2018 Festival of Dark Arts

It’s that time again! Fort George’s annual Carnival of Stout was this past weekend.  My wife and I both took off Friday so we could go up the day before.  We decided to go up through Cannon Beach to swing by a couple new places there.

First stop was Public Coast Brewing.  Opened in 2016 and inspired by the 1967 Beach Bill that made the entire Oregon Coastline open and public land free for all.  The open brewpub has a very casual laid back feel.  Perfect for the beach.  Great beer too.

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Next stop was Mo’s Seafood, because of course.  If we’re at the coast we’re going to eat seafood.  My wife got the bouillabaisse, which is essentially a seafood soup, and I got the fried combo with cod, shrimp and clam strips.  It was delicious as always, and you can’t beat the location, which is literally on the beach with a great view of Haystack Rock.

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Even in the rain and fog, there’s just something about eating fresh seafood within 50 yard of the pounding surf.  Can’t beat it.

Last stop in Cannon Beach was the new Pelican Brewpub, which also opened in 2016.  Big open space with lots of wood similar to Public Coast and Pelican’s original Pacific City location.  I got the new Beak Bender IPA and we also tried a Oyster Stout, made with actual oysters.  After that we headed up to Astoria and got checked into our hotel and went to grab dinner at the Rogue Pub there, out on Pier 39, which honestly might be one of the most interesting Rogue locations.  We joined some friends for a night cap at Fort George and then called it a night.

The weather forecast for Saturday was nasty.  Several hours of 100% chance of rain, high winds with gusts up to 25mph, including some of the times we would be standing in line waiting to get it.  Thankfully, it ended up not being that bad. We got rained on a little bit, and a couple times had to duck for cover, but for the most part it wasn’t awful.  It was cold and windy but stayed relatively dry.  By the early afternoon, it was actually gorgeous.  The skies cleared up and the rain went away, which made the cold and wind a lot more tolerable.

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View from Fort George’s new upstairs patio, looking across the river to Washington.

The made some changes to the Festival this year, which I believe really helped out.  First, they got rid of the Noon VIP and 2PM General Admission tickets.  They opened the fest at noon for everyone and severely limited the amount of tickets sold.  It was still super crowded, but the idea was the VIP experience for everyone.  This year they also set up stanchions and ropes to guide the lines up to the bars.  This was much, much better than what happened last year which was 5 lines headed straight out from the taps which turned into a mob, and no way to know which line you were even in.  The lines often extended well past the end of the ropes, but it still kept things organized.  The lines were long, but moved quickly.  They also blocked off one of the side streets with a tap trailer out there and some food vendors, which offered more taps and also spaced things out better.  There was more space for the crowds to spread out.  Along with more taps, they also had everything available from the moment the fest started.  In the past they’ve held back certain kegs and would list them as “Tapping at 3PM”, “Tapping at 6PM” etc.  Usually by the time we found where it was on, it would be gone.  So very early on I went for the couple of rare ones I knew I wanted, Founders KBS and The Breury’s So Happens it’s Tuesday.  I also didn’t notice a lot of kegs blowing.  I’m not sure if they had more kegs, or if it was a function of less people.  It was really crowded from Noon to about 1pm as everyone got in and got started and then it started thinning out.  From about 4-6 was actually pretty chill.  I think a lot of people left to go get dinner or something and then plan on coming back later.  We called it pretty early, leaving the fest around 6pm with no plans to return.  We grabbed dinner at Bouy with a group of our homebrew club friends and then headed back to the hotel.

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Random crowd shot in the barrel room.

As in years past, I don’t take time to do detailed tasting notes, but there are always beers that stick out above and beyond the rest.  In my opinion, one of the best beers there was Block 15’s 2018 Super Nebula.  Some other standouts included Walking Man 2013 Bourbon Barrel Jaywalker (which I also had in 2017, it’s still awesome), Fort George ReclusaModern Times Rum and Bourbon Devils Teeth, and Stoup Night Night Imperial Stout.  This years Matrtyoshka Series was also very ambitious.  There was the base stout aged in bourbon barrels, Bourbon with Vanilla, Bourbon with Vanilla and Marionberry, Bourbon and Pinot Nior Barrel aged, and Bourbon/Pinot Barrel with Cocoa Nibs.  Between my wife and I we tried the Vanilla and Vanilla/Marionberry variants.  They were both quite good, I actually preferred the plain vanilla one slightly better than the marionberry one.  We weren’t that interested in the wine barrel variants. I’ve had wine barrel aged beers that are awesome, but I’m not sure about blending wine barrel and bourbon barrel.  We also didn’t stay for the bottle release this year, both for time and money reasons.  It was snowing Sunday morning as we left and the weather got worse as the day went on.  We were home before it got too bad in Portland.  There was only one beer that I tried that I would list as “bad”.  The Lagunitas Imperial Stout Variant with vanilla, chocolate and french oak chips.  This one had a pretty harsh astringent bitterness to it, I’m guessing from the oak chips.  Probably sat on the wood too long.  It wasn’t awful, but compared to the other stuff it certainly stuck out.  There were also a couple very interesting ones that weren’t bad, but not exactly my cup of tea.  Sour stouts from Jester King and Three Magnets that some of our friends liked and some didn’t.  Quite a few stouts aged in wine barrels which were some good, some very heavy on wine character to the point of being off-putting.  Always interesting to try them though.  Several places have made crazy stuff just for this festival.  Lots of creativity on display.

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Well, that pretty much wraps it up for this year.  See you in 2019!

Reach Break Brewing

After we got checked in to Astoria for the Festival of Dark Arts, our AirBnB host told us that a brand new brewery had just opened in town.  Of course we had to check it out.  But first we had to find it.  The place was so new it didn’t show up on google maps and we weren’t 100% sure of the name.  Reach something.  After a while we found it.  They don’t have a website that I could find, but they do have a Facebook page which you can peruse HERE.

Turns out it was on Duane street, quite literally a block from Fort George.  So we decided to swing by there on our way to getting in line.  Obviously, we weren’t the only ones who had that idea.  We ran into some of our Portland friends and hung out with them for a while.  They were very ambitious and ordered a half pour of everything on the menu, so we got to try it all.  Being Dark Arts weekend there was mostly Stouts on the menu, but they also had a Session IPA and an English Style Red Ale if you weren’t into the dark stuff.  The Session IPA was super citrusy with huge hop character without being overly bitter.  The red ale had a nice malty backbone.

For a place that had only been open a couple weeks when we got there, they had a very ambitious tap list with several barrel aged offerings.  Of course, if you’re gonna break out a chocolate and vanilla stout aged in Whiskey barrels (Brownie Stout), Dark Arts weekend is the time to do it.

I was really impressed with what they had to offer and I would highly recommend you stop by the next time you’re on the coast.  This is now the 5th brewery in the booming metropolis of Astoria, so you really owe it to yourself to go.  I will be back for sure.

2017 Festival of Dark Arts

I thought I had done a review of this last year, but apparently I didn’t.  This is the second year my wife and I have attended this festival, which is based around only stouts.  Fort George Brewery in Astoria has declared February as Stout Month and hosts this festival every year in the middle of the month.  Last year it was Valentines weekend, this year it was slightly later.  Unfortunately it always seems to fall on Zwicklemania weekend, which means missing that event.

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Last year’s festival happened during a torrential downpour and we got soaked walking from our hotel to the festival.  This year the weather was much nicer, but the downside to that meant it was a lot more crowded.  They rearranged some of the tap locations in an effort to manage the crowds better, but I feel like they went the wrong way and made it worse instead of better.  But besides the crushing crowds and the too loud music (which we just come to expect at an event like this) everything else was top notch as usual.  And of course, we’re all there for the beer!

I don’t take detailed tasting notes at an event like this, but there were quite a few that stuck out as far superior than the rest.  Between my wife and I we tasted 26 of the stouts that were there.  That’s only a third or so of the 63 total available.  Several of the more rare ones run out fast, some we never even saw, and sadly my wife had the dubious honor of blowing two kegs.  She just missed out on the Firestone Walker Parabajava and the Smog City The Nothing.  I was a few people short of The Breury’s So Happens it’s Tuesday, which I knew would go fast.

Quite a lot of the beers at the Festival are barrel aged and double digit alcohol level.  This is one of the few fests where I’m thankful for a 3 ounce pour, because most of these beers it would be hard to drink much more than that.  Thick, rich, boozy, heavily flavored, just a “taste” is perfect.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite, but there were a handful of beers that shone above the rest.  The Lagunitas Willett Whiskey Aged Stout was phenomenal, as was the Ecliptic Bourbon Barrel Aged Oort Imperial Stout.  It’s a coin flip between those two for best of the fest.  Also great was the 2013 Walking Man Bourbon Barrel Jaywalker, the Alesong Rhino Suit, Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Narwhal, the Stoup Rye Barrel Aged Imperial Stout and the Mill City Brew Werks Raspberry Tripwire.

When I’m at a festival like this, I tend to gravitate to beers I’ve never had before and beers that I can’t usually get in this area.  Nothing against Boneyard’s Suge Knight or pFriem’s BA Imperial Stout, but I’ve had them before and I know they are good.  This also means I didn’t try a lot of the Fort George beers, since I’ve had them before or know I can get them pretty much any time.  Coffee Girl, Kentucky Girl, and Tuesday’s Lunch I know I’ve had, and the rest didn’t really look appealing.  Nothing wrong with weird flavors, but I’m not sure about a stout with Candy Cap mushrooms (Subtle Hyperole) or black tea and plums (Kaiju Stout).

The exception to this was Fort George’s new Matryoshka series.  Named after Russian nesting dolls, the base is a Barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout.  A small batch of that was aged with cocoa nibs, and then an even smaller batch of that was aged with cocoa nibs and raspberries.  A stout, within a stout, within a stout.  I had a bottle of the base beer here at the house, and my wife got a taster of the cocoa version while I got a taster of the cocoa/raspberry version and they were both phenomenal.  The day after the festival we went back to Fort George for lunch and also a bottle release of the Matryoshkas.  I picked up a bottle of the cocoa nib and the cocoa nib/raspberry to complete the set.

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Fort George sure knows how to throw a party! We have to leftover tokens to kick start us for next year.  See you in 2018!