By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
At first glance, Eric Steen didn’t look like a teacher, an artist or a beer maker. It was a rainy early autumn day and Eric was shuffling past noisy customers in Hopworks Urban Brewery dressed, head-to-toe, in white, furry costume. At better than 6 feet tall, he makes a good mascot for the business’s Abominable Winter Ale.
After taking off the comic book-looking yeti head, he offered an explanation on the melding of his roles as teacher, artist and beer maker: “I very much think of beer as a form of art. I’m very interested in the idea that, from start to finish, beer is a social act.”
Several dozen blocks and a couple of traffic jams to the west of the HUB taproom, in the quiet of the Portland Art Museum, associate director of education and public programs Stephanie Parrish admires Steen. “Eric and I went through the collection of a thousand pieces of art and tried to understand where we had works. How much do we have of Eastern Oregon? How much of the Oregon Coast?”
Getting these two folks working together is how to stage a unique art show and beer tasting.
The full name of the Nov. 4 event is “Art & Beer: Pitchering Oregon.” It’s the centerpiece of a larger, two-year exhibit called “Picturing Oregon.” (Who says museum-types don’t have a punny bone?)
Stephanie says the “Picturing” exhibition celebrates the museum’s 125th anniversary and includes about 60 of the more than 1,000 Oregon-themed works in its permanent collection. “It was a matter of sorting through all the paintings and photos and then finding those that we thought were kind of representative of the collection. We wanted to have earlier works, 19th century, to more contemporary works. Wanted to have women included. As many different options as we could uncover.”
When it came to the “Pitchering” centerpiece, Stephanie called in Eric. As an art teacher at the University of Colorado and creator of the Beers Made By Walking project, Eric sees community involvement as a key to good art and good beer. He took immediately to the idea of foraging through the museum’s collection. “The thing that excited me was that they have all this Oregon-based paintings and photography.”
And Stephanie wanted to portray the entire state in Pitchering Oregon. “Organized by the region: Coast, Southern Oregon, the Willamette Valley, Portland, Mount Hood and the Gorge. We’re sort of following Travel Oregon’s seven regions.”
Stephanie and Eric whittled down the Pitchering exhibit to 18 photos, paintings and etchings. They next offered those works to 16 breweries and 2 cideries for inspiration to create a beverage.
To help HUB create its beer, Eric chose a platinum print by Lily E. White. It’s a photograph of the Columbia Slough taken more than 100 years ago. Eric grabbed brewer Trever Bass and “We checked out parts of the slough, looking at invasive plants, what grows there naturally. It’s a very strange area. The brewer just chose a random selection of plants he found there. Then he decided to layer everything on top of each other, prettily, into the mash tun and then passed wort over the top of it as it went into the boil.”
The works in the exhibit come at you like photos from a magazine, an old newspaper or a family album. They are more than images. They represent our collective backstory. Lisa Allen, brewer at Heater Allen Brewing in McMinnville, chose a wood engraving of the 19th century block house at Fort Yamhill. A sixth-generation Oregonian and trained anthropologist, Lisa began by thinking about the people in the artwork: What kind of beer did they drink, did they make? Her brew is characterized by the use of oak-smoked wheat malt and rye malts. She kept the alcohol level at 5 percent and came away with a beer she says is heavy but refreshing with both smoky flavor and spiciness.
Larry Chase is head brewer at Standing Stone Brewing Company in Ashland. His Pitchering Oregon piece is a 1911 oil painting by Frank DuMond. The “Sketch of Table Rock near Medford” is a landscape done on a bright, but cloudy, day. Larry made a table beer, a Berliner weisse, much like beers made in Belgium to be enjoyed by all members of a farm family. The beer will be golden in color to reflect the sunniness of the painting. Larry will serve the beer at the exhibit three ways: straight up and with two fruit or herbal syrups to cloud the beer, mimicking the clouds in the painting.
Pitchering includes a variety of scenes depicting the people and places of Oregon; some are very realistic, some romantic. But the starkest is an oil painting entitled “Harvest.” The huge work shows a sinister-looking raven flying over a clear-cut forest. The beer to go with this piece was made by Trevor and Linsey Rogers at De Garde Brewing in Tillamook. “Ferme et Foret” (Farm and Forest) features dried and fresh hops with spruce tips added to the blend. Are the painting and the beer things to be enjoyed simply … or is there a deeper meaning?
That’s the kind of question folks might get together and hash out over a couple of beers.
Art & Beer: Pitchering Oregon
Saturday, Nov. 4 in the Kridel Grand Ballroom at the Portland Art Museum 1219 SW Park Ave.
General Admission 1–6 p.m.; $25 general/$20 museum members
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Oregon Brewers Festival. It’s not just a festival, but THE festival of the Pacific Northwest and the largest of its kind in the country. So large does the OBF loom that when you mention “Portland” and “beer festival,” most assume you’re talking about OBF. It’s become the measuring stick for all other beer events, and in 2017 OBF will set the bar even higher by working to end intoxicated driving by launching a Safe Ride Home program.
This July 26-30th marks the 30th anniversary of OBF, held at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It’s the largest beer fest in the U.S. by attendees, claiming 80,000 or so visitors annually and in 2016 it contributed an estimated $29.3 million to the local economy. Other impressive stats it boasts: 44.2 percent of last year’s attendees were women and 20.2 percent of out-of-town visitors stayed in rental lodging.
Art Larrance, now of Cascade Brewing, founded OBF in 1988 after being inspired by Oktoberfest in Munich and the first Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland. At the time, Larrance and Fred Bowman had founded Portland Brewing — the city’s fourth brewery — and were asked to provide beer for a new event. The two Hillsboro High alums launched the Papa Aldo’s Pizza Blues Festival during the last weekend of July at Waterfront Park. The inaugural celebration was a hit, with kegs kicking as quickly as they could tap them. Surprisingly, then, the event sponsors sold the Blues Festival to the Cascade Blues Association and the date was moved to the Fourth of July weekend. That left an opportunity to purchase the park rental space during the last weekend of July, which Larrance did for $500. He reached out to Widmer Brothers Brewing, BridgePort Brewing Company and McMenamins for help starting a beer festival that no one expected to succeed.
“One of the big questions we got were, ‘How much alcohol do you get out of the hops?’ People did not have a clue what the hops were. Now, people are going ‘I want to try that Citra hop!’ We are all becoming hop experts,” Larrance said.
The first OBF in ‘88 created a template for the token-based, low-cost outdoor beer event that has become perhaps the most popular model. The Great American Beer Festival was founded in 1987 and took place indoors with a session-based entry fee featuring unlimited (but small) pours. Larrance did almost everything differently. OBF, with an outdoor setting, was free to enter and attendees could purchase a plastic mug and $1 drink tickets. The only major change in the last 30 years is a switch from paper tickets to reusable wooden that also double as free advertisement for the fest. That first event featured 22 breweries from six states. With an expected attendance of around 5,000, approximately 15,000 showed up, which had brewers scrambling to keep up with beer sales. These days, the festival takes up twice the length of Waterfront Park that it used to and has stretched from two days to five.
In 1994, Larrance left Portland Brewing. “They said, ‘You’re kind of a starter, but we need more of a finisher. We need more nationally known people … MacTarnahan’s had bought more stock and they didn’t want me around.” Portland Brewing gave Larrance their interest in OBF and he went on to purchase the rest of the shares of ownership from the Widmers and the Ponzis (founders of BridgePort).
A major misconception about OBF is that it does not or should feature more Oregon brewers, but from the beginning that was not the goal. “We wanted to showcase Oregon beer, but not to say we were the best. We want to get out-of-staters ... to stand the local beers up against all the others so that people would say ‘Oh, that Oregon beer is pretty darned good.’ We wanted people to make up their own mind.” A lottery system is used to choose participants, though breweries that have been longtime supporters are grandfathered in. Larrance says narrowing down contributors is the most difficult aspect of the event.
In 2013 the festival attempted a switch to real glassware instead of the much-maligned plastic mugs. Unfortunately, the Boston Marathon bombing put an end to that two years later with law enforcement insisting upon no glass in the park. “The police said glass can be a weapon and I know it can ever since I was chased around a strawberry patch by a girl with a broken beer bottle because I hit her with a strawberry 60-some years ago” says Larrance.
Another aspect that sets OBF apart from other beer events is Larrance’s insistence on keeping it family friendly. He fought the Oregon Liquor Control Commission when a contingent tried to prohibit children. Larrance strongly believes in keeping the family unit together and said “We really had to work hard to show them [OLCC] we were aware of the minors and we really want them there with their parents.” As a compromise, event organizers created a permission slip for parents to sign in order to bring their kids.
In 2012, OBF introduced the International Tent that featured beers from the Netherlands. “It all started with Mark Strooker,” recalls Larrance. “He started it by contacting Travel Portland and saying ‘I want to try to get the Oregon Brewers Festival to the Netherlands.’ Well, I thought, I haven’t been to the Netherlands since 1976. So I went over there to a festival at De Molen Brewery called the Borefts Beer Festival.” Larrance asked Strooker to invite 10 or so Netherlands brewers to OBF. The festival would pay for travel and the featured beers.
Larrance soon found out that the brewers actually did not know each other that well and the trip to Portland strengthened their bond. Since then, Larrance has traveled back to the Netherlands to explore setting up OBF there but doubts remain about the cost and attendance. Still, Larrance says, “I fell in love with the country, the people, the attitude. It’s kind of like us 20 years ago.”
Since the first International Tent, OBF has brought brewers from other countries. However, import costs have skyrocketed, so the feature will take some time off this year. To beat escalating shipping costs, Larrance wants to fly beer makers here to make a special batch at an Oregon brewery. While that may mark the end of the International Tent, it also relaunches a Specialty Tent (formerly called the Buzz Tent), which will serve smaller kegs not available at the regular pouring stations.
The Safe Ride Home Program is a new update to this year’s festival and was still in the works as of press time. Working with the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Larrance and OBF want to eliminate any post-festival intoxicated driving. “We want to have zero loss from the festival. We want people to get rides home safely.”
The program has a few initiatives, some of which they are still figuring out how to implement. One is a deal with SmartPark Garages. Drivers who come to the festival will be given a receipt that provides a $5 discount for anyone who decides to leave the vehicle overnight and pick it up the next day between 9 a.m. and noon. Another option is an expanded deal with Radio Cab. A little-known OBF benefit is that two taxis are available at the event to transport intoxicated patrons. This year, $20,000 has been raised to fund a fleet of cabs that will be located across the street from the park and discounts will be given to festival goers.
“We are working with Portland Police. We have the same motive to get people home safely. We want them to come back next year.” says Larrance.
Art also hopes the program will go beyond OBF and extend to all the states’ beer fests. “It’s not going to be just for us. We are trying to set up for all beer festivals and working with the guild so they can implement the same thing to work it out this year and figure out how it works best. So you know if you come to Oregon and go to our festivals, there won’t be any issues and you will come back. We will get you home safe.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.