By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
You’ve likely passed by Preston Weesner dozens of times and never realized it if you’ve attended a beer festival in this state. It’s because you won’t find him standing still very long. If someone is having a problem with a keg in one area of the event, he’ll be there to check on it. If there’s an issue with beer delivery on the opposite side of the venue, he’s rushing to put out that fire as well. And if Weesner is lucky, he’ll have a moment to pause for a bite of festival food before the next emergency.
The former construction worker clearly has a knack for building things, whether they’re underground tunnels for TriMet’s light rail or beer communities that seemingly appear overnight. Weesner is currently the general manager for the Holiday Ale Festival, which takes place in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, and runs the production company Peerless Management. But his involvement with beer celebrations doesn’t end there. He has roles at the Spring Beer and Wine Fest, the Oregon Garden Brewfest, the Bite of Oregon and still finds time to lend a helping hand to any organizer who asks. This list is actually pared down from a time where he was working on 12 or 13 events. But grueling schedules are still a part of his life. Come Holiday Ale Festival time, he’ll clock in 20 hour days for nine days straight. Weesner is so drained by the end of the project that he always swears to his wife he won’t do it another year. Luckily, the months that follow are enough time to help him forget the pain, the lack of sleep and the breaking point. He keeps coming back because the memory of the rewards last longer.
Below is my interview with Weesner, which was edited for length:
Q: When was your first beer festival and what was the experience like?
PW: I think it was, gosh, had to be 17 or 18 years ago. It was the Holiday Ale Fest. Backing up a little bit, it was the end of the summer I’d gone to a friend’s house for a barbecue and I was big into NorWester’s Raspberry Weizen. Think what you will, but it tasted better than the Bud I was drinking at that time. At the barbecue my friend gave me one and afterwards asked if I enjoyed it. And I said ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘I made that.’ And I was like, ‘No you didn’t.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I did!’ I’m like, ‘You can make beer?’ It seems innocent enough, but at the time that wasn’t something that was really talked about. I was more perplexed — like, you can make beer? I just figured it came out of the silver faucet on the wall or the bottle, right? He told me he’d gotten the kit at F.H. Steinbart, so my wife actually went and purchased a kit for me and I read the book in a day. I think I was homebrewing the next weekend.
That winter I was at Steinbart’s buying ingredients and someone at the counter said, ‘Well are you going to go to the Holiday Ale Fest?’ ‘Well what is that?’ ‘Well, it’s a beer festival.’ Again, I was perplexed there was a festival for beer. Went to the festival; was enamored. I walked up and asked instantly, ‘Hey, do you need any volunteers the next day?’ And they did. So I volunteered the next two days. It was an amazing experience to see that many people coming down in a tent in the middle of winter and rain, drinking beer and having a good time.
Fast-forward a couple of months, I heard about the Spring Beer Fest, volunteered there. Oregon Brewers Fest, volunteered there. I started asking friends in other cities, like ‘Hey, what beer fests do you have?’ And they’re like, ‘What’s a beer fest?’ It was something very unique to Portland.
Q: Can you take the average reader of OBG through planning something like Holiday Ale Fest?
PW: In regards to Holiday Ale Fest, I’m literally planning next year’s event a year in advance and specifically at the event. Each year I’m writing down notes, I’m making connections, I’m talking about how to make it better this year. Sometimes my staff gets on me. They’re like, ‘We’re in this year right now and you’re already talking about next year?!’ But if we don’t think about and remember it now, then we won’t be able to make preparations.
I always would say I could probably throw a great barbecue with a week’s notice. I could probably throw a pretty darn good party with a month’s notice. But if you’re looking to throw an event — a wedding planner would be a good idea. A wedding planner starts working six months before the wedding for about 200 or 300 friends. You start involving the public and the numbers start climbing into the thousands, you really have to have a team of people. If you’re not working on it a year in advance, or at least nine months in advance, you’re maybe not running the most efficient or effective show.
Q: Can you think of something you learned last year that you’re going to change this time around?
PW: I don’t particularly have something for next year, but I’ll give you an example from two years ago. We’d always use beer trailers from the distributors and we’d park them as far against one wall as we could. Well, the problem with the trailers is they actually displaced more room than they held beer. For years I thought, you know this is the middle of winter. Average temperature is 45-50 degrees. Why are we killing ourselves with these trailers? Guys are hitting their heads. We’re getting back injuries from lifting kegs. I mean, it was a nightmare! We used to have to bring in a special crew in the morning just to change the kegs because the event staff was beaten and flogged from changing kegs during the event.
I’d talked to several draft technicians in town and I was like, ‘Why can’t we set [the kegs] outside? We’ll wall it off and blow some cold air on it from a unit we took off a semi-truck.’ And he looked at me as though I were speaking in a foreign language. And he said, ‘That would never work.’ I’m like, ‘What history do we have to prove it?’ ‘Well, we’ve never done it before.’ So I just vowed the next year, I’m going to try this. All the draft guys, all the distributors stood there with tools in hand, ready and willing to cut things apart … and it worked. We were able to then go from 30-40 breweries to 55 breweries because we could hold more beer on site.
Q: How have you seen festivals in Oregon evolve since your involvement with them began?
PW: Certainly the attendance has gone up. That means there’s not just an increased passion for beer; there’s also an increased knowledge of beer. People are wanting to try new beers. There’s the potential to have beers or breweries you’ve never heard of at the event. It’s not just about going and getting a beer for the weekend; it’s really changed into more of a beer geek kind of thing where you’re looking to go there and you’re hoping to find something you’ve never heard of. They’re looking for Easter eggs. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt for good beer.
Q: People would probably say you have a dream job. But there have to be struggles. What’s a failure from the past and how did you overcome it?
PW: Well there’s failures every year, whether it’s failures to meet a deadline and how to recover from that, there’s failures in implementation — you know, if the beers don’t go on from the tap list we’ve promoted, how do you rectify that and get it back on track? Those are all little hiccups. But here’s a great failure: I think it was five years in to when I started stewarding the festival I was looking around at other great beer events — the St. Patrick’s Day events. It’s like, wow, if you want to go stand in line for two hours to maybe get into Kells and then have five frat guys dump your drink on you — we should just have a little craft beer festival. People can come by and maybe get a beer, hand out, relax — go down to Kells and then come here. It was called the Shamrock Ale Fest.
We had no intentions of it being something big and special. We just wanted to give an opportunity for those who didn’t want to wait in line to actually get a beer. So we worked with 10 breweries who each did two beers. It didn’t do well financially. When I had to explain to the board of directors how it had actually not just lost some money but a lot of money, I was personally on the hook for that because it was my idea to do it. I never thought that because Holiday Ale was successful that I could do an event anywhere at any time. I guess the reality was just because one thing works doesn’t mean that everything’ll work.
Q: You’ve mentioned a lot of things that you like when it comes to your work. Would you have anything you’d cite as your favorite?
PW: Well I’m a builder. I like to build things. I’ve always been a fan of the underdog. Being told it can’t be done just empowers me more. Being told, ‘Well, it’s never been done before,’ just lets me know that somebody else didn’t succeed. I’m going to try.
I like to see the festivals come together — the chaos of all the parts that are mingling around and coming together suddenly gel and the team pulls and suddenly the boat surges ahead toward the finish line. It’s always nice to see the culmination of something, especially when it’s a long, arduous project to make it happen. But to see it truly recognized and appreciated — there’s no money involved there. That’s just a personal thing. To see people enjoying it. That’s a huge reward.
Q: So if you had to advise a newbie and give them the nuts and bolts, what makes a successful event?
PW: More planning. More planning. Just when you think you’ve got enough, do more planning. Lay out a schedule — a timeline — and work the timeline backwards from the opening and allow extra time. For things that should take 30 minutes, allow an hour. You want good PR. If you’re 90 days out trying to plan an event, it’s probably going to be a rough event. There’s probably going to be a lot of hiccups. There’s probably going to be a lot of heartache and crying and pain, but you’ll learn something from that.
There’s untold things that can go wrong and you need to have backup plans for everything. What happens when your mugs don’t arrive? What happens when your tickets don’t arrive? What happens if your wristbands are the wrong color? Because if it can go wrong, eventually it will.
Q: Festivals are fun. You get to drink beer. But what larger role do you think these events play in terms of facilitating a sense of social connectedness of community identity?
PW: They’re a community that didn’t exist and they only exist for the festival. And the anticipation for the community to spring back up is there all year long. As an example, at Holiday Ale we would always say it’s the worst time of year. Everybody’s running out of money. The holidays are coming. You’ve got to buy gifts not only for people you care about, but for people you’re only going to see once a year. You’re racing around; workload is heavy. You’re trying to get your workload done so you can go to the Christmas party, go to your mom and dad’s house. Everybody’s working extra hours trying to squeeze in all this stuff. It’s like, wait. Hold on. Take a second for yourself. Come down to the festival. Arrange to meet a friend there — even if you’re doing it in between shopping trips, just take two seconds, have a beer, catch up with some friends and then go back to your credit-laden plans to ruin yourselves for the holidays. The community aspect is just that. The festivals are a microcosm of community and people are coming together to support the event but also just to see each other, to talk.
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Love to drink beer but short on funds? For a few hours of your time you can gain free entry to most festivals, a T-shirt, the requisite drinking vessel and some tasting tokens. All you have to do is sign up to volunteer. Options usually include pouring beer (OLCC license required at some fests; be sure to check online to verify), handling token sales and recycling duty. For those with more experience, you can become a supervisor, thereby earning even more tokens. Taking the last shift of the day or of the festival often gets you free food and pitchers of beer or a gift certificate to a local business. Most volunteer tasks are for adults age 21 and over. Many festivals donate some or all of the net proceeds to local charities, so be sure to toast yourself for your efforts!
The Oregon Beer Growler also uses volunteers to help run our booth at festivals. Interested beer lovers should follow our Facebook page for sign-up announcements or email email@example.com.
Event: Spring Beer & Wine Fest
Dates: April 3-4
Location: Oregon Convention Center, Portland
Description: Sampling, seminars and chefs teach the masses about pairing beverages with everything from cheese to chocolate. Brewers from all over the West Coast flock to the Spring Beer & Wine Fest, pouring rare beers and perennial favorites.
Volunteer Info: http://www.springbeerfest.com/volunteers.htm
Event: The Rogue Valley Fermentation Celebration
Dates: April 24-25
Location: Harry & David Field, Medford
Description: This inaugural celebration will gather some of the best beers and whiskeys from across the Northwest, in addition to regional wines and ciders. Local foods to compliment craft beverages will be available at the event.
Volunteer Info: http://roguebrewfest.com/volunteer/
Event: Cinco de Micro
Dates: May 1-2
Location: Salem Convention Center, Salem
Description: The fourth-annual Cinco de Micro Brewfest features favorite local and Northwest brews, eateries and distilleries, musical entertainment and the unique opportunity to taste hard-to-find, spring-release brews. Proceeds benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Salem.
Volunteer Contact: Stephanie Compton firstname.lastname@example.org 503-581-7383, ext. 20
Event: Cheers to Belgian Beers
Dates: May 8-9
Location: Metalcraft Fabrication, Portland
Description: Cheers to Belgian Beers is back for its ninth year in 2015. The Belgian-style Ale Festival will feature a single yeast strain for the beers entered, determined by a dart throw to diversify the color and strength of the beers.
Volunteer Info: http://ocb.events-connect.com/
Event: Brewer’s Memorial Ale Festival
Dates: May 15-16
Location: Rogue Ales Brewer’s on the Bay, Newport
Description: This annual event was created in memory of Rogue brewmaster John Maier's faithful companion Brewer, who passed away on May 20, 2006. Brewer grew up in the brewery and eventually rose to the rank of CEO of Rogue Ales. The dog-friendly festival is held inside the brewery and includes more than 50 microbrews, live music and many dog-themed events.
Volunteer Contact: Al Jorgenson email@example.com 503-241-3800
Event: Eugene Beer Week
Dates: June 1-7
Location: Eugene Beer Week takes place at more than 20 venues including breweries, bars, restaurants and other beer-centric businesses.
Description: Have fun and help promote craft beer in Eugene and craft beer culture in the Willamette Valley with the annual Eugene Beer week. With more than 60 events last year, the festival plans to expand even more for the 2015 celebration!
Volunteer Contact: Mike Coplin firstname.lastname@example.org
Event: Sasquatch Brew Fest
Date: June 6
Location: Hop Valley Brewing, Eugene
Description: The annual Sasquatch Brew Fest will be hosted outdoors in the “Fermentation District” of the Whiteaker neighborhood. This celebration features food vendors, a silent auction, raffles, a beer dinner and a homebrew contest. Winner of the “Best of Show” award will be announced live during the festival.
Event: Molalla Brew Fest
Dates: June 11-13
Location: 123 Ross St., Molalla
Description: Celebrating the craft beer industry in and around the Pacific Northwest, the Molalla Brew Fest features more than 25 taps, plus wine, hard cider, draft root beer, food concessions and great local bands.
Volunteer Contact: Kristy Wheeler 503-970-8859
Event: Portland Fruit Beer Festival
Dates: June 12-14
Location: Burnside Brewing Company, Portland
Description: A weekend-long, street fair-style outdoor festival at Burnside Brewing, the Fruit Beer Festival features more than 40 refreshing, well-crafted fruit beers, most of which have been brewed specifically for this event.
Volunteer Info: http://www.fruitbeerfest.com/
Event: The Oregon Garden Brewfest
Dates: June 19–21
Location: The Oregon Garden, Silverton
Description: Enjoy 65 breweries pouring 130 beers, ciders and meads from producers throughout Oregon and across the country, plus 12 great regional bands on two stages and food from local vendors. The brewfest is held indoors, but guests are welcome to explore the 80-acre botanical garden.
Volunteer Contact: Beth Mauer email@example.com 503-874-2533
Event: Eastern Oregon Beer Festival
Dates: June 19-20
Location: Union County Fairgrounds, La Grande
Description: La Grande Main Street Downtown organization is pleased to announce the second-annual Eastern Oregon Beer Festival will be a two-day event with special beers never before poured in the Pacific Northwest, regional food and craft vendors and music and entertainment.
Volunteer Info: http://www.eobeerfest.org/volunteer/
Event: Portland International Beerfest
Dates: June 26-28
Location: Holladay Park, Portland
Description: Drawing more than 150 brews from at least 15 countries to a beer garden setting, the Portland International Beerfest puts Beervana on the map, letting locals punch their passport with worldly offerings like barrel-aged strong ales, barley wines, sours, imperial stouts, farmhouse ales and double IPAs.
Volunteer Info: http://www.portland-beerfest.com/volunteerinfo.php
Event: Portland Craft Beer Festival
Dates: July 3-5
Location: The Fields Neighborhood Park, Portland
Description: This new festival’s goal is to host an annual premier craft beer event that enables all breweries within the city limits of Portland to showcase their beers on a common stage. Aside from beer, there will be selections of Portland-crafted ciders and wines, as well as locally based food vendors.
Volunteer Info: http://www.portlandcraftbeerfestival.com/volunteers
Event: Oregon Brewers Festival
Dates: July 22-26
Location: Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Portland
Description: Celebrating its 28th year, the Oregon Brewers Festival brings more than 80 craft brews to Portland for a five-day brewfest, the largest gathering of its kind in North America. One of the country’s longest-running and best-loved craft beer festivals, the event features scores of award-winning beers, live music, food vendors, beer memorabilia and homebrewing demonstrations.
Volunteer Info: http://www.oregonbrewfest.com/index2.php?p=volunteer
Event: Bite & Brew of Salem
Dates: July 23-26
Location: Riverfront Park, Salem
Description: The Bite & Brew of Salem is a three-day festival featuring more than 15 bands on two outdoor stages, several local eateries, more than 60 beers on tap, Willamette Valley wines and endless entertainment for kids of all ages.
Volunteer Contact: Krista Unruh firstname.lastname@example.org 503-307-6256
Event: Bones and Brews
Dates: Aug. 1-2
Location: Rogue Ales Public House, Portland
Description: Bones and Brews is an annual event held by Rogue as the annual meeting of Rogue Nation Citizens. More than 30 different beers, ciders and sodas from Rogue and other breweries are featured. Local barbecue restaurants and catering companies set up shop to cook new and classic barbecue dishes and participate in a friendly competition. Rogue Nation Citizens also form barbecue teams and compete for People's Choice Awards.
Volunteer Contact: Al Jorgenson email@example.com 503-241-3800
Event: Oakridge Keg & Cask Festival
Date: Aug. 8
Location: Uptown District, Oakridge
Description: This small festival in front of the Brewers Union in Oakridge gives a taste of the many small breweries and wineries in Oregon. Now in its fifth year, they are expanding to include additional food and craft vendors as well as a slate of musicians.
Volunteer Contact: George Custer firstname.lastname@example.org 541-225-8484
Event: Bend Brewfest
Dates: Aug. 13-16
Location: Les Schwab Amphitheater, Bend
Description: Four full days of hop, yeast and malted barley bliss on the banks of the Deschutes River. Featuring more than 170 different options of beer, cider and wine and a fine selection of food from local vendors.
Volunteer Info: http://bendbrewfest.com/volunteer.html
Event: North American Organic Brewers Festival
Dates: Aug. 13-16
Location: Overlook Park, Portland
Description: Designed to raise awareness about organic beer and sustainable living, the NAOBF serves up nearly 60 organic beers & ciders from around the nation. From summery saisons to rich and hearty stouts, the festival offers beers to please every palate. There’s also live music, organic food, sustainability-oriented vendors and nonprofits, and a children’s area.
Volunteer Info: http://www.naobf.org/volunteer-signup/
Event: Nano Beer Fest
Dates: Aug. 14-16
Location: Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub, Tigard
Description: Featuring more than 25 different special and seasonal beers from smaller nanobreweries in Oregon, Idaho and Washington as well as live music and meet-the-brewer sessions. Beer stations are set up under a large tented area in the back parking lot, with seating there, along the creek side of the pub and on the patio.
Volunteer Info: http://nanobeerfest.com/volunteer.asp
Event: The Little Woody
Dates: Sept. 4-5
Location: Des Chutes Historical Museum, Bend
Description: To commemorate one of Central Oregon’s hallmarks — craft beer — and lend a nod to the historic techniques used by brewers with oaken casks, The Little Woody features small-batch beers aged in wood barrels by top Northwest breweries.
Volunteer Info: http://thelittlewoody.com/volunteer/
Event: Eugene Brews Cruise 5K
Date: Sept. 7
Location: Hop Valley Brewing, Eugene
Description: This year’s Brews Cruise will be a Labor Day celebration! Runners will start at Hop Valley Brewing and wind their way to Railroad Boulevard, continuing on down River Road. Loop back around for a tour of the Maurie Jacobs Park paths and return to the North Whiteaker District for a finish line celebration at Hop Valley.
Volunteer Contact: email@example.com
Event: Oregon Brews & BBQs
Dates: Sept. 11-13
Location: Granary District, McMinnville
Description: Oregon Brews & BBQs is all about great food, great regional brews and a whole lot of fun! This event features more than 50 taps serving craft beer from at least 35 breweries for your enjoyment throughout the weekend, delicious barbecue and other food delights, as well as live music.
Volunteer Info: http://oregonbrewsandbbq.com/volunteer/
Event: The Taste of Oregon’s Old West
Date: Sept. 12
Location: Cottonwood Canyon State Park, between Condon and Wasco
Description: This new festival showcases the beverages (including beer), food and recreation to be found in the beautiful John Day River basin. Every year, the event will rotate through the four sub-regions of the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association: John Day River Territory (Sherman, Gilliam, Wheeler and Grant Counties), Northeast Oregon (Wallowa, Baker and Union), Oregon’s Rugged Country (Umatilla and Morrow) and Southeast Oregon (Malheur and Harney).
Volunteer Contact: Janet Dodson firstname.lastname@example.org 541-786-8006
Event: Single Batch Bier Fest
Date: Mid-late September (TBD)
Location: Oakshire Brewing Public House, Eugene
Description: The Single Batch Bier Fest celebrates creative, single-batch brews, and the annual hop harvest season including fresh-hopped beers, pumpkin beers and other fall varietal favorites.
Volunteer Contact: Meridy Wheeler email@example.com
Event: Mount Angel Oktoberfest
Dates: Sept. 17-20
Location: Downtown Mount Angel
Description: This year marks the 50th anniversary of this philanthropic event that celebrates the harvest, Bavarian style. Along with 50 food booths and a large arts and crafts show, the traditional Biergarten, family Weingarten and interactive Alpinegarten entertainment venues have something for everyone.
Volunteer Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Event: Newberg Oktoberfest
Dates: Sept. 18-19
Location: Memorial Park, Newberg
Description: It’s the third year for this family-oriented event brought to you by the Rotary Club of Newberg Early Birds along with local sponsors. Highlights include the grand opening parade, craft brews, live music, a wiener dog race, lederhosen contest and children’s activity tents.
Volunteer Contact: Chris Irwin email@example.com
Event: Bend Oktoberfest
Dates: Sept. 18-19, 2015
Location: Oregon Avenue, Bend
Description: Sample traditional Bavarian foods, beers from Central Oregon breweries, wines and ciders and listen to live music at this 10th-annual celebration of Oktoberfest. This all-ages festival offers something for everyone, including wiener dog races and absurd games of skill like yodeling, stein holding, hammerschlagen and more.
Volunteer Info: http://bendoktoberfest.com/volunteer/
Event: Independence Fresh Hop Fest
Dates: Sept. 18-19
Location: Riverview Park, Independence
Description: The Independence Hop & Heritage Festival happens every last full weekend in September. It features vendors who sell local crafts and foods along with contests like pie eating, scarecrow building and homebrewing.
Volunteer Info: http://www.hopfestival.org/#!contact/c5fi
Event: Southern Oregon Brew Fest
Dates: Sept. 18-20
Location: The Expo, Central Point
Description: Celebrate abundance and reap the rewards of harvest time at the Southern Oregon Harvest Festival and Brew Fest. Featuring more than 60 craft beers, a fierce homebrew competition, plus food, music and lots of old-fashioned fun for the whole family.
Volunteer Info: http://www.attheexpo.com/SectionIndex.asp?SectionID=3
Event: Pacific Northwest Brew Cup
Dates: Sept. 25-27
Location: Various locations, Astoria
Description: Now in its 14th year, this festival features more than 30 Northwest beers on tap, along with live music, food vendors and activities for the kiddos. Enjoy some limited-edition beers at the Brewer’s Reception on Thursday night and fuel up at the Brewer’s Breakfast on Saturday morning.
Volunteer Info: http://pacificnorthwestbrewcup.com/volunteer/
Event: Hood River Hops Fest
Date: Sept. 26
Location: Downtown Hood River
Description: The Hood River Hops Fest is a beer lover’s dream, serving up 65 fresh-hop beers from more than 45 regional breweries. Fun for the whole family, this festival offers a full lineup of live music, great local food, arts and craft vendors and a children’s area.
Volunteer Info: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hood-River-Hops-Fest/127886120593522
Event: Sisters Fresh Hop Festival
Date: Sept. 26
Location: Sisters Village Green Park, Sisters
Description: This fifth-annual event features brews from around the state of Oregon and their unique fresh hop flavors. All breweries that participate bring at least one fresh-hop beer (meaning the brews are made with hops straight off the bine)!
Volunteer Contact: Jeri Buckmann firstname.lastname@example.org 541-549-0251
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: