The times, they are a-changin’… So it goes with all things beer. As a new era dawns on craft beer, brewers seek inspiration and connections to a new audience. The KLCC Brewfest (née Microbrew Festival) is the area’s longest-running beer festival (since 2002), and its Eugene-area brewery collaborations have been an evolving source of entertaining beer-geekery. Once hosting 30 Northwest breweries, the fest has grown to include 90 local, regional, national, and even international breweries, and serves around 7,000 people over two days. It happens this Friday and Saturday, Feb 8-9, 5-11 and 1-11pm, respectively.
In its infancy, the collaboration between a mere handful of brewers involved a single style. That concept evolved into a really cool “Tour of ‘x Beer Region'” that covered prominent style regions: England, Germany, Belgium. 2016 saw an “Iron Brewer” theme with two pairs of breweries (and The Bier Stein) each brewing with a specific ingredient – lemongrass, peppercorn, ginger, juniper, or maple syrup – for a total of ten collaboration beers. For KLCC’s 50th anniversary, breweries ran with the theme of “Golden” beers, and last year returned to geography for a “Tour of the World;” a pretty open concept.
The beer-side coordinator for all of that was Jason Carriere, one of the founders of Falling Sky Brewing and owner of the local homebrew shop formerly known as Valley Vintner & Brewer. He put in tons of time each year organizing the brewers and interfacing with Gayle Chisholm, the KLCC Brewfest organizer as well as Marketing Director and Webmaster. He also helped organize the annual KLCC Homebrew Competition; January was always a crazy month. He left the industry in early 2018, creating a gap in organization.
Here’s where it gets personal. Nobody seemed to be taking the reins for the 2019 collaboration, and I’d been hanging out at The Wheel talking shop with Toby and Trevor (who has since left The Wheel), and we’d done some brainstorming about what should happen with the collab. It seemed to us that the layout at the fest (the Collab Booth), as well as the theme, were in need of a facelift. And so, in mid-August, we got together with Gayle and Hal to suggest a new plan; it was accepted with gusto. It turns out that suggesting a new plan also makes you responsible for its execution.
Perhaps the most exciting part of this whole thing was getting most of the participating brewers together in one place. Now that there are around 20 beer and cider businesses in the area, that’s no easy feat. But we gathered at WildCraft, toasted Jason’s contribution over the years, and haphazardly got some solid details in place for what will happen this weekend.
You may have read, or joked, about pairing music and beer. That’s what it’s all about. #drinkthemusic. In fact, the idea may have come from WildCraft’s concept, the Sage Crow cider that was made specifically for the band Sage Crow, and which will be served while that band plays at KLCC Brewfest. So meta.
Brewers were given the option to pair up or not, so long as their beer incorporates inspiration from a band, album, or song (or, in one case, an NPR music show!). This will be the first year to showcase two three-way triple collaboration extravaganzas; Manifest, McMenamin’s High Street, and Sam Bond’s brewed a different beer at each of their locations, and another is described below.
This will also be the first KLCC collaboration brew for Oregon Brew Lab, a local business that does beer analysis for breweries and homebrewers around the country. Founder Dana Garves got in with two breweries, Oakshire and Viking Braggot Co.. Tiny Desk Beer is a session hazy IPA with grape juice from King Estate Winery. Her brew with Viking is called Fog of War, and is a “Hazy Braggot IPA made with local blackberry 🍯honey🍯 inspired by our favorite 🤘heavy metal🤘 bands — The Sword, Tyr, and Unleash the Archers!” according to an Instagram post (hence the emojis).
Even I got in on the game, with another 3-way collab. Toby and I collaborated with Mecca Grade Estate Malt and made a beer style that nobody’s ever heard of before: Växt Ale. Using Mecca Grade’s Gateway “windmalt” and a decocted dose of raw and malted rye, we fermented Rock the Kasvot around 100F using Omega Labs’ Hornindal Norwegian Farmhouse yeast strain, and dry-hopped with Cashmere hops. The result will make you faceplant into a peach tree. This is just a tribute… to a beer that never was.
This year, there is no “collaboration booth.” Instead, there are two clusters of local breweries, which Gayle dubbed “Mega Hits” and “Deep Cuts.” The collaboration beers will pour at the brewery’s booths, labeled Vinyl Tap (with an umlaut over the “n,” of course). This will increase the likelihood that somebody from the brewery will be there to give accurate information about the beer! In previous years, the collab booth had been staffed mainly by volunteers who knew very little about what they were pouring. For the 2015 collab, I managed to wrangle some people to wear custom “Ask me about Belgian Beer” shirts (thanks for the stencil, Kiley!) and go around talking to people about, you guessed it, Belgian beer.
To make our lives more complicated, but mainly to get fest-goers super stoked about Eugene-area beer, we decided to incorporate two extra special taps, a la Bend Brewfest’s “X Tap.” At scheduled times during the fest, breweries have elected to pour a special beer for one hour, and to have a brewer hanging out to promote what they brought.
Many of the breweries have signed up to pour so far, and it looks to be a good lineup; some hops, some strong ales, and… the first local commercial release of a glitter beer! You’ll have to go check out the schedule posted at each brewery cluster to find out what’s pouring when.
Being part of the collab has been super fun, and Gayle has been extra supportive of our efforts. Unfortunately, she’s retiring and won’t be doing the fest anymore. We wanted to call this collab the Gayle Trail, but she vetoed it. I’m grateful to the local brewers who make this possible every year, and who took our seat-of-the-pants plan and ran with it, like an antelope. If you read this, I hope you get to enjoy the fest in its entirety, but especially the new experiment. Constructive feedback is appreciated!