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A Day in Hell (or Eugene)

Hellshire Day kicks off Oregon's busy beerfest season



Warmer weather is finally here, and with it comes the irresistible desire to go out, purchase some wooden tokens, and try every beer in the universe, four ounces at a time.

Most of the big beer festivals around Oregon have announced their 2017 plans by now.

Central Oregon Beer Week begins two Fridays from now on the 19th, with the kick-off celebration set to take place in 10 Barrel's northeast-Bend brewpub (oh, hey, that's opening up, too, by the way).

The Bend Brew Festival starts on Aug. 10.

The 30th annual Oregon Brewers Festival, which attracts 80,000 visitors to its Portland riverside location each year, runs for four days beginning July 26.

Brews for New Avenues, also in Portland, is slated for Aug. 19, with VIP tickets going on sale June 1. Definitely look that one up—it's arguably the best beerfest ticket in the U.S., short of the Great American Beer Festival itself.

This whole season was unofficially kicked off last weekend, when Oakshire Brewing held its fourth annual Hellshire Day & Barrel-Aged Beer Fest at its brewpub and barrelhouse in the Whiteaker neighborhood of Eugene. Normally held in March before a move to May this year, Oakshire uses this event for the yearly release of Hellshire, an imperial stout like The Abyss whose recipe (and selection of barrels it's aged in) changes with every batch.

Hellshire VII, the latest release, was "laid to rest" in freshly-emptied bourbon barrels for a year and clocks in at 13.75 percent alcohol. This still doesn't beat Double Barrel Especial, the variant Oakshire released in bottles to VIP ticket holders—that was transferred from bourbon to a brandy cask, then infused with coffee, vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa nibs and peppers. How is it? Like fresh Abyss, pretty hot on the palate for now, although still nice and complex. (Last year's version, Hellshire VI, is tasting much smoother, bursting with chocolate and spicy notes. Anyone with a bottle should waste no time opening it up.)

But Hellshire Day was about more than just Oakshire strutting its own stuff. Over 40 barrel-aged beers, ciders and meads were available onsite, and while the selection was a lot more Oregon-centric than in previous years, there were still quite a few offerings that hadn't been seen anywhere near this state before. Highlights included:

All I See Is Carrion: A Belgian-style quad ale from Adroit Theory in northern Virginia, blended with tart cherries ("tart" is something of an understatement) and aged in bourbon barrels from its buds at A. Smith Bowman Distillery.

Thicket As Thieves: Over a pound of blackberry purée was added to each gallon of this golden ale, hailing from Wooden Robot in Charlotte, N.C. It absolutely tasted the part and probably would taste great with pancakes.

The Nord: A collaboration between Tillamook's de Garde Brewing and Casa Agria Specialty Ales in southern California, this is a wild ale aged in oak barrels. The sourness is much more forward than in typical de Garde fare, although at just 5.5 percent, it's just as quaffable as the rest of the lineup.

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