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The Beers of OBF

While seeing friends in Portland is probably the best reason I love OBF, the beers there rank a close second. Seventy-two beers (73 including the Collaborator that the Oregon Brew Crew does) are poured at the festival and each brewery is allowed only one beer. Here are some interesting facts about the festival from the press kit I received:

Another unique feature of the OBF is that there is no judging. But that doesn’t mean some beers don’t stand out more than others. For example, at least among brewers and the people I talked to, there was no doubt about the buzz beer of the festival.

Buzz Beer: Ned Flanders (Rock Bottom — Portland)

Portland’s Rock Bottom brewer, Van Havig, wanted to create something very different went he set out over a year ago to make this year’s buzz beer of the festival. Ned Flanders Ale is, like its namesake, quite sour and has been aged in five different kinds of wooden barrels including oak wine barrels, a barrel with marionberries, one with Brettanomyces, one with lactobacillic and a Jack Daniels barrel. After aging for one year, the various barrels were then blended back together to create one amazingly complex Belgian-inspired sour ale. I don’t think it was very popular with the general attendees, but for those of us in the minority that love sour beers it was a rare treat, with some of the most extreme, complex flavors I’ve tasted in a beer outside Belgium. At least one prominent blog I read called it the worst beer of the festival and thought the sour flavors meant the beer was defective. They must not have read the program notes or been very familiar with this type of beer, but I wish they wouldn’t have been so quick to judge something they clearly didn’t understand. Sour beers, especially the ones that embrace Brettanomyces and lactobacillic elements, are undoubtedly an acquired taste. The word play should have offered a clue, since it’s a Flanders Red Ale and the Flanders area of Belgium is where this type of beer originated. Some prominent examples of the style include Rodenbach Red, Duchesse De Bourgogne and New Belgium’s La Folie. The number of attendees to the festival with blogs who simply dismissed this beer without doing any follow up or research into it is quite surprising. But it was an excellent beer and I suspect with further aging will even continue to improve. I ran into Van at the BridgePort brunch Saturday morning, and he told me that it’s not even on draft at his brewpub because he hasn’t figured out how to deal with cleaning the draft lines of Brettanomyces. So the festival was really the only way you could taste this fantastic beer.

Other Stand-Out Beers:

Every year I tend to ignore the California and other beers that I’ve already tried and concentrate on the unique beers made just for the festival and the other ones that I haven’t had an opportunity to taste. So my list of favorites is necessarily skewed and doesn’t include beers I’ve tried and liked before. My notes were a bit scattered and hard to read, but here goes.

Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury Ale

Larry Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury Ale is a dark Belgian strong ale at 8% abv. Deep mahogany in color with a rich yeasty nose with hints of raisins and herbs. With complex flavors of fruit and spices, and chewy chocolate notes, this is delightfully rich beer. It changes with every sip and there’s a lot going on in this beer. The finish is clean and a little sweet.

Big Time Powderfinger Rye

I have a thing for rye beers. I’ve always liked the character that a little rye adds to beer. To me, it’s what it does to the mouthfeel that I like. In Big Time’s case, an English-style pale ale was given just a hint of spiciness that was not from the hops. It was quite refreshing and although the floral hopping was evident, it was very much in balance.

Flying Fish 10th Anniversary Farmhouse Summer Ale

Saisons are another style that I gravitate toward because the tend to all be so different. No two Saisons are alike, because it’s the individual spice and yeast ingredients that can be used are all over the map. There were two of this style at the festival, the other being the delightful Jack Russell Farmhouse Ale. The Flying Fish example was also very refreshing with restrained spicing with hints of herbs and fruity esters. It wasn’t the best I’d ever had, but it wasn’t bad, either.

Full Sail Vesuvius

John Harris has created another excellet beer with Vesuvius. This one, at 8.5% abv, is a strong Belgian-style golden ale. It boasts a signature yeasty Belgian nose with fruity notes and a bright golden color. Big strong flavors erupt in your mouth — sorry — with rich, complex notes. The finish is tarty dry and lingers pleasantly.

Laurelwood Organic Green Mammoth

Mammoth is certainly the right name for this big Imperial IPA, which weighs in at 8.5% abv. The IBUs are listed at an impressive 100, but once you get above a certain amount it’s very hard to predict the actual number so in reality it’s anybody’s guess. It is a huge hop monster though mostly in balance. I presume this is one of Chad’s beers, since Christian has been gone now for a couple of months. If so, I’d say he’s off to a good start. If it is organic, it certainly doesn’t have that telltale something that is often evident in many organic beers which make it easy to identify that they are in fact organic. And that’s a good thing, too.

Standing Stone Double IPA

A great Imperial IPA, and quite well-balanced. The finish is extremely long and very bitter, though pleasantly so — at least if you love hops.

Walking Man Knuckle Dragger

This strong pale ale — at 6.5% abv — is a nice variation on pale ales. A pale ale on steroids? The Barry Bonds of pale ales? So far I’ve liked everything I’ve had from this small brewery, even the beer they were pouring on Hole 1 at the Brew Am was delightful. Big exagerated flavors but always in balance made this a fun beer to experience. This would be excellent with the right food rather than as a quaffing beer on a hot day.

Widmer Hooligan Pale Ale

This beer I mention primarily because it’s a gluten-free beer, and I’ve been researching these beers for an upcoming story I’m doing. My interest in these beers comes originally from my son, Porter, who is autistic. In reading about Autism Spectrum Disorder, I’ve discovered that a common symptom among the constellation of autistic indicators is stomach problems and often times a gluten-free diet helps immensely. Like much about autism, scientists and doctors aren’t exactly sure why this happens but I’m glad so far Porter doesn’t show signs of having this problem. But there are also millions of Celiac sufferers worldwide, and the number is growing. People with celiac, likewise, must also abstain from gluten, a part of most grains like barley and wheat. When Widmer Brothers discovered an employee had celiac, they set about to make a gluten-free beer, a Hooligan is the result. It’s probably the best-tasting gluten-free beer I’ve had, but to be fair I’ve only sampled two or three others. The flavor is very sweet, undoubtedly from he sorghum and tapioca that was substituted for barley. They also used the new Summit hop and the grapefruit tang from that hop is definitely present. You can tell this beer has been made with slightly different ingredients but all in all if it was this or nothing, I think I could make do.

Other Beers Worth Mentioning:

This is a list of a few of the beers that I didn’t focus on because I’ve had them before, but which I thought were excellent.


21st Amendment’s Watermelon Wheat was again the most popular beer of the festival. Despite having sent more kegs than any other brewery, the beer ran out at Noon on Sunday. But not everyone liked it, apparently. On the flight home to Oakland, Shaun O’Sullivan was in a seat in the row behind me. When we landed we were talking about the festival and he was telling me about the beer running out at Noon, when another passenger in my row (who had apparently been to the festival) asked Shaun which beer was his. When he told her it was the Watermelon Wheat, she replied matter of factly. “Oh, I didn’t like that one. I liked an IPA from some Stone brewery.” (I think she meant Standing Stone’s Double IPA.) It was all I could do not to laugh. The lack of tact was truly amazing. It was the equivalent of telling a mother to her face that her kid was ugly and she didn’t even seem to realize how insensitive and rude she was. Shaun took it all in stride, but it bugged me. C’est la vie.

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