If you haven’t booked a room for the Bend Brewfest just yet, it’s not too late. But take note that affordable stock is dwindling. Now in its 16th year, the event has become one of the most anticipated in the state — with some 35,000 expected attendees — and is scheduled to take place noon to 11 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16 through Saturday, Aug. 18 at the Les Schwab Amphitheater.
Tasting options are downright staggering. With more than 70 breweries and cideries participating, each offering two beverages, that makes a total of at least 140 different beers. Add in the XTap specialty pours and the grand total is closer to 180.
“When we started in 2003 we used one little corner of the amphitheater,” said festival director Marney Smith, “Now we use the entire venue, including the stage. Except, it’s not for musicians, but for kegs of beer. We stage the beer on the stage.”
The first year the Brewfest made money was 2012. “It was a loss leader before that,” said Smith. “We’re definitely committed to supporting our beer industry. We buy all the beer we pour at the festival. We don’t expect the breweries to donate it.”
The event is an organizational tour de force that relies on more than 1,000 volunteers. Four local organizations benefit from the Brewfest and, in return, help recruit people to pour. The newest nonprofit is the Bend Fire Department’s Community Outreach, joining Deschutes River Conservancy, Neighbor Impact and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Oregon.
Three shifts of 150 to 200 volunteers show up each day. “They are backed by a staff of 200 who keep busy moving kegs and filling in wherever they are needed,” said Smith. “Our challenge is to pour beer in the middle of a grass field and keep it cold.”
Keeping the beer flowing is tough work. Consider that one half-barrel weighs 160 pounds. “We buy roughly 10 to 12 half-barrels per brewery,” said Smith. “We’ll be moving upwards of 144,000 pounds of beer this year.”
Then there’s the scheduling of the XTap pours, the highlight of the festival for many beer connoisseurs. These are low-production, specialty and experimental creations. “We purchase only a small amount of each XTap flavor and plan to tap that keg when a representative can be present in the Brewtality Tent,” said Smith. Usually that’s the brewer.
XTaps are scheduled to be released every half hour from 1-7 p.m. every day. “Many are in bourbon barrels with high ABVs of 8 percent or higher, so we try to tap those earlier in the day,” Smith said.
Not only popular with drinkers, brewers also compete to get into the event. Smith said it always draws more brewery interest than it can handle. The application goes live online Feb. 1 and closes three weeks later. Brewers must submit the flavors they plan to sell and a committee then ultimately meets to pick the most balanced representation. The fee to participate is $400.
The only way to secure a guaranteed spot is to win the previous year’s People’s Choice Award. The 2017 recipients were GoodLife Brewing (local), Cascade Brewing (non-local) and Incline Cider (cider). The People’s Choice award, started in 2010, usually garners around 2,000 votes.
Smith said last year they selected 87 breweries to participate, the most ever. Unfortunately, attendance was down by about 15 percent, probably because of the date change due to the eclipse along with unusually hot weather with thunderstorms and smoke from area forest fires.
A mug and five tasting tokens costs $20, but you can upgrade to a limited-edition Deluxe mug and 10 tokens for 10 bucks more. Kids are welcome until 5 p.m. and there’s no admission fee. For more information visit bendbrewfest.com.
Odd Brewfest Fact
The Bend Brewfest was canceled in 2009 after controversial Oregon Liquor Control Commission agent Jason Evers made life difficult for the staff and would-be volunteers. The Department of Justice launched an investigation into his enforcement practices and Evers was transferred to Eastern Oregon. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested and discovered to be a Bulgarian immigrant named Doitchin Krasev who stole the identity of an Ohio boy who’d been murdered in the early 1980s.