What's particularly glorious about Brewfest is not only that new, special release and one-off brews are plentiful, but that they stand beside the tried and true—meaning, both adventurous sorts and the stick-in-the-mud don't-try-anything-new types should be similarly pleased. With 63 vendors—including at least one winery and several cider companies—it is hard to know how to regulate time and sobriety. We suggest edging outside your comfortable taste zones at least a couple of times over these three days. Yes, you probably are already familiar with Central Oregon's best and current brews (10 Barrel's Swill, Boneyard's Bone Light, Crux's Pilsner, anything from Deschutes, etc.), all of which will be available at Brewfest. But venture further! Below are six other West Coast beers and breweries worth knowing.
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales: Seizoen Bretta; Far West Vlaming Flanders Red; Kili Wit (try all three). Hood River's most overlooked brewery happens to be one of the very best in the country. Founder Dave Logsdon (former Full Sail brewer) and company have been carefully crafting dry, effervescent farmhouse ales using mostly organic and local ingredients and bottling them in 750-mililiter beeswax-sealed bottles since 2011. The champagne-like, wild-yeast Seizoen Bretta won the People's Choice Award at the 2011 Portland Cheers to Belgian Beers festival; it is both light and complex. Also save some tokens for the sour Flanders Red and the creamy Kili Wit.
Pfriem Family Brewers: Blonde IPA; Saison. Dang. Between Logsdon and Pfriem, now 1 year old, the Gorge is making a mark (Kudos also to Double Mountain. Its dry-hopped Vaporizer, which will also be available at Brewfest, is the perfect crisp go-to beer).What sets Pfriem apart is its dedication to Belgian and Belgian-inspired beers. Finally! A brewery not scared to commit! Across the board, Pfriem beers are well balanced and remarkably tasty. The Blonde IPA checks in at 6.25% and, at 50 IBUs, isn't overly hoppy. The Saison—cloudy, golden and lightly spiced—is dangerously good.
Lagunitas Brewing Company: Little Sumpin' Wild Ale; Aged Hairy Eyeball. I'm not sure Lagunitas makes a bad beer. Brown Shugga isn't my favorite (too sweet...duh!). But Wilco Tango Foxtrot, Lucky 13 and Pils are all brilliant. For nearly 20 years, the Petaluma, Calif., brewery has become synonymous with top-flight beers—not to mention clever labels and beer names. Try the Little Sumpin' Wild Ale, the feral cousin of Little Sumpin,' a wheat- and malt-heavy beer. A funky yeast and 8.8% ABV make the Wild Ale its own animal. The Hairy Eyeball is a dark, roasty American strong ale. I've never had the aged version, but at 10% ABV, hold on to your socks.
Anderson Valley: Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout. Not a kickin' bird fan? No problem. It's not like they're dumping Kentucky bourbon into the beer. The beer was merely aged in Wild Turkey barrels, which impart a sharp distinct flavor. Anderson Valley has been producing impeccable beers since 1987 and has clearly figured out what works and what doesn't. So if they want to put their award-winning Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout in bourbon barrels, I support them. Bonus—the limited release beer is now being sold in 22-ounce bottles! If no one in your party is a fan of black-as-night stouts, try the NorCal brewery's creamy and vanilla Summer Solstice Ale. It's like a creamsicle!
Hop Valley: Czech Your Head Pilsner. It's good to see pilsners getting another look. There was a time in America's not-too-distant beer past when "pilsner" meant Budweiser and Coors. A shame, since Czech and German pilsners, although they're light, yellow and fizz like their American counterparts, are actually full of flavor, which Budweiser and Coors are not. A good pilsner should taste fresh, clean and, above all, sharp, just as the Czech Your Head Pilsner tastes. Hop Valley, a Springfield-based brewery, has an obnoxious website but solid beers.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company: Wookey Jack. Firestone Walker is a brewery among wineries. Seriously. Situated on California's Central Coast, the revered Firestone Walker is nestled among some of the country's best vineyards. I suppose that's fitting for a brewery that makes such fine brews. The Wookey Jack, a black rye IPA, is dark, malty and impressively hoppy. Last year the dark IPA earned gold at the Great American Beer Festival and made the Top 25 Beers list in Draft, a well-respected beer rag.
Note: OK. I know this was supposed to be about out of town beers but a handful of special local pours sound enticing. In no particular order: Deschutes Belgian Baroness IRA; GoodLife's Evil Sister Imperial Pacific Ale; Bend Brewing's Ching Ching Sour (a staff favorite); The Brew Shop's Beer Camp 99 India Farmhouse Ale; Worthy's Helles Bock. If you're on the gluten-free train, try the offerings from Red Tank Cider and Nectar of the Gods Meadery, both of Bend.