On Festivals

30 Apr

Sun and a Gigantic IPA. Does it get any better?

I am not entirely sure what the term Beer Festival conjures up in your mind. For some it’s probably the headaches of parking, lines, finding the bathroom (lines there too!), crowds, and substandard food. For others it might mean the thrill of new beers to taste, great music, amazing cart food, awesome summer weather, and a good buzz with friends. I have come to learn, in the last several years, that festivals are all of these things. The problem is, you just don’t know which things from these lists that you are in for when you hit up one you have never been to.

I had the chance to check out the Oregon Garden Brew Festival this past weekend, and it got me thinking about what makes a good beer festival. I think the easy answer is that the beers are good…but that’s clearly too simplistic. It’s obviously the right combination of beer, food, live music, event location, and how well-thought out the planning is for the event. Even if 3 of those 5 categories are solid, you aren’t guaranteed to have an enjoyable experience, however you’re likely to have had enough fun to come back the next year.

I haven’t been to every festival in the Portland region, but I have hit up some. Two of my favorites are the North American Organic Brewers Festival (NAOBF) and Holiday Ale Festival, but both for different reasons. I have also attended the Cheers to Belgian Beers Festival, which I missed this year. They all have their strong points, but I thought I would compare these three with Oregon Garden Beer Festival in five important categories: Beer selection (brewery participation), food on-site, location, event planning, and overall experience. I figure a festival falls into one of two categories: Solid or Meh. Yes, this is totally subjective and unscientific. Complaints should be directed to Miranda.

I could drink beer here all day.

They should hold more festivals at the Oregon Gardens, right?

Holiday Ale Festival: Almost exclusively populated with Oregon and California breweries last year (with a few exceptions, of course) it never feels like it is reaching out into the rest of the country. However, the breweries that are represented are always like a who’s who of breweries on the left coast. The food choices are limited and the sheer amount of people inside at any one time make getting any type of food cart inside a bit tough.  Total plus that you can bring in some snacks, which we usually do (thanks Miranda!). Love where the event is held, and the great job they do of making it a semi-dry and warm experience.  Plus, being downtown, you can access all kinds of eating options.  As far as event planning goes, this thing seems like a well-oiled machine at this point.  Entry is quick, beer lines move well, and they always seem to be able to adhere to their beer program.  Overall, this one ranks right up there with the best.  I keep going back every year because it hasn’t given me a reason not to, and the beers are just stellar. Grade: Solid

NOABF: Great representation from all over the country, with some beers even coming from overseas.  Organic brewing isn’t done exclusively by too many here (HUB excluded, of course), but there always seem to be a few brewers locally that make a go of it for this festival.  What I like about this one is that you never know, from year to year, who’s going to be showing up on the beer list.  Food choices are usually pretty good at this event, and that is directly related to the venue.  It is held at Overlook Park, which is a large outdoor space.  This gives the event organizers the ability to fill the space with as many food options as they would like, along with a large stage for the music acts.  The event planning has gotten better each year, with entry being free the last two years.  This makes for a quicker entrance for the crowds of people showing up, who can then go purchase cups/tickets inside in separate lines and keep the line waiting to get in to a minimum.  Overall, this is my favorite festival, because it combines summer-type beers with good weather and the outdoors.  Grade: Solid

Cheers to Belgian Beers: I have only been to this festival once, but I do remember that the beer choices were very, very good.  The event is populated almost exclusively Oregon breweries, with a few exceptions.  How could it go so wrong when the beers are clearly so good?  Well…let me tell you.  The food choices were/are non-existent, with maybe two carts available for whole festival.  Also, there isn’t much within walking distance of the venue. The event is held at Metalcraft Fabrication, a company that specializes in making custom brewing equipment.  While it’s really cool to be around the equipment while drinking, is too small for the throngs of people that showed up.  Add to that the inability to find a comfortable place to stand/sit and you have problems.  Getting in was pretty easy, but I also came before it got packed.  On the way out, it looked ugly.  Also, they had no speaker system when they announced the winners of the homebrew competition…yeah, that worked.  I didn’t go this year, so maybe they learned some lessons.  I don’t really want to go back in 2014, but I may have to…for research purposes.  The beers that you can get there almost put it back into the plus side, but for now it gets the thumbs down.  Grade: Meh

Love how the tent hinted at the scenery inside.

Love how the entrance hinted at the scenery inside.

Oregon Garden Beer Festival (OGBF): Solid mid-valley brewery representation, from what I saw.  There were definitely beers from all over the state, but the majority were from Bend, Corvalis, Eugene, Salem, etc.  Interestingly, there was lots of macro-representation, in the form of Blue Moon, Shock Top, Leinenkugel’s, Goose Island, and Stella Artois.  Food choice was ok, but also a tad limited.  This was a disappointment, but not a deal-killer.  I still managed to score some decent BBQ and later, some kettle corn.  The location was amazing. Serene and relaxing is how I would describe the Oregon Gardens.  That’s a killer combination with craft beer.  Did I mention the ability to walk around the gardens a bit while having a pint? Winning!  It did take way too long to get in the door, though.  We were on the media list and we still had to wait in line for a good 15 minutes while two ladies just butchered the entry process.  People buying tickets at the door were getting in quicker.  That’s a no-no for a festival.  Will call should be moving quickly, people!  But even that hiccup couldn’t temper our excitement at the location, the great bands that were scheduled, and the interesting, if at times underwhelming, beer offerings.  The beer and planning might have been the weakest points, but the location more than made up for it.  Grade: Solid

So there you have it.  Not all festivals are made alike.  Not all are worth going to.  Some are a once-in-a-lifetime type thing (GABF 2012).  Some make you want to pull your hair out.  Me? I think I’ll be keeping my festival going to a minimum this year, and just focus on the faves.  Whichever festivals are your favorite, here’s to hoping you get the most out of them this year.

What a day!

What a venue!


One Response to “On Festivals”

  1. Michael May 1, 2013 at 10:45 AM #

    For a non-beer comment, I will note the entertainment highlight of OGBF. The band Fault Lines played an excellent set on the main stage. They are a Portland band and their next show is at the Doug Fir Lounge on 6/28.

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