Now that my brain and liver have both had a few days to recover, I thought I would take some time to reflect on Eugene’s Inaugural Beer Week. First off, it was a hell of a lot of fun. It is a rare occasion that two beer events occur in the same week in Eugene. Multiple events in a single day was not something my beercipital lobe was ready to process. While I managed to make my way to a couple beer releases, the Brewpublic Wine Barrel Aged Fest, the Hellshire release and the Sasquatch Brewfest, I regretfully missed out on some other great events like Oakshire dinner at Sfizio, Full Sail’s John Harris at The Bier Stein, beer cocktails at Izakaya Meiji Company and the beer tasting lessons with Jamie Floyd at Ninkasi. Utter madness.
I also had to skip the blind IPA flight at The Bier Stein, where ECB’s 200 Meter bested a field of local IPAs which included Steelhead’s Bombay Bomber, Oakshire/Bier Stein’s Missing Link (People’s Choice), Hop Valley’s Alphadelic, Oakshire’s Watershed and Ninkasi’s Total Domination. Not to worry though, the swirling maelstrom of fermented goodness that was Eugene Beer Week quickly caught up with me.
At the Brewpublic Wine Barrel Aged Fest, my two favorite beers were the largest and smallest in attendance. Tipping the scale at 13% ABV, Gilgamesh’s Abandon, an Imperial Cranberry Ale, fermented with Saison yeast and aged in Pinot Port barrels, was completely nuts. The beer (or wine?) was served still (uncarbonated) and at room temperature. A mix of tart, sweet, bitter and salty, followed by a deep burn. If they somehow figured out how to squeeze umami in there, they could bottle it as an experience in taste nirvana. Speaking of which, Abandon will be getting the bottle treatment, packaged still and sold for around $25.
While Abandon thoroughly assaulted my senses, well, with abandon, Flat Tail’s Corvaller Weisse delivered a precise, lactic-soaked punch to the face. Dave’s take on a Berliner was split into two batches, half fermented with Kolsch yeast and Lacto, half with 100% Brett, both aged in French oak Pinot barrels. The two beers were then blended back together to form an immensely sour, slightly funky, vinous, 3.5% knock-out. This was hands-down my favorite beer of the week.
Well, hands-down might be a bit of a stretch. Bourbon Lickspigot Barleywine, one of Flat Tail’s Sasquatch offerings, was damn fine too. Vanilla and Oak upfront, with a rolling bourbon-twinged heat. I probably should have started off the brewfest with something other than this 13% monster, as it severely hampered my palette for the next several beers. This was not too much of an issue though, as the next several brews I sampled all featured the Falconer’s Flight hop blend from Hop Union, which I am completely disenchanted with. But that is a topic for another day.
Sasquatch itself felt a little more disorganized than usual, or maybe hectic is a better word. Many of the beers listed in the program were nowhere to be found, while several taps on the floor were void of label or description. Despite this, I still stumbled across several tasty libations, including the aforementioned Bourbon Lickspigot Barleywine, Fort George’s Coffee Girl Stout and Maritime Pacific’s Dry-hopped Portage Bay Pilsner. Gilgamesh’s Orgamine, a Hef brewed with Jasmine tea, would have probably gone over better had I not spent the last week drinking Frederic’s Lost Arm, which is a much more elegant fusion.
Sasquatch was a great way to close out a busy Eugene Beer Week, but this year, the real fun occurred in the wee hours before the festival, at Oakshire’s Hellshire I release. After overhearing much strategizing, involving tents and large recreational vehicles, I decided to show up early to the Hellshire release, to document the die-hards. I was shocked when I strolled up at 7:00 a.m. and found that I was the first in line. Within a couple minutes, I was joined by a few compatriots and we started the mist-ridden wait.
When the gates opened at 8:00 a.m. our small tribe had grown to 50+. And for my ability to wake up early and navigate an automobile, I got to purchase the first bottle of Hellshire I and was awarded a swanky baby-blue Line Dry Rye tee shirt. After completing the business portion of my visit, I got down to the pleasure part, which included many trips to the taps, where all manner of Oakshire rarity was being dispensed. Ambient Noise, Imperial Overcast and Bourbon Kilted Badger (on Nitro) were all flowing. As was the last 1/6 barrel of Heart Shaped Box, the Valentine’s Day Bourbon barrel Stout, brewed with cherries, espresso, cocoa nibs and vanilla beans.
I had a chance to talk to several people from Portland and even a few from Seattle, who all endured a dark-filled drive for their chance at liquid gold. Most people squirreled their new-found treasure away in their cars, but a few brave (or impatient) souls cracked open their bottles onsite and got right down to business. Mike Coplin was one such individual, who, doing his best Jesus impersonation, handed out sample after sample from what seemed like a bottomless bomber.
Speaking of Mike, the man is due a raucous round of applause for his efforts in getting the Beer Week ball rolling and keeping the whole thing so organized. When he first announced the plans for Eugene Beer Week, I was a little worried that participation would fail to stretch beyond 16 Tons, The Bier Stein, Ninkasi and Oakshire. Mass involvement is one of those critical unknowns that can make or break an event like this. I was quite relieved as the weeks progressed and more and more breweries, restaurants and stores signed on. In all, about 40 events were held, spanning 7 days and 14 venues. A great Freshman effort and I can’t wait to see what will develop next year.
Cheers to everyone who helped make Eugene Beer Week a reality!