If you aren't familiar with the past, you might be inclined to assume our current glut of beer festivals is old hat. Not so. The festival scene we live in today wasn't built in a day, a week or a year. It started out rather slowly and took some time to develop. I'll spare you the details.
Strangely enough, I had never attended the SBWF until this year. There are reasons for everything. Prior to the time I started covering the beer scene in 2010 or so, I paid little attention to indoor events. More recently, I suppose this one simply got lost in the shuffle.
So it was informative to stalk the floor at the Oregon Convention Center. What I found wasn't quite what I expected, but it wasn't all that surprising, either.
In fact, the SBWF isn't a beer or wine festival, per se. Nope. It feels much more like a trade show with beer and wine stations scattered around. In some sense, it was eerily similar to last year's Craft Brewers Conference trade show, held at the same venue,
Entering the hall, I saw no beer. What? Instead, there were myriad vendors hawking a wide variety of goods...clothing, food, services, beer & wine accessories and more. Seeing a lot of vendors at beer festivals has become increasingly common in recent years, but this was crazy. These vendors want access to the beer and wine fan demographic. You might say these beverages are the glue that holds an event like this one together, which isn't such a bad thing.
There were more breweries than wineries in the hall, but the program suggested the number of actual beers and wines were close to the same. The difference was that the wineries brought more than two wines, all served from bottles that I saw. Most of the breweries were pouring two styles from kegs, typical of beer fests.
The brewery lineup was eclectic. It included a number of relatively new and unknown breweries (Ordnance, Krauski's, Pono, Vanguard) along with some that are well-established (Green Flash, 10 Barrel, Goose Island, Lompoc). I can't recall seeing such a bizarre mix of breweries in recent memory, maybe because I rarely go to fests like this one.
That's not the say the beer was bad. Not at all. I tasted 10-15 beers, mostly from newer breweries, and all of them were pretty good. The only beer I dumped wasn't a bad beer at all; I dumped it because there were pieces of hops floating around in the foam. That was a problem for both of this brewery's beers, some kind of filtering issue, I assume. Need to get that fixed.
At the end of the day, the trade show-oriented approach seems to work well. They've got 22 years of proof. It's best-described as a gateway event, designed for folks wanting to explore good beer and wine. The beers and (I suspect) the wines aren't exotic enough to keep hardcore beer geeks and wine snobs interested, but the event is a perfect fit for casual fans.