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.”
By Kirby Neumann-Rea
For the Oregon Beer Growler
An ancient beer style has found a perfect home in the Pacific Northwest thanks to the cherries that grow in Hood River County. The combination will be celebrated Saturday, July 9 in Parkdale with Kriekfest, the first known beer festival to honor the sour cherry tradition.
The event is a collaboration between Portland-based beer writer Brian Yaeger and Solera Brewery of Parkdale, owned by Jason Kahler and John Hitt. At least 30 diverse and well-aged krieks will be poured in a park setting with a spectacular view of a towering Mount Hood. The lineup is dominated by Oregon producers, but attendees have the chance to taste ales from around the U.S. and as far away as Belgium — including an entire keg by the renowned Cantillon Brewery. The all-ages event also features savory food, pastries and fresh fruit in a farmers market.
A kriek is, by definition, a lambic aged on cherries for one or more years — usually three. Kahler said, “Lambic is a pretty obscure style on its own, and we’re taking it down to another style, kriek.
“They’re expensive, time-consuming beers to make,” Kahler continued. “You’re dealing with fresh, perishable fruit and a lot of these were made with sour or pie cherries that are more acidic and not sweet, and those are getting harder and harder to find.”
Like krieks themselves, the festival is an idea that has been fermenting a while. Yaeger, visiting the upper Hood River Valley several years ago, suggested it to Kahler and Hitt, and broached the subject again in early 2015.
“I said, with your blessing and cooperation, we can make this happen,” Yaeger described. He put the word out on July 9, 2015, to give brewers with krieks aging in barrels plenty of notice. Yaeger added that while he could have planned Kriekfest in Portland and sold more tickets, it was critical to him to hold it in the heart of the Fruit Loop, with its abundant cherry, apple and pear crops.
“It’s really exciting to have all these beers in one location, especially the location that it is — in the middle of this fruit valley where there is a fair amount of cherries being produced,” said Kahler, who will present tastes of up to four of his own blended krieks made from Ballantine cherries grown in the Gorge.
“We are not aware of a festival like this happening anywhere, specifically krieks. Perhaps in Europe,” Kahler said.
Yaeger said kriek gatherings in Belgium feature ales from specific locales, and a Belgian brewery/restaurant in Maine holds an annual brewer’s dinner featuring krieks, but this is the first event he is aware of that’s amassing a large number of krieks, and only krieks, from around the U.S. and Belgium.
“Cantillon is considered among many to be one of the best breweries in the world, and I subscribe to that theory,” Kahler said. “They produce a very small amount of beer. It’s pretty expensive and hard to get your hands on. We have a keg, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a keg. To see any Cantillon beers on draft is kind of a treat, but having a kriek is really special.”
Yaeger said, “One of the very first calls I made was to the distributor (Massachusetts’ Shelton Brothers) and explained that this will not be your average request for this beer, that it would be a special festival. And they said, ‘We’ll make it happen.’ That call was another reason to plan this a year ahead, because it paid off.” He said he has not seen Cantillon in kegs anywhere in the U.S. in the past 10 years — ever since the style rose in popularity here.
Yaeger said he sees the festival not only as a chance for people to experience many kinds of krieks in a pastoral setting, but also as a way to profile what he regards as an emerging “Hood River-style kriek.” The Gorge will be well-represented: in addition to Solera, look for krieks from Double Mountain Brewery, Full Sail Brewing Company, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, pFriem Family Brewers and Thunder Island Brewing Co., all from Hood River County. 54°40′ Brewing Company and Everybody’s Brewing will represent the Washington side of the Gorge.
The sourness spectrum ranges widely, and while Kriekfest isn’t providing specifics on where a beer falls in that spectrum this year, the brewers are open to questions.
“There will be a lot of interesting beers,” Kahler said, all imbued with one shade or another of cherry-delivered crimson.
Indeed, color, along with flavor and aroma, combine to make krieks interesting. And Yaeger announced an exciting addition to the lineup on June 15: Jester King Brewery of Texas has collaborated on a kriek with Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.
Then there is the featured Cantillon: here’s a tip — get there early. We’re talking one keg of the rare stuff, equating to about 170 four-ounce pours.
By Pechluck Laskey
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Joseph Sundberg has been dreaming about establishing a beer festival since 1999. As a long-standing friend of Rick Carpenter, founder of the Portland and Seattle International Beerfests, Joseph was enthused to contribute ideas. But with his roles of father by day and porter captain at the Hotel Monaco by night, he did not have the time or capital to become a part of the festival. His wife Rebecca said with it just wasn’t realistic when their daughter was younger.
Still, the fire inside him continued to burn.
Working in the hospitality industry, he dug into all the aspects of beer. As he continued to endeavor to his standing now as a 30-year Portland hotel veteran, Joseph had to be Google before Google existed. He tracked down all of the brewing culture the city had to offer so that he could expertly guide hotel guests.
Meanwhile, he was a consistent attendee at the Oregon Brewers Festival. He watched as other festivals grew, such as the Portland International Beerfest and the Holiday Ale Festival, and he traveled to other beer events.
"I just see how happy they make people," Joseph describes. "They can bring a lot of beer people to one place."
On Friday, July 3 through Sunday, July 5, his dream of holding his own event finally comes true with the debut of the Portland Craft Beer Festival (PCBF) at The Fields Neighborhood Park. At least 45 breweries are participating and, remarkably, all of them are within Portland city limits.
Joseph expresses some astonishment there was not already a festival featuring Portland-only beers. While there are other beer festivals in Portland, all of them include beers from outside the city. There was no festival yet that exclusively showcased the quantity, quality and variety that Portland alone can offer. There are 58 brewery locations in the city limits. "If you are really adventurous, you can easily visit five breweries in one day, all in walking distance," Joseph says. Most people see less than a handful during a multiple-day visit — something Joseph sees as a missed opportunity.
PCBF offers a chance for festival patrons to taste beer from almost every Portland brewery in one venue. And Joseph really takes the Portland part of the title to heart.
"We are going to celebrate what no other city in the world can do," Joseph explains. He wants people to be able to sample from breweries scattered across the city to compare and contrast beer. The new fest gives residents a chance to discover a new or small brewery they may never have heard of.
The event has been getting a lot of positive response from visitors to Portland. Rebecca, Joseph’s biggest cheerleader who helps in any way possible — including handing the PCBF website — says many ticket buyers have mentioned they are coming to Portland for the first time to attend PCBF. Several visitors are traveling to PCBF from out of state. Joseph is excited that the festival is promoting Portland.
"I didn't want to do just another festival," Joseph explains. He worked with the event’s other founders to brainstorm ideas to differentiate PCBF and showcase the flavors of the city beyond the beer. For example, festival founding partner Rodney Woodley helped select a variety of local food carts that will be present and he’s presenting artisan cheesemakers who make their product in the city. The ciders featured are also crafted in Portland, as is the wine.
Another unique element of this festival is the creation of a Portland Beer Hall of Fame. On Saturday, July 4, the first five members will be inducted. Both Friday and Saturday only offer admittance to those who are 21 and older. But Sunday is family day and attendees can take advantage of yoga classes for both adults and children as well as a children’s craft market. Joseph says he wants to emulate some of the success he sees at family friendly brewpubs like Laurelwood. "We want the parents to have great beer, but also the whole family is able to enjoy being together."
Another founding partner, Christopher Rhodes, has more than a decade of experience with beer festivals. He’ll be keeping the operational side running smoothly even though that might prove challenging as this is the event’s inaugural year. When the gates open, Joseph is looking forward to "knowing we have put our best foot forward, and that people are enjoying themselves and drinking Portland beers."
Joseph has a history of celebrating beer variety in his personal life. While trying to recall when he crossed over from macro beer to craft beer, he can't choose one brewery that led him to the tipping point. McMenamins, Widmer, Full Sail, Portland Brewing, Bridgeport and Deschutes all are mentioned within a few minutes.
Rebecca adds that when they married in 1994, Joseph suggested they travel in order to taste all of the beers of the Northwest. And so, in their Volkswagen bus, they drove through Washington, Oregon and northern California, visiting every craft brewery during their honeymoon. "We still have all the glasses from every brewery," she mentions.
"We should do that again..." Joseph notes.
Joseph has bold hopes for PCBF. Besides holding PCBF annually, he dreams of taking the festival on the road. He knows that Portland has many visitors from Vancouver, B.C., and New York City. He also mentions other potential cities he’d like to expand to, such as Boise, Idaho, Spokane, Wash., San Jose, Calif., and Austin, Texas. Ideally, he would partner with each city to bring beer from Portland to showcase along with beers from breweries in that region.
In other words, PCBF is Joseph's way to express his love for Portland and show Portland to anyone -- be it residents or visitors. He says the goal of PCBF is to create "a great way to celebrate Portland."
PORTLAND, ORE – A recently completed study estimates the economic impact of the 2013 Oregon Brewers Festival (OBF) at $31.2 Million, a 3.5% increase from the 2012 OBF.
Jeff Dense, Professor of Political Science at Eastern Oregon University, and his POLS 316 Politics and Beer class, administered 748 on-site interviews at the event in downtown Portland between July 24 and 27, 2013.
The analysis utilized the IMPLAN (Impact Analysis for Planning) data and software package to estimate the economic impact of the Oregon Brewers Festival on Multnomah County. The 2013 OBF generated an estimated $21.9 million in direct and $9.3 million in indirect (additional input purchases made by local businesses) economic impact.
“The study highlights the significant economic impact of the Oregon Brewers Festival, and craft beer tourism, on the Portland economy,” Dense said.
Respondents were queried on demographic factors, along with estimates of OBF related expenditures in tourism-related categories, including transportation, lodging, meals, gasoline purchases, non-beer related recreation, beer purchased to take home, and expenditures at OBF.
Findings of the study include:
• A majority (52.5%) of OBF patrons were out-of-town visitors.
• Visitors from Washington, California and Canada comprised 27.1% of total OBF patrons.
• 40% of respondents were attending OBF for the first time.
• 36% of attendees were female, a 10% increase from 2012.
• 25% of OBF patrons were 50 years or older.
• The average out-of-town visitor spent $587.
• Lodging ($11.1 Million) accounted for the largest share of OBF expenditures.
• State and local government received $1.5 Million in indirect business taxes.
• Nearly half (45.9%) of OBF patrons utilized mass transit to attend the festival.
This was the third year of the study; 2011 estimated the estimated economic impact of the festival at $23.2 Million, and 2012 came in at $30 Million. A series of methodological adjustments in 2012, along with the full implementation of the IMPLAN software, provided a more robust and accurate estimate of the economic impact.
ABOUT THE OREGON BREWERS FESTIVAL The Oregon Brewers Festival was founded in 1988 as an opportunity to expose the public to microbrews at a time when the craft brewing industry was just getting off the ground. Today, that industry has flourished, especially in Oregon, which has 137 brewing companies, operating 175 brewing facilities in 59 cities. Portland currently has the most breweries of any city in the world, with 51 breweries in the city proper, and 69 counting the greater metropolitan area. The festival annually takes place the last full weekend in July; 2014 dates are July 23-27. For more information about the Oregon Brewers Festival, visit www.oregonbrewfest.com.
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