Take One Down, Pass it Around

The next few weeks offer up the opportunity to ingest beer in green spaces across Portland.

Q: What city is home to more breweries than any other city on earth and hosts two world-class beer festivals and a "give 'em a wedgie" alt beer fest, all in the next two weeks?

A: Beer Heaven, a metropolis on the banks of the Willamette River, at its confluence with the Columbia, in the beer-brewing forest nation of Cascadia. It's host to the Oregon Brewers Fest, a longstanding Portland tradition that has garnered a reputation for excellent beer, oppressive heat, long lines and crowd roars; the Alt Brew fest, new this year and seeking to combat some of the downsides of the Brewers Fest by setting up shop across the street; and the Portland International Beerfest, a new event, which seems to be aimed at beer-geeks and high spenders and plants itself in the Pearl.

All of this coincides with American Beer Month, first declared by the Rogue brewery folks and collectively taken up by others. In Portland, it's a time to celebrate the diversity offered by your local brewers. Not long ago "American beer" was lampooned as being "like having sex in a canoe," sneering industry parlance for "fucking close to water." In the last 15 years, microbreweries have sprung up in every state, allowing drinkers to choose from everything from frothy hefeweizens to snappy pale ales to roasty stouts. It is these carefully crafted works of malt-art that American Beer Month celebrates, not the mass-produced swill that once defined "American beer." Craft brews are products of the America envisioned by Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams (the historical figure, not the contract-brew) instead of the corporate-dominated America of George W. Bush and brau-kaiser Auggie Busch III.

Some zealots feel that no foreign brew should pass their lips during American Beer Month. These unfortunates will miss out on the Portland International Beerfest, which brings a whole slew of classic brews from across the globe to the North Park Blocks this weekend. Organized to coincide with the opening of the Portland Streetcar (Beer Heaven's latest designated driver), this festival features 130 beers, some old favorites and some never imported to the U.S. Everything from Hoegaarden, a zesty Belgian White wheat beer spiced with coriander and orange peel that is the quintessential summer beer, to England's Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil, to Samiclaus, the world's strongest beer, brewed only on December 6 of each year, will be poured from bottles or taps. The prices aren't cheap, but much of this beer has never been poured in Oregon before. In fact many of these breweries have been making beer since before Europeans had ever set eyes on Oregon. But though our local craft-brewing history is short, it's rich. Portland's own Hair of the Dog has been selected as one of only three North American breweries at the event, for their Belgian-influenced specialty ales.

Not to worry my flag-waving patriotic friends with all these foreign concoctions: The very next weekend, American brewers get to strut their stuff at the Oregon Brewers Festival. Now in its 14th year, OBF draws breweries from as far off as New Jersey and attracts 85,000 beer lovers. With 72 beers in the festival, it might be hard to choose one to start with. Wheat beers are always a good bet, generally soft on the palate and not terribly hoppy. There are two German-style weizens and a couple of Belgian Whites. Summit, from St. Paul, Minn., brews a good example of the traditional Bavarian style, complete with banana esters. Ramstein Blonde is from a New Jersey company that makes nothing but wheat beers. Moving along, be sure to try River Run Rye from Fish Brewing Company in Olympia, Wash. This spicy light ale using rye, a grain which is enjoying quite a renaissance, is not only excellent--it's certified organic. Two Southern Oregon organic pale ales will also be poured at the Fest, Caldera from Ashland, and Spencer's, an OBF regular, from Springfield.

If you don't get your fill of Belgian ales at the PIB, there are plenty of Belgian-style brews at the OBF. Even Rogue, the fastest-growing brewery in the nation, has pulled out the stops and brewed a Belgian Dubbel, dubbed Brew 5000, as it was head brewer John Maier's 5000th batch. Rock Bottom Portland has turned out a saison, the traditional summer beers of southern Belgium and France. Steamworks Brewing Company, one of the best brewpubs in Vancouver, B.C., is bringing down a Frambozen, a traditional Belgian raspberry ale.

Keep an eye on the Oregon Beer Pavilion: Its rotating taps will feature beer from a number of Oregon breweries not in the festival, including several varieties of Collaborator, designed by Oregon Brew Crew homebrewers and brewed at Widmer (possibly even the much loved Hallucinator Old Ale). The Pavilion, which will also host Brew Crew demonstrations, was added to the Festival last year because many Oregon breweries were no longer getting into the OBF. Indeed, if every brewery in the state were featured, the 72 slots would be almost completely filled, leaving no room for brewers from farther afield.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached Beervana. Cheers.

Portland International Beerfest

North Park Blocks, 4-10 pm Friday, 11 am-10 pm Saturday, noon-7 pm Sunday, July 20-22. Tasting glass and first three tokens $10, additional tokens $1.25 each; one to three tokens per 4-ounce taste.

Oregon Brewers Festival

Tom McCall Waterfront Park Noon-9 pm Friday- Saturday, noon-7 pm Sunday, July 27-29. Tasting mug $3, tokens $1 each, one token per 4-ounce taste, three per 14-ounce mug.

Alt Brew Festival

Parking lot across Front Avenue from OBF July 27-28. $3 entrance fee. $2 per 8-ounce taste.

WWeek 2015

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