Oregon Garden Brewfest weekend wrap up and review


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Last weekend’s trip to Silverton for the Oregon Garden Brewfest was fantastic: perfect weather, amazing location, bigger-than-ever festival, great Thursday night Brewer’s Dinner. This has become one of my must-attend events (something I’d already decided pretty much after last year’s Fest, but this trip cemented that for me) for all of those above reasons, plus it’s so low-key; as I wrote last year:

…people were having a good time, without the crazy loud crowd scene that was the Oregon Brewfest last year on a Friday afternoon—less people, sure, but definitely a mellower vibe which I prefer rather than the “college frat house” feel.

So, the full disclosure: I got the media pass which included a ticket to the Brewer’s Dinner, a free night at the Oregon Garden Resort (we paid for a second night), and two Friday Brewfest packages (two pint glasses plus five tickets each). So, my wife and I went up to Silverton on Thursday and came back Saturday.

We arrived in Silverton around noon on Thursday and headed straight over to Seven Brides Brewing for lunch. When we visited last year, it was later in the day so we hadn’t eaten and instead opted for the mega-lineup of sample pours. This year we had more time for food and instead of the samples I opted for several small tasters before selecting a pint of Ruef’s Wild Rice Ale to accompany my Reuben sandwich.

Nice, decent beer which cut through the heaviness of the Reuben nicely; it definitely had a grainy character that was a little rustic combined with spicy hops.

After lunch an unscheduled side-trip to nearby Woodburn for their factory outlet stores yielded another surprise: Mount Angel, and how near to Silverton the town actually is—a mere 4 miles north! Of course you might be familiar with their annual Oktoberfest celebration, which is Oregon’s oldest (started in 1966). The town itself looks like Oktoberfest: Bavarian-themed architecture and names (“Bierhaus” for a tavern, the Glockenspiel Pub, and so on) are everywhere you look. We didn’t stop, but now knowing where (and how easy) it is to get to makes me want to head up there for this year’s Oktoberfest in mid-September.

After checking in to the Oregon Garden Resort, we walked the Garden itself for awhile: this place is amazing, and is really worth visiting on its own. I think Ezra has it right: “If part of the enjoyment of the OBF or the NAOBF is being in beautiful parks with a view and great weather than the Oregon Gardens Brewfest has them all trumped.” The weather was perfect—warm but not too hot, clear, just ideal.

That night was the Brewer’s Tasting Dinner, which I wrote about here; it was a great night of food, beer, and friends old and new. Whereas with last year’s Dinner there were a couple of (well-intentioned) misfires, this one was really good all around and paired with some unusual beer offerings (which is the way to do a beer dinner, I think).

Afterwards many of us retired to the Resort’s Fireside Lounge to enjoy a nightcap (or several), which led to good conversation and goofy antics (like a rumored throwdown between New School Ezra and Brewdad Mike Besser which sort-of never entirely materialized). All around it was a great night.

The next day was the start of the actual Brewfest, with a “meet the brewer” portion from noon to 2pm (though this wasn’t exclusive—just the time when most of the brewers or brewery reps would most likely be on-hand). This year the layout was a bit different: check-in was up next to the Garden admissions center, rather than below by the Pavilion: I suspect it made more sense logistically as well as giving extra room in the outdoor tent for the extra 20 or so breweries. We checked in at noon (we were at the front of the line with Ty and Katie from GoodLife Brewing), got our commemorative pint glasses and tickets, and proceeded to hit the fest.

You might recall I had my list of must-try beers; throughout the course of the day I made a good dent in that list, plus tried a bunch of extras (or others that were there instead of the originally-listed beer): 25 samples! Although it turns out the samples were in 2-ounce pours, not 4-ounce as I initially thought, so the overall tally by the end of the day was only about 50 ounces of beer: a bit over 3 good pints.

We also staggered our time at the Fest throughout the day: from noon to about 3:30 or so, whereupon we took a break and rested up a bit; then again from 5 to 6:30 I think, from which we left to get dinner in downtown Silverton. Last year we did the same and found a Thai restaurant we liked; this year we’d noticed a wine bar and decided to pop in and check it out, and it was a great choice: we sat on their deck overlooking the creek that runs through the center of town, and had a really nice meal along with a glass of wine. Of course when we saw this on the menu we had to start with it:

Fondue!! How can you not have a good time when you start with fondue? My basil-baked salmon was really good too.

We finished the night at the Brewfest that one last time, pushing my number of samples to 25 as I mentioned. I’m not going to run the full list of beers I tried—maybe I’ll post a picture of my list with scribbled-on notes—but here were some highlights:

  • McMenamins: I mentioned before how I had to try the (Salem) Thompson House beer because brewer Jen Kent knocked it out of the park last year—and this year was the same. I was lucky to get to spend some time with Jen the night before talking beer and other things and learned that her beer this year, Hoodie Love Lager, was the first lager she’s ever brewed! I actually ended up getting 2 pours of this, it was nutty and malty but clean like a lager should be, with a nice hop profile built from Citra and Cascade hops (though not particularly citrusy, from the lagering I suspect).
  • Also notable was McMenamins Cornelius Pass Roadhouse offering: Death Star Barleywine, an 11.09% abv monster. It was good.
  • Flat Tail Brewing: Instead of the Maple Nut Porter which was listed, they brought instead a beer named “Little Green” that was, aptly enough, 4.20% abv… and it smelled like it too, probably more than any other beer I’ve yet come across. It was also incredibly fresh and tasty and drinkable, and ultimately garnered by vote for the People’s Choice award. Of course being a Flat Tail beer it was interesting: a Saison-IPA hybrid dry-hopped with 3 pounds of Mosaic hops per barrel. Really, really good.
  • The actual People’s Choice winner also happened to be my second choice: Santiam Brewing‘s Pirate Stout, their “Export Tropical Stout” that’s aged in rum barrels and clocks in at 7.9% abv. It’s very pina colada-like for a stout and really, really tasty—lots of coconut which regular readers will know I love in a stout or porter. Santiam is Salem’s new brewery and they are definitely one to watch.
  • Twisted Snout Brewery from Toledo (Oregon) was present (one of the many new Oregon breweries I haven’t tried yet) and their IPA was solid.
  • Cascade Brewing: Their Oblique Coffee Black & White Stout was, well, weird—that’s the best I can describe it. I know the “coffee IPA” trend is ramping up but I don’t know about the “white stout” trend… if I closed my eyes I couldn’t really say this had a “stout” character, just more of a bean/wheat/coffee character with a medium body. Notable for the gimmick character maybe, but, well, weird.

Overall the Brewfest was fantastic, and even though I tried a lot of beers I was just fine that night and woke up hangover-free (also thanks to lots of water consumed during the day where I could). Saturday morning dawned sunny and clear, and we opted for breakfast in Silverton rather than the resort for our final morning, and made our way to The Gathering Spot, which was a great choice.

Locally roasted coffee, steak scramble, and homemade English muffins: delicious and the perfect post-beer-weekend breakfast (which would make for a great hangover meal as well, if you’re in that position). I’d highly recommend The Gathering Spot for breakfast and/or lunch if you find yourself in Silverton.

It was a great weekend, and once again I cannot recommend the Oregon Garden Brewfest highly enough. Especially if the bigger festivals are too much for you: even Friday night when it was busy and lively with music and beer drinkers, it was still low-key and not too crowded, with a happy crowd but non of the college frat party atmosphere you might find elsewhere. The beer was great too, and the location is simply unbeatable. If you get the chance to attend next year you owe it to yourself to do so.

Here’s the gallery of pictures I took for the weekend:

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