Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

July 28, 2008

Beer Diary:

Northwest By Midwest

The 21st Annual Oregon Brewers Festival gets a strong taste of Midwest craft beer.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
Hey, hey, fellow dorks! If you noticed the smell was a little bit more pleasant in the Midwest this weekend, it’s because Eddie Glick had vacated the premises to attend the Oregon Brewers Festival in Portland, Oregon. I’ve been coming out here now for seven years, mainly because it is still one of the more influential beer fests in the country, but also to visit Northwest resident and fellow hophead Ade Solomon, probably the most spoiled Dork of a bunch of spoiled Dorks (Nigel’s of royal descent, Franz works for a brewery, Jug is a professional home brewer, and Baby-boy is married to Jill).

Ade’s high level of spoiledness stems from the simple fact that he lives in Portland, aka “Beervana.” To wit: last year before I made the sojourn out, Ade sent out requests for beers to have in the fridge during my visit. One of my many requests was Hair of the Dog Blue Dot, a monstrously complex double IPA that is virtually impossible to find outside of the Portland area. When I grabbed it out of the fridge it was a little slippery from some condensation, and I dropped it. Horrific visions of great beer gushing across the basement floor must have triggered some primal super-human reflexes in me, because I managed to snatch the bottle out of the air a fraction of a second before it hit the floor. As I stood there shaking in shock from the narrowly averted disaster, I looked at Ade, who shrugged and said, “No problem. If it’d broken we could’ve walked down the street and gotten another one.”

He is a spoiled, spoiled man. “Down the street” is a typical corner market you’d find in any city, with a small selection of over-priced groceries and a perpetual line of people at the cashier asking for Marlboro hard packs, except this corner market has a walk-in cooler with a mix-and-match selection of over 100 beers. Such is the life in Portland …

But enough about spoiled Ade Solomon. This year was the Oregon Brewers Festival’s 21st year, and the official theme was celebrating the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition. Each year, however, there usually is an “unofficial” theme running through the event, a trend in beer styles, production methods, or brewer attitudes (other than “IPA,” which is the secondary theme virtually every year) that a number of participating brewers bring to the event. Last year it was Belgian styles and organic, and this year, I am happy to report, it was Midwest beer. Of the 73 brewers pouring beers this year, seven of them were from the Midwest:

Bell’s Brewery
Bell’s Porter

Goose Island Beer Co.

Michigan Brewing Co.
Celis White

New Holland Brewing Co.
Dragon’s Milk

Sprecher Brewing Co.
Mai Bock

Surly Brewing Co.
Coffee Bender

Summit Brewing Co.
Extra Pale Ale

You can check out the full attendee list here.

It’s great to see so many Midwestern breweries represented at what I think is one of the more influential fests in the country. Although I do have to wonder about the offerings from the Midwesterners: Celis White, Summit Extra Pale Ale and maybe Sprecher’s Mai Bock were the only offerings that could be considered summer brews, and it was certainly summer in Portland this weekend. A dry 85° isn’t the ideal time to be sipping a Bell's Porter. And if the Pacific Northwest isn’t the place for Surly to show off their uncompromisingly bitter Furious, I don’t know what is. But, hey, I’m just glad that more beer dorks outside the Midwest will be able to taste what we’ve been crowing about for two years now.

And from what I saw, the Midwestern offerings were pretty well received. While in line for Sprecher’s Mai Bock, a couple of attendees asked me if I’d had it before. After my reply of “Many, many times,” they decided to get a taste themselves and seemed glad to have partaken.

There was a pretty good-sized line for New Holland and what is one of their strongest offerings, Dragon’s Milk, all day, and everyone I talked to who had it was impressed with the smoothness of such a big, rich beer.

Michigan Brewing’s booth for Celis White was coincidentally placed right next to the Allagash White pourers, and the Celis was a hands-down winner between the two. Allagash’s entry was flat and pretty hum-drum compared to the authentic Belgian yeast, orange peel, and coriander that verily leapt out of the Celis.

Goose Island’s Matilda had decent lines throughout the day, too. Although I didn’t get a chance to talk to anyone about their thoughts on it, the Belgian-style brews seem to be a hot topic in the Northwest right now, as a lot of beer bars, like relative newcomers Green Dragon Ale House and Concordia Ale House, that normally would have only stocked area craft offerings, have added Belgian imports to their lists.

This strong showing is, without a doubt, a sign of the Midwest craft brewing industry’s growing influence in the national scene. Art Larrance, the head organizer for the fest and owner of Raccoon Lodge and Brew Pub, said in a recent interview with The Oregonian that he wanted the best brewers to attend every year. “We brew great beers here,” he said, “but I’d hate for Oregon to lose its edge, and bringing in the best of the rest of the country is a good way to keep everybody inspired and creative.”

Today is the feast day of St. Arnold, patron saint of beer.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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