Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Portland Spring Beer and Wine Fest

Written by Jeff Barber

Portland Spring Beer and Wine Fest

While visiting Portland last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the Spring beer and Wine Fest at the Portland Convention Center. This event, as it says in the title, is more than just a beer fest. With 44 breweries, 22 wineries and numerous seminars and cheese stands, there was something for everyone.

Kudos also go to the organizers as even though the line to get in looked daunting, it moved quickly and we were soon tasting beer. Costs were reasonable as I paid $5 for a tasting mug and $15 for 15 tasting tokens. This turned out to be more than enough as we were only there two hours and the tastes were poured generously.

Anyway, on to the beer. Having scoped out the map and list of beers being poured, my brother Mike, a beer enthusiast but first time brew fest attendee, started out with a couple of fruit beers.

First off, was the Lost Coast (Eureka, CA) Tangerine Wheat. This beer had a noticeable orange aroma, as well as a good citrusy wheat beer taste and a definite orange (but not too sweet) finish. This beer was enjoyable and would be great on a hot summer day.

Our second beer was New Belgium Mighty Arrow. A pale ale with honey malt and Amarillo and Cascade hops, this beer was kind of ho hum. Not bad but it didn’t stand out in either flavor or aroma.

Our third beer was supposed to be Lang Creek Brewing (Marion, MT) Mandarin Hefeweizen but they had all ready run out of this beer. Since they were pouring their Huckleberry and Honey Ale we decided to try it. This was a great tasting beer as the honey helped round out the flavor of the huckleberries. A little on the sweet side with a noticeable berry aroma, this beer finished dry and is only 3.2% ABV so several could be enjoyed in one sitting.

Next we moved on to Widmer’s Nelson O’Rye’lly. Since I am a fan of rye beers, I had high expectations for this one and we weren’t disappointed. This beer was billed as an IPA with rye. There was noticeable grapefruit from the hops but the spicy dry finish of a rye beer. Very good.

Next up was Calapooia rIPArian IPA-Albany, Or. I found this to be closer to a pale ale than an IPA. Again, another beer that was good but not great.

We moved on from there to the Ft. George-Astoria, OR., Quick Wit. The wit beer is one of my favorite styles and I found this to be a good example of the style with noticeable coriander in both the aroma and flavor. A little more bitter orange would have made this a truly memorable beer but it was quite refreshing.

Next was the Laurelwood Saison. After really enjoying the Laurelwood Workhorse IPA the night before, I looked forward to trying this beer. Saisons can be great beers with lots of tartness, earthiness and noble hops. Unfortunately, I found this beer to unexciting with little of the character I’ve had with other saisons.

Following the saison however, we had probably the most unique beer of the day. Duchese de Bourgogne is a Flemish Red Ale. My brother didn’t care for this beer which can be an acquired taste, but I found it to be quite good. Noticeable vinegar and sour apple followed by some sweetness, this was truly a complex beer with an excellent full mouthfeel.

Coming down the homestretch of our visit, we decided to search out a beer from a brewery I had always heard of but never tried anything from. Big Black Homo from Walking Man Brewing in Stevens, WA., turned out to be my best of show. A black Imperial IPA this beer was truly outstanding and one that made me think of the great hop hunter, Big Mike from PBN. At 100 IBUs, this beer had plenty of hoppy bitterness to it but was also combined with chocolaty malt. Unique but outstanding.

From Walking Man, we moved on to Bridgeport, one of Portland’s original breweries, for their Fallen Friar. This beer is a Belgian triple but combines pilsner and Pacific NW malt with Belgian yeast for a great version of the triple. Aged in bourbon and red wine barrels, and 8.2% ABV, this beer would be great on a chilly Portland night.

Our final beer was Astoria Brewing’s Bitter Bitch. This beer is an Imperial IPA and at 99 IBU, the hops didn’t disappoint. There was very little sweetness that can sometimes be found in lesser Imp IPAs but lots of citrusy flavor from the hops (mostly orange and grapefruit). Some pine notes were also noticeable.

My top beers of the day in order were Walking Man’s Big Black Homo, Bridgeport’s Fallen Friar, and Widmer’s Nelson O’Rye’lly. My brother Mike’s favorites were the Fallen Friar, the Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat and the Lang Creek Huckleberry and Honey.

All in all, this was a great event. It was well organized and in a venue large enough for the number of people attending. After last year’s heat and crowds at the California Brew fest, it was truly a welcome change. It was an event worthy of Portland's beer reputation!