Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Portland, part 1: Oregon Brewers Festival

Well, darnit, like I always do, I've wasted too much time after a great event to blog about it. Jeez, it's been almost two months. Now I've probably forgotten a lot of the great stuff. Ah well, I'll drink this bottle of Pranqster and try to reassemble my memories of a really wonderful vacation.

Man, there is so much to like about Portland. If I've ever been tempted to leave Austin, this might be the city that does it. From the political angle, they are doing so much that I want Austin to embrace – encouraging smart, mixed-use development downtown instead of building more highways out to sprawling suburbs, building a first-rate mass transit system, and making the city as friendly as possible toward bicycling. Climate-wise, it was such a refreshing break from Texas – the hottest it ever got was 84. And get this: There are
no bugs. Seriously. Bill and Carla would leave their windows open all day and night, with no screens. If you tried to do that in Austin, you'd be completely drained of blood by sunrise. (For more on the nondrinking aspect of our trip, consult M'Lady's blog.)

And then, of course, there was the beer. My god, was there beer. Was it my imagination, or was there really a brewpub on every single block?

The trip started off not at a brewpub, but at the 20th Annual Oregon Brewers Festival. You're not going to believe this, but as much as I love the brew, this was my very first beer festival. Man, walking in for the first time was overwhelming –
there was just so much from which to choose. I was paralyzed with indecision. I only had about two hours, enough tokens for about 20 samples, and 72 possibilities. Eventually, however, I settled into a groove.

Very quickly, I started trending in an IPA-ish direction. I discovered during the trip that Portlanders love their IPAs. Maybe it's because the hops are so fresh up there, but it seemed like every place I went had one. So the standards were pretty high, and not just any old IPA would do. Case in point was Hopworks Urban's (Portland) Organic IPA, which was merely average. And Ram Restaurant and Brewery (Salem, Ore.) had a double IPA — normally a sure winner with me — that let me down. Some fruit notes, but not a lot going on flavor-wise.

Much better was the double IPA from Standing Stone (Ashland, Ore., and not to be confused with California's Stone Brewery). This wonderful hop overload quickly convinced me that I wanted a full mug instead of a mere three-ounce sample (samples cost one token, full mugs cost four). I figured that was as good as it was going to get, but I was wrong. My friends kept telling that I absolutely had to try Russian River's (Santa Rosa, Calif.) Pliny the Elder, also a double IPA, so I finally grabbed some near the end. It was even better than Standing Stone. It tasted both sweet and bitter simultaneously (um, perhaps "bittersweet" is the word I'm looking for here, duh) and had an absolutely magnificent nose. Another full mug was called for, and things got a bit foggy at that point.

There were more than IPAs, of course. Bison Brewing (Berkeley, Calif.) offered up a tasty Organic Chocolate Stout. I'm normally a tad leery of chocolate stouts, because too often the chocolate is overdone, but I seem to recall this having a nice balance, with tasty coffee notes as well. Grand Teton's (Victor, Idaho) Bitch Creek ESB was a rich, full-bodied brew. Sprecher (Glendale, Wisc.) surprised me with a mai bock, or "blonde bock," a style I'm unfamiliar with. It didn't look particularly blonde, and it was not what I expect from a bock — definitely lighter, not with the typical malt punch. Tasty, though.

And of course my taste for Belgians was humored: Flying Fish (Cherry Hill, N.J.) entered a Bourbon Barrel Abbey Dubbel; I vaguely remember it now, but my notes say "weird, but good." Terminal Gravity (Enterprise, Ore.) had a trippel that disappointingly had no flavor (maybe that's why the program described it as "a taste that's hard to define.") Max's Fanno Creek Brew Pub (Tigard, Ore.) had a nice Saison Golden, a style I've really warmed up to. That didn't compare, though, to those wicked good brewers at Stone Brewing (Escondido, Calif.), makers of several things I love including a great IPA and the wonderfully named Arrogant Bastard. This time, their entry was a saison named Stone 07/07/07 Vertical Epic. My notes say "OMFG." I seem to remember rushing back to our camp and
demanding that everyone try some. It's the best saison I've ever had.

You know what? This post has rambled on for too long, and my experience as a professional writer is that people quit reading after a certain point. So we'll call this "Part 1" — stay tuned for future installments soon.

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