To Bend or Not To Bend (A Festival Guide/Review)

August 28, 2012

I’ll quickly say this… Bend. It’s a hidden gem I didn’t know until recently. What brings me to write this though isn’t the city, it’s a review of their wonderful little beer festival compared to the Oregon Brewer’s Festival, one I attended many times, and volunteered at just as many. Both festivals are great, and having been well established, they both have much to teach the Barley Brothers, Boise’s evolving festival.

First, OBF – 80+ brewers and 80+ beers. For the few brew festivals I’ve attended, I’ve judged all others against this one. It spans a large area, yet it does fill up fast come Friday afternoon and definitely Saturday and Sunday. Many people associate Portland with rain, much as they do Seattle. Fear not when it comes to the OBF. I have a hard time recalling a time when the weather wasn’t summer like or a nice cooler break from the 100 degree furnace that Boise can become in July. I believe tokens are the key to a balanced festival experience; choose wisely and ‘taste’ the brews vs. an ‘all you can drink price’ leading to drunkenness for sure. Don’t get me wrong, many 6, 7, and 8% 4 ounce samples add up quickly and can lead to dizzying effects just the same. The difference is, with tokens, you pay for what you want to try. OBF is well run and well supervised. You’ll rarely get a taster with anything over 1/2 to 1 ounce above what’s allowed. That’s a good control measure though as some brews can go very quickly and those poor souls who come Saturday night or Sunday, may miss out on the best of what’s around. In all honesty though, if the brews are running out, people skip the tasters and go straight to a full mug. After all, if you know what you like, you know what you like. Go early, taste many and those you can’t get in the store, and then hit one of the restaurants downtown before the festival closes and everyone files out looking for the same bite to eat that you are. In the evening, visit Deschutes, Rogue’s Kells, Rock Bottom, the Tugboat or for an alcohol sponge Voodoo Donuts.

Bend, while a smaller venue, you’ll find the same great brewers, though not as many (50+ brewers, 100+ beers) and even some better, smaller ones that you won’t find at the OBF. My party arrived in town on Friday just before 7 and headed to the festival after checking in at the hotel. After seeing the crowd Friday night vs. Saturday afternoon and evening, if you’re younger, go Friday. Saturday was much more chill and it was felt through the DJ’s music as well. Where OBF has the buzz tent, the Bend Brew Fest has X-taps, both showcase specialty and collaboration brews not found on the other taps. Bend also announces when and what brews will be on the X-taps and if the brewers are there as well. You’ll only know a brewer at the OBF if you already know them and bump into them (at least during the festival hours and not during specialty events.) Bend’s other plusses, the surrounding scenery and cooler temperatures. A downfall though is not as many hotels within walking distance. Again, it’s the multiple 6, 7, and 8 ounce tasters you’ll have. Oh, the best part, a 4 ounce taster can very easily turn into an 8 ounce taster by total suprise. No need to chat it up with the volunteer or anything, you might just get a suprise bonus in your mug. That alone already decreases your cost by as much as half, at least it did mine anyway. I was prepared to spend more but found all the great brews I was looking for and wasn’t worried about paying the two tokens for an X-tap beer rather than one token. Don’t forget to stop by the Deschutes brewery (within walking distance) for a free tour. Enjoy the free samples but remember, there’s more tasting to be had at the festival.

Moderation isn’t just something the doctor or your parents tell you, it’s the key to a great festival experience. Don’t go for broke and all you can drink, enjoy and try the brews you won’t find at the grocery store.

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