Portland Spring Beer and Wine Fest – April 4-5, 2015

*This past weekend my wife and I volunteered to pour samples at the Spring Beer and Wine Festival.  We had a blast, and this event review is a copy of a newsletter article I wrote for the Oregon Brew Crew newsletter.

“Beer and Wine” in the title of the Spring Beer and Wine Festival is a bit of an understatement.  Because, joining the thirty-three breweries and fourteen wineries in attendance were seven cider makers, nine local distilleries and a handful of local artisan cheese and chocolate makers in a huge celebration of Portland and the Northwest. Also joining the party were dozens of merchants selling everything from kilts to timeshares; wrought iron beer bottle holders to massage chairs and everything else imaginable.  The festival is a Portland institution now in its 21st year. The website touts it as the nation’s largest, sampling related springtime event.

For those of us who have caught the brewing bug, the Oregon Brew Crew were on hand showing off some nice homebrewing gear and answering questions.  They were also showcasing a couple of beers from the Collaborator series, which are homebrew recipes that are chosen in a competition and brewed on an industrial scale by Widmer Brothers.  Proceeds from the sales of Collaborator beers fund scholarships in the brewing program at Oregon State University.

Whether or not it was intentional on the part of the organizers is unclear, but this festival seems to be geared towards the smaller local breweries.  Noticeably absent were the major local players like Widmer, Full Sail and Deschutes. One of the major national figures was present and pouring some of its smaller craft-style offerings.  Blue Moon, Leinenkugals and Crispin Cider (All distributed by MillerCoors) were pouring samples as well.  Rather, this festival was filled with small breweries with funky, fun names like Rusty Truck, Calapooia, Awesome Brewing and Sasquatch.  The festival has a “trade show” type feel, in part from being hosted at the Convention Center and each brewery has an individual booth, but also there weren’t the huge lines of a lot of other festivals, as there is ample seating and people mostly mill about and enjoy the atmosphere.

One of the breweries in attendance was so new, they haven’t actually opened yet.  Coin Toss Brewing out of Oregon City is set to open their tap room in June or July and this festival was their first time serving beer to the public. Brewer/Owner Tim Hohl was on site most of the time anxiously watching people’s reactions to his beers.

Throw in some perfect Spring weather and you have a great weekend to be a beer drinker in Portland.  Cheers!

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Oregon City Brewing Company – Oregon City, OR

The first place I wanted to write about was the most recent place we had discovered.  The wife and I literally stumbled upon it as we were headed somewhere else in Oregon City.  Tucked away on Washington Street a couple blocks back off of 99E is the Oregon City Brewing Company. One of, if not the first brewery in Oregon City since 1895 and Henry Weinhard.

In an unassuming cinderblock building that looks like it used to be an oil change place sits OCB.  It’s not a huge place, seating maybe 45-50 on a busy night, but they have a massive selection.  44 rotating taps including four of their own, and then a plethora of other local options of beer, cider and even wine.  The current tap list includes three beers from Washington State, two from New York State, one from Vermont (a cider), and then all the rest are from Oregon with local favorites like Deschutes, Lompoc, Coalition, Rogue, Crux, Gilgamesh and on and on.

The current 4 house beers according to the online taplist are Elevator IPA, Scottish Ale, Hank’s Marionberry Blonde, and the Chocolate Pale Ale (CPA).  When we visited it was an Irish Red instead of the Scottish but the other three were the same.  They are all solid beers, but the Chocolate Pale Ale blew us both away.  I can’t remember how much chocolate they told us they add to it, but it has a distinctive chocolate flavor and aroma and it darkens the beer but not as dark as a Stout or Porter would be.

OCB does not serve food, but they do host food carts a couple nights a week, and that’s where things get interesting.  OCB has locked horns with the city council on Oregon City’s ban on mobile food vendors.  This article from the Oregonian explains what’s going on and includes a link to an online petition to get the zoning changed.  As part of the fight OCB lost their brewery/brewpub license and had it replaced with a brewery license, which meant that they could no longer allow minors anywhere on the property.  This flies in the face of the owners desire for a “living room for the community”.  Normally when companies oppose local government and try to change laws and zonings it’s for jealous and greedy reasons but to me this feels like “fighting the good fight”.  Supporting a community atmosphere and supporting other small local businesses in these food carts is a lot of what is a backbone to the Portland area and things we and others feel are important, so hopefully they get the changes they are looking for.

What can you do to help? Sign the petition if you like, or just head down to OCB and have a pint.  It’s really that easy.