing with a smooth crispness.
StormBreaker Brewing | Portland Go Ahead & CRYOver It | IPA (Cryo Hazeless) With a surprising lack of hoppy beers this year, hopheads should look for this one by Stormbreaker that highlights Cryo hops (lupulin powder). This light bodies and not hazy brew smells and taste like a hop cooler.
Caldera Brewing Co. | Ashland Caldera Mother Pucker Chocolate Raspberry Sour | Sour (Chocolate Raspberry) A fantastic new variation on their Mother Pucker Raspberry Sour with a hint of chocolate. It’s not a stout or porter as the ‘chocolate’ in the name may lead some to believe. You can see right through this deep crystal red potion and it’s magical in your mouth.
Great Notion Brewing | Portland Double Stack | Stout (Coffee & Maple) Pastry stout seekers worldwide know this beer well. While we’d hoped to see something new from Great Notion, we’re not gonna complain about enjoying this exceptional 11% ABV maple coffee imperial stout for just 1 token.
Upright Brewing | Portland Flora Fantastica | Saison (Botanical Blend) A collaboration blend with Gigantic Brewing. Upright’s Flora Rustica is blended with a vermouth barrel version of Gigantic’s Fantastic Voyage. This is everything you want from a farmhouse ale in the summertime. Cool, complex and crushable!
pFriem Family Brewers | Hood River Landbier | Lager (Keller Landbier) Simply put: an exceptional lager. In the early hours of OBF, this where many other brewers were standing in line to get a pour. That should tell you all you need to know.
Three Mugs Brewing Co. | Hillsboro It Takes Tea To Mango, Honey | Honey Ale (Mango & Green Tea) I am not usually a fan of tea beers which I often find astringent and earthy but Three Mugs rounds off the negatives with mango and honey. Like a bitter black cup of coffee that’s balanced by sugar and cream, so does the sweet and creamy honey and buttery tropical fruit of Mango do to green tea.
Breakside Brewery | Portland Lucky As Helles | Lager (German) Of course, Breakside impresses with another super solid lager. The perfect gulpable lager for this festival.
Mazama Brewing | Corvallis Razzle Weisse | Berliner Weisse (Raspberry, Cucumber & Meyer Lemon) This is what every hard seltzer wished it was. Fantastic cucumber and hint of raspberry.
Laurelwood Brewing Co. | Portland Tom from Myspace | IPA (Hazy, Northwest with Guava) This might not make it in your Top 8 Friends, but it’ll be in your Top 24 for sure after you brush up on some basic HTML.
13 Virtues Brewing | Portland Guavalicious | Pale (Guava & Tangerine) This is pretty much as billed, you won’t be disappointed if you come looking for the guava and tangerine which are all up in this beer. The fruit dominates and makes it a tart treat, hops in the background and finish are mild.
Monkless Belgian Ales | Bend Grapefruit Shepplekofeggan | Wit (Grapefruit) A delightful Belgian wit with grapefruit, coriander and orange zest from a brewery worth watching very closely! Grapefruit is subtle while the citrus and coriander is more prominent.
2 Towns Ciderhouse | Corvallis *Gluten Free 8th Anniversary | Cider (Pacific NW Heirloom) In a world full of fruited ciders where the apple is just used as a base, here we have a true cider showcasing heritage apples and a white wine yeast. Slightly tart and juicy, wine like dry and effervescent finish with just a little tannic quality at the end.
Allegory Brewing | McMinnville Strata Lager | Lager (Hoppy) A collaboration lager with one of the NW’s best lager-makers, 54-40 Brewing. This hoppy lager is everything you want in a crushable lager. A beer you can enjoy more than once and not think about or ponder over – just enjoy it.
Anthem Cider | Salem *Gluten Free JUN | Cider (Juniper Berries & Grapefruit) Citrusy tart and botanical make for an interesting combo.
Little Beast Brewing | Clackamas Vermillion Sour | Sour (American with Watermelon & Marionberries) Unlike many watermelon beers, and particularly watermelon sours, this Little Beast concoction tastes of REAL watermelon – not Jolly Ranchers.
Boneyard Beer | Bend Speedy Goseales | Gose (German) Lime and sea salt. Goes down as fast as the name suggests. Andale, andale! Arriba, arriba!
Lompoc Brewing | Portland Another Day In Lomparadise | Wheat (Hazy Blood Orange) There were many wheat beers on the south side of the fest and this stood out as one of the better ones. Blood oranges add a citrus kick to a delicately delicious wheat ale.
Apple Outlaw | Jacksonville *Gluten Free Oregon Blackberry | Cider (Blackberry) Fruited cider fans take note of this one, it’s pumped up with plump blackberries and has lime to make it even brighter and tarter. Like berry picking season on Sauvie’s Island in a glass.
Elk Horn Brewery | Eugene Fruity Pebbles Milkshake IPA | IPA (Milkshake with Fruity Pebbles & with Mixed Fruit) Though I don’t usually go for Milkshake IPA’s this one was pretty good. If you can see past the gimmick of adding 100lbs of Fruity Pebbles cereal in the mash then the combo of hops with blueberries, tangerines, and cherries is pretty tasty and the beer is not too sweet or thick.
Ferment Brewing Co. | Hood River Belgian IPA | IPA (Belgian) Belgian IPA is a maligned style but this is one of them that makes it easy to see why brewers enjoyed them in their heyday in the mid aughts. It’s an IPA first and foremost but the Belgian yeast develops some interesting vinous, earthy, bubble gum and fruity notes that add real complexity.
Funhouse Brews | Portland Mt. Hood Snowcone | Sour (Kettle with Marionberry) Perhaps it’s just the power of suggestion, but this beer does seem to taste like a Snowcone in ways beyond the marionberry fruiting. Am I imagining it or is there a little vanilla/marshmellow flavor in there that somehow reminds me of syrup over shaved ice? Maybe it’s just the Belgian Abbey yeast but either way if you like fruited beers you will dig it.
Golden Valley Brewery | McMinnville Cuidad de la Rosas | Lager (Mexican) Mexican-style lager meets Italian-style Pils? Golden Valley is one of the most underrated breweries in the state and their regular Pilsner is great so it makes sense that this Mexican Lager is also solid. It comes with the signature flaked corn which adds some perceived sweetness and body but is hopped with the new school german variety Motueka which is much more tropical.
Lucky Labrador Brewpub | Portland Griffen’s Guava Passionfruit Gose | Gose (Guava & Passionfruit) The Lab nailed it with what you expect in this one, tons of guava and passionfruit both on the nose and in the flavor. Tropical fruit? check. Sour? Check. Salt? check.
Worthy Brewing | Bend Hawaii 5-0% Lager | Pilsner (Strata Dry Hopped) I like Strata hops, YOU like Strata hops, who doesn’t like Strata hops??
Old Town Brewing | Portland Mango Unchained | IPA (Mango) Unfortunately, we found a diactyl issue here. Mango Unchained tasted of unchained butterscotch. A major bummer from a brewery that’s been producing some rad stuff lately.
Old Market Pub and Brewery | Portland British Bombardier IPA | Imperial IPA (West Coast) Maybe if you are craving one of those old green bottles of English ale gathering dust on a dry shelf and you will enjoy this. But for us it just tasted overly malty with a crunchy fermentation that lead to oxidation or oxidized hops, or both.
Ninkasi Brewing | Eugene Whiteaker Series No. 10 Pineapple and Peppercorn Saison | Saison (Pineapple & Szechuan Peppercorns) This offering fell flat for anyone expecting to pick up on pineapple. The peppercorn stole the show and made this a very spiced saison that was not enjoyable or approachable.
Despite the description in the handbook and on the table touting it was not bitter… this ESB was bitter and extra dry. The mouthfeel was on the watery side and lacked the characteristics of an English Special Bitter – a style that should not be bitter by today’s standards.
RiverBend Brewing | Bend Capri Fun | Imperial IPA (Milkshake with Kiwi & Strawberry) This may come as a surprise to some hazy bros, but IPA should not taste like children’s toothpaste.
McMenamins | Portland Rosé City Brut IPA | IPA (Brut Hibiscus)This was more brutal than brut. Floral and bitter without the dryness or effervescence you’d like from a brut IPA. Seemingly a mashup of last year’s hype-styles (Rosés and Bruts), this fell flat for us.
Weekend Beer Co. | Grants Pass Kumquat and Get It! | IPA (Kumquat) I’m sorry Weekend Beer, I want to enjoy you and I really like Kumquats, El Dorado, Amarillo and Mandarina Bavaria hops but I think your beer is both oxidized and with a hint of D.
MadCow Brewing Co. | Gresham Riverview Cream Ale | Cream Ale Unfortunately we got quite a nose and palate full of buttery sweetness.H
Terminal Gravity Brewing | Enterprise Hi My Name Is | IPA (Milkshake) At first, we were thankful this wasn’t actually a milkshake IPA. If lactose was used, it wasn’t detectable in the mouthfeel or in any residual sweetness. This was a very bitter old school NW Double IPA. Not in a pleasant way, but in a way that would be reminiscent of the IBU Wars of 2010. Would call this difficult to drink.
Oregon Brewers Festival
July 24 through July 27, 2019 at Tom McCall Waterfront Park
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.