The sun peeking out onto the path from the Oregon Garden Resort into the gardens.

Most of the big festivals celebrating the Northwest craft libations take place in Portland, Bend or some windswept spot on the Oregon Coast. But during the last weekend of April, The Oregon Garden Brewfest offers a central Willamette Valley location just past the little town of Silverton. Last weekend, the Garden Brewfest, now in it’s eighth year, welcomed a record-breaking crowd of over 6,000 beer hunters and thirsty citizens. Brewers and beeroisseurs mingled and sipped over 90 varieties of craft beer, geeked out on tasting demonstrations, and shook their mugs to a sweet lineup of live music featuring Portland stalwarts Weinland and headliners Blitzen Trapper—all set amidst a lush 80 acre botanical garden.

The fest kicked off on Thursday evening with a fundraiser for the Garden, an intimate brewers dinner in which a coursed meal of six scrumptious plates were paired up with six craft beers, each introduced in detail by the brewers as they were being poured. A fruity, pear infused, pinot-barrel aged Seizoen Bretta by Logsdon Farmhouse Ales complimented aged cheeses; the sweetness of a bacon dressing over warm potato salad was evident when combined with Seven Brides Rose’s Imperial Pilsner, and a spring salad was accompanied by a very fuschia Marionberry Hibiscus Gose, which by all appearances was supposed to be tart and sweet, but was actually light and crisp. The main entrée, a braised beef short rib, slow roasted with root vegetables demi-glace, was paired with an imperial black saison named The City Never Sleeps, by Portland’s new Gigantic Brewing: a collaboration between Ben Love (formerly of Hopworks), and Van Havig (once the head brewer at Rock Bottom). Ben worked the room into laughter as he explained that Gigantic had been brewing for about…3 weeks. The beer was brand new, yet it was the star of the show. The room was quickly abuzz about the Cascadian dark ale, sweet with dark fruit and slightly spicy (expect a spicy-chili version in the future), cut the richness of the ribs, creating a refreshingly smooth counterpoint.

Not only did they wow the diners, but Gigantic Brewing’s “City” also won The People’s Choice for the entire festival.

Other honorable mentions were Uinta’s Duhbe Imperial Black Ale, Seven Brides Becky’s Black Cat Porter, and Calapooia’s Chili Beer.

Upon receiving my glass and tasting tickets I set off to sample my own battery of brews.
These were my picks:

Gilgamesh; "Vader": Started the day with this black IPA/coffee stout. Resiny hop aromas, rich espresso flavors, and a peppery finish.

Block 15; "Nebula": Hints of fresh coffee, dark chocolate and caramel with a velvet brown head. Golden naked oats provide a sweet-nut flavor and a satiny mouthfeel.

Good Life Brewing; "Mountain Rescue Pale Ale": Somewhere between an amber ale and an IPA, it had a balanced body and spicy finish.

Tieton Ciderworks; "Apricot Cider": I wanted to finish a little sweeter, so I decided to try one of the cider booths. The Apricot sounded enticing, but while it started out crisp, it went a little more sour than flavorful, and probably needed to be chilled longer.

Gilgamesh; "DJ Jazzy Heff": I circled back to try the other beer by Gilgamesh. A jasmine tea-infused Hefeweizen, citrus and herbal notes and just the right amount of hops. Light, spritzy, and perfect for warm days.

The event combines two of my favorite things, beer and gardening, and is scheduled during a convenient time of year for a relaxing getaway. In between drinks or waiting for festivities to begin, myself and many festival goers wandered throughout the gardens to view exotic flowers, and native wildlife. Some visitors made a weekend of it by staying at The Oregon Garden’s resort: well landscaped, cottage-style accommodations with private patios, and a lodge featuring a full spa, event space, and a restaurant with live music. Just a short drive away are opportunities to take fun pictures in fields of blooming tulips, trekking a waterfall hike, or exploring the Oktoberfest village of Mt. Angel. The Ninth Annual Oregon Garden Brewfest will take place April 26 & 27, 2013. Start making plans!