In just over a week the Oregon Brewers Festival returns to Portland, taking place at Tom McCall Waterfront Park from Wednesday, July 26 through Sunday, July 30. This year marks a milestone: it’s the 30th annual edition of the OBF! Established in 1988*, it is one of the longest-running and largest outdoor beer festivals in the U.S., and it helped set the template by which many other brewfests operate.
For this 30th brewfest they are bringing back the Specialty Tent and introducing a Safe Ride Home program:
The main festival will feature 91 independent craft breweries, with each brewery serving one beer; this year’s participants come from 13 different states, plus one from The Netherlands. The festival is also bringing back its popular Specialty Tent, featuring more than 90 rare, bold and experimental beers from the participating breweries. These beers are extremely limited in quantity and will pour on a rotating basis; beers will be available by tasters only and each taster will cost double or triple tokens.
The Oregon Brewers Festival’s top priority is the safety of its attendees, so it has partnered with Great Western Malting, Portland Bureau of Transportation, Portland Police Bureau, Radio Cab, SmartPark and Vision Zero to encourage its guests to get a Safe Ride Home. The Safe Ride Home program offers up to $18 in discounts for getting home safely. Attendees who park in a SmartPark garage can leave their car overnight and receive a $5 parking voucher, redeemable from 9am to Noon the day after attendance, making the overnight parking free. Attendees can also take a Radio Cab home and get a $13 discount off their fare. Check the website and look for the Safe Ride Home booths at the Festival for full details on the program.
One of the best features of the OBF is that it’s not a ticketed event, and admission is always free; all you need to do is buy your mug and tasting tokens (the mugs are $7 this year, and tokens are $1 each which get you a taste for one token and a full pour for five tokens). So that means yes, if you simply want to arrive and people-watch, you can do that.
The full beer list is online too, as is the specialty beer list. The main beer list looks great as always, a nice mix of mainstream offerings and beers brewed specially for the fest. What’s interesting to me is that this year they are using Untappd to push venue notifications about the specialty beers when they go on tap. You’ll need to follow their Official Venue and choose to receive the notifications to do so. I’d be curious to see how well this works, because I believe you still need to have somebody updating the venue tap list in Untappd, similar to past years where they would post new beers via Twitter… which wasn’t always timely or up to date.
If you’ve never been, this will be a great year to go. The weather should be terrific and it’s still one of the best-value beer festivals around. This one is hard to beat.
*Technically, the first Oregon Brewers Festival took place in 1988, which is 29 years ago this year; however, counting that very first OBF that first year, we get to 30.
The history of the OBF is rich. In the early days of the craft beer movement in Portland, brewers wanted an event to promote their beers. The initial beachhead came in 1987, when Papa Aldos Pizza held a Blues Festival at Waterfront Park in late July. Thinking that it would need beer, it approached Portland Brewing about getting involved. Portland Brewing cofounder Art Larrance agreed to provide beer. He anticipated a small crowd and planned accordingly. To his surprise, the taps ran continuously once turned on. Larrance wound up making countless trips between the festival and the brewery to refill spent kegs. In the end, seventy-six kegs were consumed.
As 1988 dawned, Papa Aldos decided a blues festival wan’t quite the right demographic fit for them. But they had a two-year permit to do an event in Waterfront Park. They turned the permit over to the Blues Association, which wanted to do its festival around the Fourth of July. That left an open, permitted date in late July. Portland Brewing bought the permit from the Blues Association for $500. Larrance then got Widmer and Bridgeport involved. The McMenamins were busy with their own projects and didn’t want to help organize, but they did provide beer.
The first official OBF happened in 1988. There were twenty-two breweries involved, each serving one beer. Logistical issues were rampant. The expected crowd of five thousand tripled to fifteen thousand.
There were only twenty-two beers poured at the inaugural OBF in 1988. Organizers weren’t quite sure what to expect. John Harris (working for Deschutes Brewery at the time) arrived from Bend with an additional pony keg and was curtly asked, “What are you doing bringing extra beer?” Needless to say, every ounce of available beer was consumed and then some. The OBF was a big hit and has grown exponentially over the years.
These days the OBF regularly pulls in 80,000 visitors annually and has over four to five times the amount of beer pouring over five days. Cheers to 30 years!