First off, the Oregon Garden itself is a pretty amazing place. It opened in 2001 and consists of some 80 developed acres, with 40 more acres planned, and among its features are an artificial wetland (part of a deal with the city of Silverton to help cool and process their treated water), an old-growth oak grove (including a 400-year-old oak tree), market garden for growing food (all of which is donated to local food banks), a rose garden, tropical greenhouse (closed during the Brewfest unfortunately), children’s garden, “Northwest” garden (featuring every plant native to the Pacific Northwest), the Gordon House (the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in the state of Oregon), and much more. If you get the chance to visit the Oregon Garden just for its own sake, I highly recommend you do that, it’s pretty spectacular what they’ve accomplished in just a dozen years.
The Brewfest itself took place in the Frank J. Schmidt Pavilion, the Garden’s event center, with an additional tent to hold the 45 breweries as well as the food vendors, music stages, tables, wineries, and more. A big space that can hold a decent amount of people and as the day progressed there was a decent amount of people showing up, yet it never felt overly crowded.
The Fest started just after noon (about 15 minutes late actually as they worked out some last-minute kinks) and the first two hours featured the “connoisseur’s tasting” with brewers on-hand to talk about the beers that were being poured. Since my rule of thumb with beer festivals is to get there the earlier the better, this was of course the best time to attend: light crowds, easy access to any of the beers, and I got to introduce myself and chat with a number of brewers which, you know, is beer geekery at its best.
My wife and I split our time at the Brewfest that day, from about 12 until 3:30 or so, and then back later from about 5:30 to 7:30. It was a good gauge of the crowd and overall Fest scene: by the early evening it was significantly busier and 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.
And of course, it’s a Brewfest, so it is all about the beer. I took brief notes on nearly everything I tried—I did a good job of hitting many if not most on my personal must-try list—so here are those notes:
- Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy: Yeah this might kick my beer geek cred around (just wait til you see some of my later notes though!) but it was a good starter beer and since I was half-jokingly talking about a Shandy Shootout I went for it. Notes: “Crisp and lemony but not overdoing it, nice hot-weather beer.”
- Block 15 Wandelpad: Finally tasting some of these Corvallis beers! Plus I got to meet and chat briefly with brewer Nick Arzner. Notes: “Bracing but earthy bitterness, crisp and drinakble, nice chance of pace from American IPA-style hopping.”
- Logsdon Kili Wit: Spoiler alert: I nominated this for my People’s Choice beer as the best at the festival. It was fantastic. Notes: “Subtle and mellow and really, really well done. Spices are restrained and a bit earthy.”
- McMenamins Bellini Cream Ale: This one was brewed up at the Edgefield and yes, is brewed with peaches and ginger. I had a chance to meet with both McMenamins brewers (Christina Canto and Jennifer Kent) and geek out a bit about the beers. Notes: “Mellow nose of earthy stone fruit. Peachy character with a bit of wheat overtones, tasty and not overdone.”
- Pale Horse Hillbilly Blond: Salem’s “independent brewery” (the other two being part of the Ram and McMenamins chains, respectively) that I haven’t had a chance to try yet. Notes: “It’s a blond, with touches of diacetyl in the nose. Mild, maybe some diacetyl in the taste too, fairly standard.” [I’d like to visit the brewery sometime and try the beer fresh on tap.]
- Rusty Truck Fender Bender Amber Ale: Lincoln City’s newest brewery and one I haven’t had the chance to try yet. Notes: “Nice straightforward amber ale with nice chocolate malt presence and caramel at the back. Nothing ‘wow’ but solid.”
- Gilgamesh DJ Jazzy Hef: A beer I picked both for the name (I kind of wish they’d named the other beer with it “Fresh Prince” or something) and because I’ve only had one or two beers from Gilgamesh previously. Notes: “Crisp, light summer beer, cloudy, with a touch of tart and fruity character, reminding me of homebrewed apricot ale.” [Not a bad thing for me.]
- Gilgamesh Vader: The other beer Gilgamesh brought, a Cascadian Dark Ale brewed with coffee—in fact, they take local fresh-roasted coffee, grind it, and place the grounds into a hop bag which they use to “dry hop” the beer. (I would have guessed cold-brewed coffee added to the beer, which is more common.) Notes: “Coffee. Smells like fresh coffee and tastes a lot like it too; maybe ‘C’ in CDA in this case is coffee? Nice though, a different, fresh take on the style.”
- McMenamins Black Jack Imperial Stout: This one was brewed at the Thompson Public House in Salem, and includes coffee, vanilla, and black peppercorns; brewer Jen Kent said her inspiration was, if you were aboard a pirate ship, what ingredients might you have on hand for a beer? Notes: “Really nice, not overpowering and really balanced. Not much peppercorn but I get coffee. Thinnish and sweet.”
- Gigantic IPA: Gigantic is the new darling of the (Portland) beer scene, and in fact their Imperial Black Saison (which was at the Brewer’s Tasting Dinner) won the People’s Choice for the best beer at the Fest. Their IPA is their newest beer—it was in fact so new it was carbonated the day before—and I know the Portland guys will excoriate me for this but it wasn’t my favorite of the fest (for me that honor went to Kili Wit), and I thought it was actually still a bit rough around the edges. Notes: “Big and bold and full of resins, stems, and pungent. Sticky and big Northwest IPA, as expected, nice if a little raw/rough around the edges.”
- [Brief interlude to note that I also drank Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat and 10 Barrel Apocalypse IPA because my wife wanted to get stamps on the tasting Bingo card, and Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin—the Solace didn’t make it, this was the substitute—because it’s a fine beer. But I didn’t take notes on these.]
- Flat Tail Jarabe Caliente!: Chili pepper porter. Notes: “Light-bodied porter sweetish and roasty at first then picks up with chili heat at the back, and it persists throughout with mild burn.”
- Wandering Aengus Hops Cider: Cider dry-hopped with Cascade hops. My notes say, “Interesting.” Floral and with a mild Cascade citrus character, a touch of lupulin on the tongue with the apple.
- Block 15 Nebula: Finally made my way back around to Block 15 later in the day. Notes: “Nice stout, creamy but thin [from the ‘naked oats’?] like a dry stout.”
- Rusty Truck Roadwrecker IPA: Another late return to try a new beer. Notes: “Malty, so the hops don’t come through as much. Something earthy about it, more of an English style IPA.”
- Finally I had one ticket left to use before we left the Fest for the day, so I got the Maibock from the Ram Brewery—but I didn’t write down any notes. From what I remember, it was malty and enjoyable and I wasn’t disappointed.
Here are some of the Brewfest photos I took (I have a lot more of the Oregon Garden itself that I may post as well just because it was so cool—but not really beer-related.)
And finally, the disclosure I posted yesterday: I was offered not only a media pass to the first day of the Brewfest (Friday), but also a pass to the Tasting Dinner and a free night at the Oregon Garden Resort. The media pass consisted of two commemorative glasses and ten tasting tickets. (We paid for a second Dinner for my wife, and paid for a second night at the Resort to stay until Saturday, as well as extra tasting tickets.)