Saturday, the 12th, I attended Bend’s first barrel-aged beer festival, The Little Woody (announcement, beer list). It was held downtown, in the lawn and parking lot of the Deschutes Historical Museum, which turned out to be a decent location—I was there early and by the time I left (3pm), it was filling up and I’ve heard that it was elbow-to-elbow standing room only later in the evening. (The fest ran until 10pm.)
All seven Central Oregon breweries were well represented, all of them having two beers on hand, at least one of which was barrel-aged. Regular beers cost one token, and wood-aged beers cost two; tokens were $1 each or you could get 10 with the $15 entrance package. ($6 by itself would get you in with a commemorative glass.)
In addition to beer, there were four food vendors there: pizza, Mexican, vegetarian, and Ben and Jerry’s. I had lunch before I went down there, but had I not, I would have actually like to have seen more food choices available.
It was a beautiful day for the fest, I met up with friends and had a good time. I made it a point to taste all of the barrel-aged beers available (at that time); here’s the rundown:
Reaper’s Demise (McMenamins Old St. Francis School): An Oktoberfest-style beer aged 40 days in a McMenamins Hogshead Whiskey barrel. 6.2%. Sweet and mellow with a nice understated, blended whiskey character.
Firewater Red (Three Creeks Brewing): A Northwest Red Ale aged one month in a Hogshead Whiskey barrel. 5.8%. Fairly pronounced whiskey characters in the nose and mouth, much darker than you’d expect for a “Red” ale, though the color might have been influenced by the barrel. It should be allowed to warm up to appreciate it more.
Bourbon Barrel RIPA (10 Barrel Brewing): A blend of 10 Barrel’s IPA and a Red Ale, aged “several months” in an oak bourbon barrel. 7.5%. I found it more hoppy than “woody”. Some bourbon character was coming out as it warmed up.
Skookum Strong Wood (Cascade Lakes Brewing): A version of their Skookum Creek Strong Ale aged for nine months in a Jim Beam barrel (which was there at the fest—it’s in the picture below). 7%. I found this to be a really good beer, malty and mellow and full of smooth vanilla whiskey notes—I was very impressed. I would definitely look for more of this if it was bottled.
Bourbon Bite Porter (Silver Moon Brewing): Their regular Snake Bite Porter aged in a “fresh bourbon oak barrel.” 5.2%. I only had a taste of this from someone else’s glass, and it was disappointing from a wood-aged standpoint—only a little bourbon character, more of a smokiness but otherwise a regular porter.
The other barrel-aged beer Silver Moon had at the fest, The Nekkid Creeper, wasn’t tapped yet—they were planning on tapping it later in the day, so I never had the chance to try any.
Barrel X (Bend Brewing Company): A special release of their already-limited Outback X, aged for a year in a barrel. 9.1%. This is a sour beer—think Deschutes’ The Dissident and similar sour brown ales. I asked if this was intentional, or an accidental by-product of aging on the wood—they assured me it was intentional. It was actually not a bad beer (from my limited experience with sours), but it needs more time to age and mellow—I was getting some paint thinner notes off of it.
Bourbon Barrel Quad and Mirror Mirror (Deschutes Brewing): The Quad is the same beer than I reviewed here and was just as good; the Mirror Mirror (reviewed here) was the star of the fest. It’s aged really well even in the relatively short time since the spring; creamy and rich and smooth, with subtle vanilla and bourbon. There’s a lot of maturity in this beer.
There was live, local music on the lawn; early in the day there was more interest in the beer than the music, I think.
All in all, I think this was a good first effort. There were a few snags that I think could stand to be corrected: no minors were allowed at all, for instance, but there would have been no problem with kids present that I could see (at least, say, until 6 or 7pm). There was also no beer alternative: I know a “beer festival” is expected to only serve beer, but there could have been a winery or two represented—especially since wine ages in wooden barrels, there could have been some sort of tie-in in that regard. The Oregon Brewers Festival has a “Root Beer Garden”, that serves up free root beer to designated drivers—something like that could be a possibility also.
I’m looking forward to seeing where this evolves for next year.