2009 North American Organic Brewers Festival
A brainwavez.org Cultural Experience in Portland, Oregon, USA

United States of Americaby Jase Luttrell
Posted: 13 August 2009

brainwavez.org is taking a slight detour from a focus on books but is keeping the alliterative spirit alive by shifting to beer. It's summer in the United States, which means there are ample beer festivals aimed at quenching thirst, surviving heat waves, and making ugly people beautiful. The first festival of the summer in the Portland, Oregon, area was the North American Organic Brewers Festival, a delightful and sustainable romp through some of the best organic beers available today.

2009 North American Organic Brewers FestivalNow in its fifth year, the North American Organic Brewers Festival pushed the envelope on all the choice buzz words of the current Zeitgeist: namely, "organic", "sustainability", "green", and "eco friendly". This was achieved by providing reusable, compostable tasting cups made out of corn starch; solar panels to generate electricity for the amplifiers and live-music equipment; the use of reusable plastic tokens (as opposed to paper tickets) for purchasing beer; and, of course, serving over 75 different organic beers, over half of which have been certified organic by the National Organic Program.

I was a volunteer on 26 June this year, serving 4 oz tastings and full glasses of Laurelwood Brewpub's Green Elephant IPA (India Pale Ale) and Something Delicious Organic American Hefeweizen. I will admit that my reasons for volunteering were selfish: all volunteers received a free T-shirt (made from 100% organic cotton) and seven drink tokens (little blue plastic chips resembling poker chips, used as currency during the festival; each chip cost US$1 [?]). The actual volunteering was incredibly easy. Festival volunteers were either pouring beer or supervising those pouring beer, setting up or striking the festival, or acting as "recycling czars", people who watched over the recycling stations, making certain that items went into the appropriate bin. Before my volunteering shift began we were all instructed on how much beer to pour, to look for the patrons' wristbands (indicating they were over 21 years of age), and to contact one of the festival organisers if something went wrong (such as blown kegs or unruly patrons). One interesting fact the volunteer coordinator shared with us is that the 2008 festival, with over 15 000 attendees, only generated one garbage bag of trash. Everything else was reused or recycled, which is an incredible feat, to say the least!

2009 North American Organic Brewers Festival

The purchasing and tasting of beers seemed to be somewhat confusing for patrons but as a volunteer it was very simple. For US$6 [?] a patron could purchase a tasting glass. Then the patron had to purchase tokens for US$1 [?] each. Generally, a 4 oz tasting of beer would cost one token, though any beer that was over 8% Abv (alcohol by volume) would cost two tokens. Furthermore, a full glass of beer would cost four tokens, though some cost more (if they were more expensive to produce or had a high alcohol content). While their beer was being poured, numerous patrons asked if they could pay two tokens to get half a glass of beer but, unfortunately, we were unable to do so, as it would, somehow, violate the rules of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Some patrons were upset by this, and the intensity of their upset attitude usually correlated to how much beer they had already consumed (there's a very scientific graph one could create to represent this scenario). Fortunately, most people understood that I was simply a volunteer and couldn't change the laws just to make them happy.

2009 North American Organic Brewers Festival

As a venue, Overlook Park couldn't be more appropriate. It is a large park very close to the Willamette River, with big beautiful trees interspersed throughout. This provided excellent shade for people enjoying the festival and it also helped with the "eco-friendly" vibe of the event - what better way to enjoy an organic beer festival than to kick off your shoes, wiggle your toes in the green grass, soak up the sun, and sip some organic beer? Furthermore, the festival was very well organised: there were three areas where one could purchase beer, each with different beers on tap or poured from the bottle. Because the areas were spread apart, there was little crowding or bottle necking (har har!) in certain areas, so the patron traffic flowed very well and one rarely had to wait in line for more than five minutes. Additionally, the festival grounds took up about half of the park, but the festival never felt crowded or claustrophobic. There was always ample room to go explore the various vendor booths (ranging from Zipcar, to Pacific Power, among many others, most of which related to living green or being organic). Also, if you didn't like the live music at the time, you could easily travel to the other end of the grounds, or sit in the shade or under the large event tent (which provided more shade, as well as plastic chairs and tables).

2009 North American Organic Brewers Festival

However, I can't understand why anyone would want to get away from the live music. It was simply incredible. The music ranged from rap/hip-hop to bluegrass, and the sound system was perfect. The audio was clear, precise, and impeccable (and powered by solar panels), and the performances I witnessed were very energising and appropriate for an outdoor festival. The music listings are here: http://www.naobf.org/music.html. I witnessed Otis Heat, Boogie Bone, Adalord, Matthew Lindley and Troubador Deluxe, Basic Shapes, and Four More Wars (formerly Grandeurs of Delusion), though the last three performed while I was volunteering, so I couldn't give them my full attention.

I attended the festival as a patron on 27 June at about noon because the previous night, while volunteering, several kegs were emptied due to popularity and would not be replaced that night, and I wanted to be able to sample as many beers as possible. The following is a list of the beers I sampled, my thoughts on each, and the information provided in the tri-fold brochures (on recycled paper, of course), given out at the festival entrance.

You'll find information for Abv (alcohol by volume) at this link:
information for the International Bitterness Units (IBU) Scale here:
and the full listing of beers served at the 2009 North American Organic Brewers Festival at this link:

Bison Chocolate Stout
Style: Dry Foreign Style Stout
Abv: 5
IBU: 23
Organic Certification: Yes
Impressions: strong dark chocolate taste, velvety smooth and delicious.

Double Mountain Hop Lava
Style: Northwest Style IPA
Abv: 6.8
IBU: 75
Organic Certification: No
Impressions: Not overly hoppy or aromatic, but with a smooth, clean finish.

Laurelwood Green Elephant
Style: IPA
Abv: N/A
Organic Certification: Yes
Impressions: A very hoppy IPA with a vibrant flavour but with so much complexity it is overwhelming. It was very popular at the festival but it was probably my least favourite.

Nelson After Dark
Style: Dark Mild
Abv: N/A
Organic Certification: Yes
Impressions: Stout-like roasted flavour, smooth overall, but with a slight hop bite.

Rock Bottom Organic Amber
Style: American Amber Ale
Abv: 5.8
IBU: 35
Organic Certification: No
Impressions: Very dark and heavy, with a surprising hop flavour, comparable to drinking dense bread.

Sam Smith Cherry Ale
Style: English Ale with cherries
Abv: N/A
Organic Certification: Yes
Impressions: A very sweet beer, with a great cherry flavour, but very little beer flavour or texture.

Upright Brewing Seven
Style: Farmhouse Golden
Abv: 7.8
IBU: 30
Organic Certification: No
Impressions: Nothing extraordinary or remarkable.

Elliot Bay Coffee Stout
Style: Coffee Oatmeal Stout
Abv: 6.8
IBU: 29
Organic Certification: Yes
Impressions: Nice hints of coffee, smooth texture, but with a mild bite.

Santa Cruz People's Porter
Style: Porter
Abv: 5.5
IBU: 26
Organic Certification: Yes
Impressions: Nice and smooth, but no exceptional flavour.

Key Facts: North American Organic Brewers FestivalShare/Save/Bookmark
Location: Overlook Park, North Fremont Street and Interstate Avenue, Portland, Oregon, USA
Dates: Always the last weekend in June (this year was: 26 to 29 June)
Hours: Friday and Saturday: 12:00 to 21:00; Sunday: 12:00 to 17:00
Cost: Entry: free; Beer-tasting glass: US$6 [?]; Sample tasting: US$1 [?] per 4 oz; Full glass: US$4 [?] (with some beers costing more).
Parking: No parking is provided but Overlook Park is right near a Tri-Met MAX stop, and there is some parking in the nearby neighbourhood.
Additional Notes: Children are welcome with adults; beer sales restricted to 21 years of age and older; no pets allowed.

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