Who needs the sun? The Spring Beer and Wine Festival is a good excuse for indoor imbibing.

Image: Dan Cronin

No two ways about it, the annual Spring Beer and Wine Fest is a horse of a different color. It’s held indoors within the cavernous confines of the Convention Center, and instead of the bronzed brew believers milling about in sunglasses and cargo shorts that characterize summer’s Oregon Brewers Festival, there is an altogether more furtive air that pervades the spring gathering. After all, my skulking brethren and I had come to guzzle beer at noon on a Friday. I realize that this represents a stain on my permanent record. My dreams of higher office have been scrapped.

And while there are fewer brews at this event than at OBF, the lines are almost nonexistent, and that’s a major blessing for folks like myself who were born without a scintilla of patience. In fact, I’m now forbidden to stand in lines due to an unfortunate incident that I’m not at liberty discuss until a settlement can be reached with the injured parties. These are litigious times we live in.

“It’s like Costco in here—except with beer!” This observation came from my giddy photographer Dan Cronin, who was on hand to snap some Kodak moments for my blog. True that. It was free admission for the first two hours of the fest, and along with regional purveyors of beer, wine, and assorted spirits, there were abundant samples of everything from fried asparagus to Barbie-sized pies to industrial strength habañero beef jerky. A sample of the latter—dutifully cooked in an active volcano for six months before being slathered in napalm marinade—compelled me to chug three vases of daffodils from a nearby flower vendor. Too bad we didn’t get a picture.

Portland is a town sadly bereft of actual celebrities, but I did manage to chat with local notables who included Brian Butsenschoen head of the Oregon Brewers Guild; beer judge and homebrew pioneer Fred Eckhardt; Horse Brass owner Don Younger; and Portland’s ambassador of Happy Hour, Cindy Anderson, who was on hand promoting her latest guide to good drinking in PDX.

On the beer front, the power players—Widmer, Bridgeport, Full Sail, Laurelwood, Ninkasi, Lompoc, and Deschutes—were in the house with a healthy assortment of ales. Ninkasi’s Spring Reign, a clean and sturdy American pale ale with shades of citrus, caramel, and nuts, was especially memorable. Consider this a plea from me on my bended knee: may this super seasonal be promoted to Ninkasi’s regular rotation. Our parting would be sorrowful indeed.

The presence of young and hungry micro brewers served as a potent reminder that even our big beer barons came from humble roots. And if the ales proffered by the likes Astoria Brewing, Oakshire Brewery, Fort George Brewing, and Panty Dropper Ale (gotta love that name) are any indication, the spirit of competitive brewing is alive and kicking.

I’m a sucker for beers sporting offbeat ingredients and I was rewarded with a few innovative jolts. MateVeza Brewing from Ukiah, California, featured a Yerba Mate ale that set my pulse racing. Far and away the tastiest and most intriguing beer I tipped all afternoon was the Black Mamba Ale from Gilgamesh Brewing in Turner. Instead of hops, this crackling brew was made from black tea leaves. Sounds weird, but it was love at first sip, and I’m already jonesing for more. Maybe I’d better check the list of active ingredients and make sure there’s nothing in it from Columbia.

Without further ado, please enjoy our web exclusive slide show from the Spring Beer and Wine Fest. It was fun! Where were you?