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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

OBF Rolls With the Changes in 2018

Thirty years after it helped launch a revolution, the Oregon Brewers Festival returns to Portland's Waterfront Park next week, opening on Thursday, July 26th. This will be the 31st rendition and organizers are rolling with the punches of an increasingly competitive market.

It's not really a secret that OBF has navigated shark-infested waters of late. With so many competing events jamming the calendar, beer fans have a lot of choices. OBF attendance has suffered a bit in that scenario. As a result, the event will shift from five to four days this year.

"Attendance peaked a few years ago," OBF director, Art Larrance, told me. "So we're going back to four days, which makes economic sense. We expect about 70,000 visitors this year, which is about what we had over five days last year. We'll see how it goes."

One of the perplexing anomalies facing the event is local indifference. Yup. Stats collected last year indicate out-of-towners accounted for nearly half of OBF attendance. That's been an emerging trend in recent years, I think. It may be that out-of-towners see the festival as a destination, while locals see it as one of many competing events.

"We'd certainly like to see better in-town attendance," Larrance said. "But we obviously know there are a number of beer-related events to choose from. There's nothing we can do about that. We just need to do the best we can at competing for the folks who do enjoy these festivals."

To quench the thirst of beer fans this year, they'll feature 80 beers from independent breweries in 10 states, The Netherlands and Mexico. As was the case last year, the Baby Buds (10-Weiser, Gooseweiser, etc) are banned. Don't feel sorry for them...they'll be fine.

The press materials say more than two dozen beer styles will be represented. Right, but a little checking reveals that 24 of the 80 beers (30 percent) will be IPAs. That's not surprising given the ongoing, mainstream demand for those beers. Also, 55 of the 80 (68 percent) are from Oregon and 23 (29 percent) are from Portland. Washington is the closest state representative with 8 entries.

This year's festival theme is, "With Beer Brings Friendship.” The "friends" this year are five breweries from Baja, California, whose beers will be pouring. This represents the rebirth of the practice of bringing in foreign brewers, launched by Larrance several years ago and abandoned last year due to logistical and cost concerns.

"We tasted these beers and met three of the five brewers at a festival in San Diego last October," Larrance said. "These are great beers and I think people will be pleasantly surprised. The guys are really excited to present their beers here."

For the first time ever, they'll be offering wines (four) and ciders (two) at the event. They've had requests for many years, Larrance acknowledged. The difference now, it seems, is organizers are actively courting folks who aren't necessarily beer fans. That's a smart business move, something you should do when attendance starts to lag.

Glass and mug styles have jumped around in recent years. This year, they're returning to the mug style they used in 2016. As always, a current year mug is required to drink. That'll cost you $7. Tokens are $1. You'll pay four tokens for a full mug (12 ounces), one token for a 3 oz taste of beer or cider. Wine will be five tokens for a 5 oz pour and tasters won't be available.

2016 mug
A twist for 2018 involves the program, which they've been printing and handing out for years. (I have a morgue at home to prove it.) Not this year. Patrons will be able to pick up a sheet that lists the beers and which trailers they're on. But the printed program is being discontinued and effectively replaced by a mobile app, which can be downloaded via the App Store or Google Play.

"We think a lot of people will like the app," said Larrance. "Regardless, we've been dumping thousands of printed programs every year for the last few years...it just didn't make sense. We hope the printed list will satisfy those who don't want to bother with the app, and there's a sortable, printable list posted on the OBF website for hardcore fans."

Last year's Specialty Tent, which replaced the International Tent, which had replaced the Buzz Tent, is going away this year. The area that tent occupied is shaded and ideal for chill seating. Given the issues they're having with attendance, it apparently seemed wise to fill that area up with tables and chairs for patron seating.

Organizers are advising festival attendees to walk, bike or take public transit to the event. That's sound advice considering possible bridge closures, parking issues and impaired driving concerns. Regardless of how you get to the park, the Safe Ride Home program is once again in play. It offers reduced-cost rides with the goal of getting people home safely.

Go to the OBF website for information on event hours, Safe Ride Home, what you can and can't bring into the park and a whole lot more. This event may have lost a bit of momentum in recent years, but it remains the granddaddy of beer festivals in Oregon.

See you Thursday.

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