Awe, Shucks. So, "decadent and depraved"-the words Hunter S. Thompson used to describe the Kentucky Derby in his landmark 1970 article-isn't quite accurate, but the Sagebrush Classic and the Derby have a few similarities. Like Derby festivities, Sagebrush also ostensibly surrounds a sporting event, in this case a golf competition at Broken Top featuring 52 foursomes. And just as the Derby draws crowds of well-heeled spectators sipping mint juleps, Sagebrush attendees get gussied up and sip on Bend's signature drink, handcrafted beer from the Deschutes Brewery. Granted, instead of seersucker suits and wide-brimmed hats, you're more likely to find maxi sundresses, polo shirts, jackass shorts and loafers with black socks, and here in Central Oregon we really guzzle rather than sip, but close enough.
What the folks in Louisville don't have that the landed gentry at Sagebrush do is a great cause to justify the decadence. In the past 21 years, the Sagebrush Classic has raised over $2 million for the Deschutes Children's Foundation. However, that said, the ensuing debauchery, albeit in the name of philanthropy, is certainly comparable to what goes on at Churchill Downs, especially in the infield. Give a crowd of over 1,000 people a '70s cover band, unlimited Mirror Pond and the excuse that they're doing it all for the children, and you've got yourself a party.
Where Sagebrush shakes off any Derby comparison is in its main attraction, the food. Derby-goers are stuck with burgoo, the event's traditional stew. But at Sagebrush, before getting too far into their cups, guests gorge on creations from 18 renowned chefs faring from here in Oregon to as far away as Thailand. Dishes are paired with both beers and wines, making Sagebrush one of the only culinary events of its kind and the region's most notable.
This year, Washington DC celebrity chef and James Beard award-winner José Andrés paired his "Not Your Everyday Caprése Salad," a burst of flavor that was far from everyday, with Green Lakes Organic Ale and Wine by Joe pinot noir. Honolulu Chef Jackie Lau suggested Bachelor Bitter and Solkol Blosser pinot gris with her Misoyaki Butterfish and Hawaiian sea vegetables with wasabi-ginger sauce. Chef Scott Neuman of Portland's ¡Oba! prepared a delicious Jamaican jerk-crusted seared ahi with mango-mache salad that was beautifully balanced by the accompanying Sagebrush Classic Pilsner. One of my favorites of the evening were Grilled Oysters Casino and fresh Kumamotos and Atlantics with two beer pairings, Obsidian Stout and Sagebrush Pilsner from chefs Ian Marks, John Finger and Terry Sawyer of Hog Island Oysters in San Francisco. I could have stayed at that station all night. I'm glad I didn't because I would have missed the French Onion Gruyere Ravioli on a corn nage with crispy pork belly and Gruyere tulle from Chef Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja in Denver. And that's only about half of the menu.
Desserts, also paired with beers, were the charge of our hometown chefs, Gavin McMichael of Blacksmith, Matthew Mulder of Broken Top and Matthew Neltner, Deschutes Brewery executive chef and culinary supervisor of the event. All three were hits, but you have to give it to Neltner and his malted Mirror Pond Ale and caramel ice-cream cones dipped in chocolate for not only pairing his dessert with beer but also cooking with it.
You'd think after gluttony at that level people would be too stuffed to move, but don't underestimate the power generated by a constant stream of liquid courage and the stylings of all-'70s radio rock band AM/FM. Nary have I seen a dance floor fill that fast. What the Sagebrush revelers lacked in rhythm they made up for in enthusiasm, and from Wings to Journey to Cheap Trick they rocked out until the final encore-you know, for the children. In the end, while it's more than fair to label the Sagebrush Classic decadent, you can hardly call partying for charity depraved.