July means beer month here in Oregon, and the Oregon Brewers Festival is the highlight and culmination of it all. Craft beer has become not only a highly sought libation, with craft brewers selling an estimated 24,076,864 barrels of beer in 2015, but also a huge industry all over America, creating over 424,000 jobs and contributing $55.7 billion to the US economy in 2014. Nowhere in the state is this more evident than in Portland, where there are more craft breweries in the metro area than any other city in the world—96 by the last count.
This year’s 29th annual Oregon Brewers Fest will be held July 27th-31st at the Tom McCall Waterfront and boasts no less than 100 different beers from as many breweries from around the city, the state, and the region. Since the inception of craft brews in the 80s, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of different styles and out-there flavors, and the Brewers Fest is no exception. There are pilsners, pale ales, IPAs, lagers, bocks, wheats, ryes, sessions, helles, weisses, and hefeweizans, and infusions of everything from coffee to lavender and honey to berries and jalapeños.
If you are a normal, beer-drinking and beer-loving person, you may not know what, exactly, all those terms mean, let alone how dry-hopping affects the aroma. But you still want to go to, and enjoy, Oregon Brewers Fest or one of the many other craft brew fests around the nation. Have no fear! With this blog post by your side, you’ll be able to look like a pro and show up all your friends once you know how to differentiate a Weisse from a Witbier and are able to find delicious examples of both at the fest.
Ale: Ales are brewed using a warm fermentation method, resulting in a sweet, full-bodied, and fruity taste. Many types of craft brews fall under the umbrella of ales, such as:
- IPA: American-style IPAs have become very popular in recent years and are more flavorful than their English counterparts. Color can range from very pale golden to reddish amber and usually has a high hoppiness and bitter flavor. There will be many at this year’s fest, including Boulder Beer Co.’s blood orange IPA called Pulp Fusion, Rusty Truck Brewing Co.’s License to Kill IPA, Riverbend Brewing’s Oregonized Love and No-Li’s Big Juicy.
- Imperial IPA: Also known as the Double IPA, it is a stronger version of the IPA. Examples at this year’s fest include Bison Organic Beer’s Kermit the Hop, Melvin Brewing’s 2x4 and Deschutes’ Sagefight IPA.
- Session IPA: Look out for Fat Head’s Sunshine Daydream at the fest for an example of this, which is a generally lighter type of IPA.
- Pale Ale: The pale ale has a good balance of malt and hops, can range from bitter to floral, and American versions tend to be hoppy. Boundary Bay Brewery’s Double Dry Hopped Galaxy Pale Ale and Dogfish’s Shelter look to be promising examples at this year’s festival.
Rye: Ryes contain rye grain, with moderate bitterness and often spicy and sour-like rye flavors. At the festival, beers like Collaborator’s We Rye’d Like Kings pay tribute to the style with punny names.
Lager: Like ales, there are many types of lagers. But unlike the top-fermentation method used with wheats and ales, lagers use a bottom-fermentation yeasts.
- Helles: A traditional German pale lager beer, helles at this year’s Brewers Fest include GoodLife Brewing Co.’s Road to Helles and Hopworks’ HELLIFIKNOW.
- Pilsner: A lager beer with a strong hop flavor, traditionally from the Czech Republic and with a light straw to golden color and crystal clear, perhaps with a spicy bitterness and or a spicy floral flavor and aroma and served in a tall glass tapered at the bottom. At the fest, look out for the Chongie Saaz by Pelican Brewing Co. and Full Sail Brewing Co.’s dry-hopped Imperial Pilsner.
- Bock: Bayern Brewing’s Citra Charged Dump Truck is a summer bock, a strong and robust subset of lagers that takes month to smooth out, often resulting in a dark amber to brown hue can range from hoppy to malty flavors.
Porter: Porters are a dark style of beer made from brown malt, often adding chocolate or coffee flavors. A good example this year will be Three Creeks Brewing Co.’s Blackberry Fused FivePine Chocolate Porter.
- Stout: A stout is a type of porter that is also dark but often made with roasted barley. Keep an eye out for New Holland’s intriguing Dragon’s Milk Reserve: Mexican Spice Cake at the fest.
Wheat: Wheat beers are crafted with more wheat in proportion to barley and use top-fermentation yeasts. Often a good way to bring out fruit flavors, such as with Anchor Brewing’s Mango Wheat and Slanted Rock Brewing Co.’s intriguing Señor Jalapeacho, a jalapeño and peach wheat, both of which will be available at the festival.There are many different subsets of the wheat beer that are also popular and will be represented at the Oregon Brewers Festival this year, such as:
- Weisse: Aslan Brewing Co.’s Disco Lemonade and New Belgium’s Lemon Ginger are both examples of a Berliner Weisse, which is a top-fermented, bottle conditioned wheat beer with a rapidly vanishing head and a clear, pale golden straw-colored appearance. The taste is refreshing, tart, sour and acidic, with a lemony-citric fruit sharpness and almost no hop bitterness.
- Witbier: A Belgian Style ale that's very pale and cloudy in appearance due to it being unfiltered and the high level of wheat and spiced, generally with coriander or orange peel. Examples at the festival will include Caldera’s Belgian-Style Wit and Ohio Brewing Co.’s Buckeye Blonde.
- Gose: An unfiltered wheat beer made with 50-60% malted wheat, which creates a cloudy yellow color and provides a refreshing crispness and twang. A Gose will have a low hop bitterness and a complementary dryness and spice from the use of ground coriander seeds and a sharpness from the addition of salt. The festival will boast Stone Brewing Co.’s entertainingly-named Gose Gose Gadget, among others.
- Hefeweizen: August Schell Brewing Co.’s Hefeweizen will have a cloudy appearance thanks to the high amounts of wheat and the yeast used will often produce a unique flavors of banana and cloves with an often dry and tart edge, some spiciness, bubblegum or notes of apples.
Saison: Saisons are fruity in aroma and flavor, have earthy yeast tones, mild to moderate tartness, medium bitterness and semi-dry, with lots of spice and only a touch of sweetness. This complex style will be represented by Gigantic’s Le Petit Bourdon made with local Oregon honey and Great Divide Brewing Co.’s hibiscus-flavored Nadia Kali.
Sour: Like you would expect, these have an intentionally tart or sour taste. To try for yourself, look for Oakshire Brewing’s Peach Sour or Sasquatch Brewery’s kettle sour fruited with Montmorency cherries.
If you can keep all of these different types of beers straight (we won’t judge if you need to use flashcards or download our handy printable list!), then you’re well on your way to becoming an Oregon Brewers Festival expert, and another great beer resource is the award-winning The Field Guide to Drinking in America by Niki Ganong. Enjoy the fest and happy drinking!
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