By Pechluck Laskey
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Joseph Sundberg has been dreaming about establishing a beer festival since 1999. As a long-standing friend of Rick Carpenter, founder of the Portland and Seattle International Beerfests, Joseph was enthused to contribute ideas. But with his roles of father by day and porter captain at the Hotel Monaco by night, he did not have the time or capital to become a part of the festival. His wife Rebecca said with it just wasn’t realistic when their daughter was younger.
Still, the fire inside him continued to burn.
Working in the hospitality industry, he dug into all the aspects of beer. As he continued to endeavor to his standing now as a 30-year Portland hotel veteran, Joseph had to be Google before Google existed. He tracked down all of the brewing culture the city had to offer so that he could expertly guide hotel guests.
Meanwhile, he was a consistent attendee at the Oregon Brewers Festival. He watched as other festivals grew, such as the Portland International Beerfest and the Holiday Ale Festival, and he traveled to other beer events.
"I just see how happy they make people," Joseph describes. "They can bring a lot of beer people to one place."
On Friday, July 3 through Sunday, July 5, his dream of holding his own event finally comes true with the debut of the Portland Craft Beer Festival (PCBF) at The Fields Neighborhood Park. At least 45 breweries are participating and, remarkably, all of them are within Portland city limits.
Joseph expresses some astonishment there was not already a festival featuring Portland-only beers. While there are other beer festivals in Portland, all of them include beers from outside the city. There was no festival yet that exclusively showcased the quantity, quality and variety that Portland alone can offer. There are 58 brewery locations in the city limits. "If you are really adventurous, you can easily visit five breweries in one day, all in walking distance," Joseph says. Most people see less than a handful during a multiple-day visit — something Joseph sees as a missed opportunity.
PCBF offers a chance for festival patrons to taste beer from almost every Portland brewery in one venue. And Joseph really takes the Portland part of the title to heart.
"We are going to celebrate what no other city in the world can do," Joseph explains. He wants people to be able to sample from breweries scattered across the city to compare and contrast beer. The new fest gives residents a chance to discover a new or small brewery they may never have heard of.
The event has been getting a lot of positive response from visitors to Portland. Rebecca, Joseph’s biggest cheerleader who helps in any way possible — including handing the PCBF website — says many ticket buyers have mentioned they are coming to Portland for the first time to attend PCBF. Several visitors are traveling to PCBF from out of state. Joseph is excited that the festival is promoting Portland.
"I didn't want to do just another festival," Joseph explains. He worked with the event’s other founders to brainstorm ideas to differentiate PCBF and showcase the flavors of the city beyond the beer. For example, festival founding partner Rodney Woodley helped select a variety of local food carts that will be present and he’s presenting artisan cheesemakers who make their product in the city. The ciders featured are also crafted in Portland, as is the wine.
Another unique element of this festival is the creation of a Portland Beer Hall of Fame. On Saturday, July 4, the first five members will be inducted. Both Friday and Saturday only offer admittance to those who are 21 and older. But Sunday is family day and attendees can take advantage of yoga classes for both adults and children as well as a children’s craft market. Joseph says he wants to emulate some of the success he sees at family friendly brewpubs like Laurelwood. "We want the parents to have great beer, but also the whole family is able to enjoy being together."
Another founding partner, Christopher Rhodes, has more than a decade of experience with beer festivals. He’ll be keeping the operational side running smoothly even though that might prove challenging as this is the event’s inaugural year. When the gates open, Joseph is looking forward to "knowing we have put our best foot forward, and that people are enjoying themselves and drinking Portland beers."
Joseph has a history of celebrating beer variety in his personal life. While trying to recall when he crossed over from macro beer to craft beer, he can't choose one brewery that led him to the tipping point. McMenamins, Widmer, Full Sail, Portland Brewing, Bridgeport and Deschutes all are mentioned within a few minutes.
Rebecca adds that when they married in 1994, Joseph suggested they travel in order to taste all of the beers of the Northwest. And so, in their Volkswagen bus, they drove through Washington, Oregon and northern California, visiting every craft brewery during their honeymoon. "We still have all the glasses from every brewery," she mentions.
"We should do that again..." Joseph notes.
Joseph has bold hopes for PCBF. Besides holding PCBF annually, he dreams of taking the festival on the road. He knows that Portland has many visitors from Vancouver, B.C., and New York City. He also mentions other potential cities he’d like to expand to, such as Boise, Idaho, Spokane, Wash., San Jose, Calif., and Austin, Texas. Ideally, he would partner with each city to bring beer from Portland to showcase along with beers from breweries in that region.
In other words, PCBF is Joseph's way to express his love for Portland and show Portland to anyone -- be it residents or visitors. He says the goal of PCBF is to create "a great way to celebrate Portland."
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.