This year marks the 10th Annual Oregon Garden Brewfest and our second year attending it. While last year everything was new and shiny to us, this year we had a better idea of what to expect and were eager to experience it again.
The first thing we knew to expect was that the later in the day we left to get down to Silverton Thursday afternoon, the more traffic there would be. We planned accordingly and found ourselves already nearing the Salem exits from I-5 just after 3 pm. After a quick look at options for ways to spend the hours between then and dinner, we decided to pay a visit to Vagabond Brewing. I'll be telling you more about that soon, but for now, just know that it was worth visiting and if you're in Salem don't pass up the opportunity to go yourself.
Once we arrived at the Oregon Garden Resort and got checked in we headed over to the Fireside Lounge for some pre-dinner drinks. There were plenty of familiar faces but this time instead of getting our beers and finding a seat on one of their comfy couches we opted to stay at the bar. We talked to quite a few people, including owner and brewer of Boring Brewing, John Griffith. I'd exchanged emails and phone calls with John the previous summer in the course of setting up a BREWVANA tour but this was my first time meeting him in person. Not only that but as I was to find out the next day, his Hot Scotch Scottish Ale (brewed with Scotch Bonnet peppers) was outstanding. Enough jumping ahead, a bit on the six-course Brewer's Tasting Dinner first.
The dinner offered a wide range of beers - from well-known breweries (Bridgeport, Stone and Cascade) to younger, less proven ones (Golden Valley, Rusty Truck and Salem Ale Works). Of the six courses there was only one where I didn't enjoy the beer, the food or the pairing and a second one where the beer was excellent but the food was by far my least favorite of the night. As is often the case there was one pairing where I didn't particularly enjoy the beer on its own (Golden Valley Pinot Noir Barrel-Aged Geistbock, pictured) but when paired with the hazelnut crusted goat cheese fritters, I found it much more enjoyable.
Both the second course - Rusty Truck Simcoe CDA with smoked sausage potato cakes - and the fifth course - Cascade Honey Ginger Lime with pork confit-stuffed artichoke - offered great beer, great food and a great pairing of the two. Going into the dinner we told ourselves that since we were staying two nights this year we should take advantage of the post-dinner drinking but alas, our bellies full of beer and food overruled our determination to "stay out" and by 10 pm we were both zonked out.
The next morning we enjoyed the rare opportunity to sleep in. After building a good base at breakfast and a stroll around the gardens there was still some time to kill before it was time to embark on the festival, just enough time for a session in the resort's hot tub. Then it was off to drink!
My plan for this festival, as it is at many, was to avoid the brews I had tried before regardless of how much I like them, and work on trying new-to-me beers. Four beers easily rose to the top: Boring Brewing Hot Scotch, something we had learned about the night before from John, Feckin Brewery Irish Oatmeal Porter, Flat Tail Brewing 6 am Stout and Goodlife Brewing Evil Sister, an imperial version of their Little Sister ISA.
Evil Sister was a heavenly citrus bomb but at 9% a bit to big to drink a ton of. Hot Scotch, while being the most delicious pepper beer I've had, still had more heat than I could drink more than a pint of. That left, when it came to the time in the festival when I still had tickets but had tried all the beers I wanted to, the porter and the stout. Enjoying them alternately until our tickets were exhausted and our bellies starting to grumble for a proper meal made for a great end to the festival.
The festival continues today (Saturday) until 11 pm, with live music starting at 5 pm, and tomorrow 12 - 5 pm. With only an hour's drive between Portland and Silverton, if you're looking for something to do this weekend, it's still a do-able option. Otherwise, keep the last full weekend of April open next year and consider attending the 11th Annual Oregon Garden Brewfest.