Three years ago Scott and I stopped by the first Organic Brew Festival at Port Halling in Gresham. It was cool, and there was an indication that organic beer was getting better.
Three years later, the second organic brew festival finally happened. This time word got out and there was a tremendous turnout. I rode downtown, caught the MAX to Washington Park, then rode home afterwards. It was a great place for the event and transit options were excellent. There was a great fusion/jazz band early in the day and some other groups playing through out the afternoon. Our CSA driver was there handing out produce and enjoying the beer, some classmates were also there, as well as a few other home brewers and pro-brewers, and fellow BA Ned and a couple random people that I’d seen elsewhere in the community lately. The vibe was pretty cool too – nicer than OBF on a Saturday.
The beers were only marginally better than 3 years ago. I’ve expressed confusion over the quality of organic beer before, and there are several brewers that have made great strides in the end product, but on average, there’s just something different. Wrong isn’t the right word, but I can’t quite get behind the taste. The economics, politics, and karma of organics is something I really believe in, so this is a strange conundrum.
Yesterday I think I realized what makes organic beers taste like organic beers. The range of ingredients available is increasing, but still relatively limited. I think the malt specifically is the one ingredient that defines the taste of these beers. I had an IPA from one brewer and a pilsner from another that had an almost identical malt profile and aftertaste. It’s the flavor I often associate with old beer or British bitters. There’s a certain dirty funk to the flavor that can be nice when subtle, but it shouldn’t come across in every beer. Maybe I need to adjust my paradigm, but I’m not ready yet.
I don’t know what difference could exist in the process – maybe it’s in the malting, maybe in the storage time, maybe the grain just tastes fundamentally different – but it is different – and it is probably one of the few products where you can almost always pick out the difference between the organic and petrol versions.
There were a couple beers that stood out though. I should mention that I stuck almost exclusively with IPAs. That’s my meter-stick for beer. Both Laurelwood (no surprise) and Alameda had good IPAs – the hops were vibrant and balance nice. Butte Creek, whose beers I generally dislike, had a great imperial IPA – but I think the high alcohol content (and flavor), the extra hops, and the residual sweetness overpowered some of the malt flavors I dislike. Bill’s from Cannon Beach had a Spruce ale that was excellent as well.
The festival itself was great – the people, the music, the food, and the vibe were worth the trip – and plying people with a little beer on a great day rarely hurts. I’m glad the Roots brewers are committed to the cause and to the festival, and I expect them to keep pushing things in the right direction.