Zoo Brew — the Oregon Zoo’s annual beer festival and fundraiser — is billed as a yearly summer kickoff event. But with occasional rain and clouds tonight, only the humidity betrayed the fact that summer is fast approaching.
While it might not have ushered in the summer, Zoo Brew did welcome the annual beer festival season — it was the first of three such festivals this weekend alone. And what a welcome it was.
But Tim, Alyssa, and I stopped at the Green Dragon in Southeast Portland before making our way to the zoo. We stopped there solely because it shares the namesake of the signature pub in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, of which Tim and I are both huge fans. (One of the songs in “Return of the King” ends with the lyrics, “But the only brew for the brave and true … comes from the Green Dragon!”) If it’s possible to nerd out over a pub, Tim and I did so tonight.
I enjoyed a pale ale infused with orange peel alongside a dinner of fish and chips. “Orange” is the single best descriptor; I’d never tasted a beer so fruity or so overpowered by an orange flavor. As a fan of all things orange, I enjoyed it tremendously.
From there, it was on to Zoo Brew.
We arrived at about six and enjoyed a variety of lighter beers. If any brewery served up stouts, porters, or other winter brews, I didn’t see them; this festival spotlighted plenty of ciders, IPAs — par for the course in Portland — and other summer brews.
I enjoy beer festivals for the diverse lineups that they offer. It’s not about getting drunk, either; the festivals provide good exposure to breweries that I might not otherwise visit, as well as unique, one-off beers from the breweries that I do enjoy.
Some of the highlights:
Burnside Sweet Heat (from Burnside Brewing Co.): It was a fruity beer that got a bit of a spicy kick from the infusion of peppers.
Rise Up Red (from Hopworks Urban Brewery): It’s impossible for me not to support Hopworks whenever I see the yellow, red, and black logo at brew fests. From its BikeBar to its all-organic ethos, Hopworks embodies the modern Portland spirit. The red ale went down smoother than most, with less of the caramel aftertaste that accompanies so many reds.
Somersault Ale (from New Belgium Brewing): I wasn’t expecting to like an apricot-infused ale, but the other citrus flavors — and the infusion of ginger root — offset the tartness of the apricot. Just a smooth ale, all around.
Kolsch (from Phat Matt’s Brewing Co.): Not going to lie: I made a beeline for this particular brew solely because of the name. The kolsch went down smooth, with nary a hint of bitterness or hops to be found. Just the right summer lager to kick off a brew festival.
Mike’s Hard Black Cherry Lemonade (from Mike’s Hard Lemonade): Just kidding.
Redhook Wit (from Redhook): I first tried this late last summer, right before the seasonal ale disappeared from shelves. I’ve been jonesing for a taste ever since. I got my wish tonight and loved the summer brew, infused with a hint of ginger.
Springtime in Vienna (from Rock Bottom Brewery): I’m just going to copy and paste the beer’s description from the Zoo Brew event program — emphasis mine: “This Vienna lager is slightly malty, yet refreshingly crisp. Honestly, it may be the best beer you’ve ever had.”
The three of us met up with our friends Jeff and Danielle shortly after arriving. We spent the bulk of the next three hours discussing the ins and outs of beer festivals, plotting the next batch of beer we’ll brew, and generally laughing and having a good time.
And, honestly, it was great. I’ve spent so much of the past two weeks jumping from one project to another, whether it’s a new teaching gig, another website (more on that later), a reliable work-out routine, hanging out with friends, great live music, or various work-related endeavors. It felt good to shove all that aside, enjoy a few craft brews, and relax for a few hours.
As for the animals, we didn’t see many. A few elephants, mostly. A couple of sleeping polar bears and errant penguins, too. But it was time well spent with great friends and good brews. It’s nice of summer to finally arrive — or a reasonably pleasant approximation of summer, at the very least.