Well, it's about time.
Finally, hop-happy Bend, the beer capital of the west, is getting its own winter beer festival.
In doing so, Bend brewers are giving a nod of recognition to a growing beer-culture trend —celebrating specialty and seasonal brews. Rather than kowtow to the masses and provide everything from IPAs to ciders, such intimate and refined brew fests—like the first ever Central Oregon Winter Beer Festival at GoodLife Brewing Company on Saturday—are aimed at the beer connoisseur who appreciates inventive recipes and subtle flavors. It's the difference between attending a raucous weekend-long music fest like Coachella (with 80,000 friends) and watching your favorite indie performer on a side-stage at the Sisters Folk Festival. While both can be fun, the latter is tailored for a discerning audience.
"A winter beer festival has been on my mind for years," said veteran Bend brewer Pat "Patio" Shea, the man who conceived of Bend's wildly popular Little Woody Barrel-Aged Beer and Whiskey Festival. Shea, who describes himself as a "journeyman-type brewer" and has worked everywhere from Deschutes to Three Creeks to Crux Fermentation Project before landing at 10 Barrel last week, especially loves the spicy, malty, somewhat sweet and often high-alcohol concoctions commonly associated with winter seasonals.
For years Shea has been making the snowy trek over the mountains to Portland's popular Holiday Ale Festival, an event that started small but, now in its 18th year, has become a boozy large-scale production with more than 50 seasonal favorites on tap. This year's event was Dec. 4 through Dec. 8, and Shea opted out.
"It's just so damn crowded up there," Shea said. "And I thought, 'why can't we have stuff like that here in Bend?'"
Enter Saturday's Central Oregon Winter Beer Festival, a benefit for the Central Oregon Brewer's Guild, featuring seasonal ales and lagers from more than 15 local and regional breweries. Shea helped put the Growler Guys-sponsored event into motion and GoodLife stepped forward as host. Though technically the festival is outside in GoodLife's biergarten, beer fans won't have to worry about their lips freezing to their glasses as a large heated tent will provide shelter from the cold.
But the warm tent isn't the only thing to be excited about, far from. Festivalgoers can expect beloved seasonal standards like Ninkasi's Sleigh'R, a 7.2-percent dark double alt ale and 10 Barrel's Pray for Snow, a fruity and cholcate-y 7-percent strong ale, as well as an exciting collection of brand new offerings, most of which will be paired with locally made, flavor-appropriate chocolates from Chocolate Element (formerly known as Bend d'Vine).
Saturday, GoodLife is unveiling its first winter warmer, Yukon Cornelius, a lightly hopped heavy brown/light porter, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Similarly, Crux Fermentation Project is rolling out its Oud Freakcake, a heady 10.5-percent Flanders-style Oud Bruin spiked with orange and lemon zest and aged in Makers Mark bourbon barrels. During the aging process, the Crux mad scientists added cranberries, figs dates and raisins for a holiday twist. (By the way, "Oud Bruin" is a type of Belgian beer that translates as "Old Brown.") Worthy Brewing will pour its new Powder Keg Winter Ale, an amber-colored, dry-hopped 7.1-percent dandy that approaches Imperial IPA status.
Others to look forward to include McMenamins' 6.8-percent Kris Kringle, Silver Moon's dark cherry and spiced Elf Brew, Three Creek's candy-sweet Rudolph Imperial Red Ale, 10 Barrel's rum-soaked raisin and cocoa nib-heavy Beernog and Bend Brewing Company's yet-to-be-named candied and fresh ginger, 7-percent winter warmer.
The soon-to-be yearly winter beer fest, however, offers more than fermented beverages and luscious chocolates—it's also one of the biggest fundraisers to date for the now year-and-a-half-old Central Oregon Brewer's Guild, one of the marketing arms for the area's many breweries. The idea is that the Guild, modeled after the over-arching Oregon Brewer's Guild, will help promote local breweries and events and enhance Central Oregon's already renowned reputation as Beer Town, USA.
"It's still very much in its infancy," explained GoodLife's Steven Denio. But industry insiders like Denio and Shea hope specialty beer fests like the one on Saturday will increase exposure and attract even more beer tourists to the dry side of the Cascades.
This summer 10 Barrel hosted the inaugural Beer Wars IPA Fest and Crux has discussed deepening its connection to Belgian brews with a Belgian beer festival. And of course, there's the annual Little Woody, which is now taking its barrel-aged success on the road for the first-ever Big Woody in Portland on Jan. 17 and 18.
"I hope GoodLife can own something like this and another brewery can step up and host their own specialty beer festival," Shea said.
Cheers to that.
Central Oregon Winter Beer Festival
2-8 pm Saturday, Dec. 14
GoodLife Brewing Company's Biergarten (inside heated tents)
$10, includes a 13-ounce glass and five drink tickets; additional tickets are $1 for a four-ounce pour
Food available from onsite food carts, specialty chocolate pairings courtesy of Chocolate Element.