By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Oregon Brewers Festival. It’s not just a festival, but THE festival of the Pacific Northwest and the largest of its kind in the country. So large does the OBF loom that when you mention “Portland” and “beer festival,” most assume you’re talking about OBF. It’s become the measuring stick for all other beer events, and in 2017 OBF will set the bar even higher by working to end intoxicated driving by launching a Safe Ride Home program.
This July 26-30th marks the 30th anniversary of OBF, held at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It’s the largest beer fest in the U.S. by attendees, claiming 80,000 or so visitors annually and in 2016 it contributed an estimated $29.3 million to the local economy. Other impressive stats it boasts: 44.2 percent of last year’s attendees were women and 20.2 percent of out-of-town visitors stayed in rental lodging.
Art Larrance, now of Cascade Brewing, founded OBF in 1988 after being inspired by Oktoberfest in Munich and the first Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland. At the time, Larrance and Fred Bowman had founded Portland Brewing — the city’s fourth brewery — and were asked to provide beer for a new event. The two Hillsboro High alums launched the Papa Aldo’s Pizza Blues Festival during the last weekend of July at Waterfront Park. The inaugural celebration was a hit, with kegs kicking as quickly as they could tap them. Surprisingly, then, the event sponsors sold the Blues Festival to the Cascade Blues Association and the date was moved to the Fourth of July weekend. That left an opportunity to purchase the park rental space during the last weekend of July, which Larrance did for $500. He reached out to Widmer Brothers Brewing, BridgePort Brewing Company and McMenamins for help starting a beer festival that no one expected to succeed.
“One of the big questions we got were, ‘How much alcohol do you get out of the hops?’ People did not have a clue what the hops were. Now, people are going ‘I want to try that Citra hop!’ We are all becoming hop experts,” Larrance said.
The first OBF in ‘88 created a template for the token-based, low-cost outdoor beer event that has become perhaps the most popular model. The Great American Beer Festival was founded in 1987 and took place indoors with a session-based entry fee featuring unlimited (but small) pours. Larrance did almost everything differently. OBF, with an outdoor setting, was free to enter and attendees could purchase a plastic mug and $1 drink tickets. The only major change in the last 30 years is a switch from paper tickets to reusable wooden that also double as free advertisement for the fest. That first event featured 22 breweries from six states. With an expected attendance of around 5,000, approximately 15,000 showed up, which had brewers scrambling to keep up with beer sales. These days, the festival takes up twice the length of Waterfront Park that it used to and has stretched from two days to five.
In 1994, Larrance left Portland Brewing. “They said, ‘You’re kind of a starter, but we need more of a finisher. We need more nationally known people … MacTarnahan’s had bought more stock and they didn’t want me around.” Portland Brewing gave Larrance their interest in OBF and he went on to purchase the rest of the shares of ownership from the Widmers and the Ponzis (founders of BridgePort).
A major misconception about OBF is that it does not or should feature more Oregon brewers, but from the beginning that was not the goal. “We wanted to showcase Oregon beer, but not to say we were the best. We want to get out-of-staters ... to stand the local beers up against all the others so that people would say ‘Oh, that Oregon beer is pretty darned good.’ We wanted people to make up their own mind.” A lottery system is used to choose participants, though breweries that have been longtime supporters are grandfathered in. Larrance says narrowing down contributors is the most difficult aspect of the event.
In 2013 the festival attempted a switch to real glassware instead of the much-maligned plastic mugs. Unfortunately, the Boston Marathon bombing put an end to that two years later with law enforcement insisting upon no glass in the park. “The police said glass can be a weapon and I know it can ever since I was chased around a strawberry patch by a girl with a broken beer bottle because I hit her with a strawberry 60-some years ago” says Larrance.
Another aspect that sets OBF apart from other beer events is Larrance’s insistence on keeping it family friendly. He fought the Oregon Liquor Control Commission when a contingent tried to prohibit children. Larrance strongly believes in keeping the family unit together and said “We really had to work hard to show them [OLCC] we were aware of the minors and we really want them there with their parents.” As a compromise, event organizers created a permission slip for parents to sign in order to bring their kids.
In 2012, OBF introduced the International Tent that featured beers from the Netherlands. “It all started with Mark Strooker,” recalls Larrance. “He started it by contacting Travel Portland and saying ‘I want to try to get the Oregon Brewers Festival to the Netherlands.’ Well, I thought, I haven’t been to the Netherlands since 1976. So I went over there to a festival at De Molen Brewery called the Borefts Beer Festival.” Larrance asked Strooker to invite 10 or so Netherlands brewers to OBF. The festival would pay for travel and the featured beers.
Larrance soon found out that the brewers actually did not know each other that well and the trip to Portland strengthened their bond. Since then, Larrance has traveled back to the Netherlands to explore setting up OBF there but doubts remain about the cost and attendance. Still, Larrance says, “I fell in love with the country, the people, the attitude. It’s kind of like us 20 years ago.”
Since the first International Tent, OBF has brought brewers from other countries. However, import costs have skyrocketed, so the feature will take some time off this year. To beat escalating shipping costs, Larrance wants to fly beer makers here to make a special batch at an Oregon brewery. While that may mark the end of the International Tent, it also relaunches a Specialty Tent (formerly called the Buzz Tent), which will serve smaller kegs not available at the regular pouring stations.
The Safe Ride Home Program is a new update to this year’s festival and was still in the works as of press time. Working with the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Larrance and OBF want to eliminate any post-festival intoxicated driving. “We want to have zero loss from the festival. We want people to get rides home safely.”
The program has a few initiatives, some of which they are still figuring out how to implement. One is a deal with SmartPark Garages. Drivers who come to the festival will be given a receipt that provides a $5 discount for anyone who decides to leave the vehicle overnight and pick it up the next day between 9 a.m. and noon. Another option is an expanded deal with Radio Cab. A little-known OBF benefit is that two taxis are available at the event to transport intoxicated patrons. This year, $20,000 has been raised to fund a fleet of cabs that will be located across the street from the park and discounts will be given to festival goers.
“We are working with Portland Police. We have the same motive to get people home safely. We want them to come back next year.” says Larrance.
Art also hopes the program will go beyond OBF and extend to all the states’ beer fests. “It’s not going to be just for us. We are trying to set up for all beer festivals and working with the guild so they can implement the same thing to work it out this year and figure out how it works best. So you know if you come to Oregon and go to our festivals, there won’t be any issues and you will come back. We will get you home safe.”
Elysian Brewing in Seattle, Wash. throws a Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, which in 2014 featured 92 pumpkin brews, a costume contest and 1,200-pound pumpkins filled with beer. Dick Cantwell, formerly of Elysian, said it’s important to have unique ideas for festivals. Photo courtesy of Elysian Brewing Company
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Staging a Kickass Beer Event” takes planning, planning and more planning, according to the four presenters of the “DIY Beer Fest” at the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference, held in Portland in April.
Dick Cantwell, former head brewer and co-founder of Elysian Brewing Company in Seattle, said it’s important to differentiate the event and make it special. “If you don’t have a unique idea, it’s not worth doing,” he said.
For example, Elysian certainly brings plenty of unique elements to its two-day Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, which features pumpkin beers front and center, a costume contest and giant 1,200-pound pumpkins filled with beer.
“We try to retain the Christmas-morning effect,” he said. “Last year we had 92 pumpkin beers and 18 were ours. We have beers people have never tasted before or heard of before.”
Cantwell helps guest brewers with beer ideas for the event with only one restriction — they have to contain pumpkin. The brewer from Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine, named last year’s contribution Drunken Promise in reference to his promise to Cantwell to make a pumpkin brew.
Barnaby Struve, co-founder of 3 Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster, Ind., said to, “plan ahead to manage the crowds. Our Dark Lord Day is the only time to buy Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout.” He recommended coding tickets with different groups, such as A, B and C, to control times and lines for pickup “if you have a special beer release at your festival.”
Other considerations: “Know what is legal in your municipality. Check for permit requirements and get the necessary ones. Go to events as a consumer and take notes. From the customers’ perspective, they are experiencing what you’re all about,” said Struve. “Make sure that your customers leave happy. It’s important to have this goodwill experience.”
Just the opposite happened last year at the Cigar City Brewing Hunahpu’s Day Festival in Tampa Bay, Fla., said director of marketing Geiger Powell. Named for a Mayan myth, the festival is a release party of Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. In 2014, they tried something different. “We wanted to streamline the event and shrink the population. The $50 ticket included all the beer from the festival and the opportunity to buy beer bottles,” said Powell.
Originally, the attendees name was required to be on the ticket. “We changed our mind because so many people complained,” said Powell. “We should NOT have changed our mind.”
They had many fraudulent tickets and ran out of bottles. People were unhappy. “Riots broke out and yes, you can watch it all on YouTube,” he said.
The next day, Cigar City offered full refunds, free beer in the tasting room and paid out $200,000. “Ultimately it was positive with lots of press, and the next month we had our best sales ever,” said Powell.
This year was a different story. The tickets cost $200 and included food and four bottles of stout, plus access to more than 200 beers from 60 different breweries. “We insisted the name on the ticket match the ID of the attendee. We treated our brewers in town right. That’s essential because brewers will tell everyone,” he said.
Beau’s All Natural Brewing in Vankleek Hill, eastern Ontario, Canada holds an authentic Oktoberfest for two days in early October that swells the population of the small town. CEO and co-founder Steve Beauchesne said, “We have 8,000 people and 2,000 cows in town. Last year we had 20,000 attendees.”
They also had a big problem last year with their shuttle service. Since Beau’s is 50 minutes east of Ottawa, they offer a shuttle option as an add-on to the base ticket price.
“Last year it poured rain all day, creating a real mud fest,” said Beauchesne. “At the end of the day, everyone wanted to get on the bus at the same time and go home. But we had people waiting in line for more than an hour. We had mistakenly decided to go with less buses because we could loop them.”
He said they have a full-time person now in charge of Oktoberfest. “When we did our first one, we pulled it off in six weeks. Last year was our worst because it was the latest in the year that we started planning for it.”
Cantwell said planning for the Great Pumpkin Festival begins the minute the current one is done. “We have to pick a date and people want to plan,” he said.
He also recommends a thorough, detailed checklist, before and after. “We always underestimate the peak,” he said. To keep lines short, they split the beer into 25 serving stations, each with three or four beers. They also have a roving special beer.
Struve said they begin planning in December for the Dark Lord Day in April.
The group had different opinions on volunteer help. Powell said Cigar City has all their staff work the festival as well as volunteers from homebrew clubs. But Struve said that 3 Floyds does not use volunteers, only paid staff because of liability issues, regulations and required licenses. And Cantwell said Elysian does use volunteers, but they have to be licensed pourers. However, all agreed on the importance of paying participating breweries for their beer.
The takeaway? Diversify with food, music and other breweries, so it’s good for the whole industry.
By Peter Korchnak
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Since summer 2013, Mikki Trowbridge has led free yoga classes in Salem-area craft breweries. When Trowbridge, a certified yoga instructor who has been teaching yoga in Salem for more than five years, visited Rogue Farms in Independence, she thought the place needed a yoga class. The meeting hall's managers agreed, as did more than a hundred people who came to the first class. “I guess people love the combination,” Trowbridge said.
So much so that in early 2014 she expanded the program, called Yoga and Beer, to Vagabond Brewing. According to co-owner Dean Howes, each monthly class fills up (the space accommodates 40) and often they have to turn people away. “It's a fun program,” Howes said.
The example provided by Rogue and Vagabond inspired Laura Beans, events manager at Gilgamesh Brewing, to extend an invitation to Trowbridge. The brewery's south Salem location features a large backyard with a creek, providing an ideal ambiance for a biweekly yoga practice. Though the program at Gilgamesh is currently on hiatus, Beans said, “We’re happy to have Mikki come back next summer to lead this fantastic program.”
Both Howes and Beans know Trowbridge as director of special events for Boys & Girls Club of Salem, Marion and Polk Counties, where she spearheaded the annual Cinco de Micro Brewfest. Al Tandy, a local business owner, believes Yoga and Beer, where he has been a regular for over a year, is positive not only for attendees but also for Salem overall. “It's wonderful she donates time to improving our city,” Tandy said.
In addition, Tandy enjoys the camaraderie that develops within a large group at a brewery yoga practice compared to a studio class. “It's more low key,” he said, “and it's fun to hang out and socialize afterward.”
The social aspect of Yoga and Beer isn't lost on Trowbridge. Not only is “drinking the international way of making friends,” the high-energy classes, which spring naturally from her boisterous personality, are full of laughter. “I have groups of women coming for ladies night out, for example. Plus you can't be super serious doing downward-facing dogs while burly guys pour micros in the next room.”
For Trowbridge, a self-professed imbiber who became a full-time yoga teacher last November, Yoga and Beer combines two things she loves. It also expresses what's best about the local culture. Often she has heard people remark that pairing a yoga practice with drinking craft brews in a barn “feels so Oregon.”
An added benefit: the program promotes both the hosting brewery and yoga. “The stereotype that only skinny people in tight clothes do yoga makes a yoga studio intimidating for newbies,” she said. “A class at a brewery opened yoga to people who would never come to a studio.”
Each 75-minute class is open to all levels and allows attendees to “detox and retox,” a practice that is becoming increasingly popular across the country. But, Trowbridge said, “There’s no judgment if someone wants to do beer and yoga and beer, instead of just yoga and beer.”
Yoga + Beer Schedule
Vagabond Brewing: Second Wednesday of each month
Rogue Farms Hopyard: Last Wednesday of each month
Gilgamesh Brewing: Returns June 17, 2015
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