Sure, it might have hailed here in town, but for many Oregon beer enthusiasts, this weekend's Oregon Garden Brewfest in Silverton marked the beginning of the summer beer festival season. These festivals often find breweries showcasing some more experimental offerings (and equally experimental names—I’m sorry, but “Miley Citrus” is a terrible name for a beer no matter how strong the orange and tangerine notes). After the comfortable reliability of winter drinking, it’s not surprise that some of us feel a bit rusty.

For starters, beer festivals aren’t cheap, and you want some bang for your buck; this involves a bit of reconnaissance. Some of the pourers are volunteers, bribed into strict observance of pour limits by a free t-shirt and the drink tickets that await them after their shift. Others are brewery representatives who know the quickest way to your heart is to fill your glass. So do yourself a favor, take a walk around the taps, and see who’s feeling generous.

A related word of advice: don’t be too easily wooed by shiny swag. First thing on Friday, I got swindled into giving up two tickets for a meager few sips of some astringently bitter double IPA by some very sturdy-looking keychain bottle openers. Don’t be like me, a moth to light at the sight of free stuff. You already have too many stickers, and you don’t put them on anything other than that beat-up BPA-free Nalgene you hardly ever use anymore. Make better choices than I did.

Speaking of good choices, this was a beer festival, not a trinket festival, so I should probably mention some brews. If you find yourself in front of a pint of any of these fine offerings, you won’t be disappointed.

Fort George’s Divinity: The advertised 60 pounds of Olallie berries used to brew this fruit beer had me worried that the emphasis would be on “fruit.” I was wrong; this is definitely a “beer,” and a great one at that. Bright red, and with a much subtler tartness than I’m used to from fruit beers, this was incredibly refreshing after a few too many hop bombs.

Gigantic’s Firebird: Everything this SE Portland brewery touches tends to turn gold these days, so it’s not much of a surprise that they’ve made a smoked hefeweizen that is strangely refreshing despite being, you know, smoked. Sure, it’s a bit reminiscent of grilled bananas, but if it weren’t a limited one-off release, it would be my go-to for people who think they don’t like smoked beer. Instead, I’ll just encourage you to grab a bottle of this while you can.

GoodLife’s Evil Sister: Though an entirely different recipe, this Imperial Pacific Ale uses the same hop-bursting technique as its little (and presumably less malicious?) sister Sweet As. It’s almost more like a glass of hop juice than a beer, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Pelican’s The Governor: People who think the Northwest is the center of the brewing universe tend to forget that—newsflash—Germans still brew German beer almost uniformly better than we do. One exception to that rule, though, might be this Pacific City brewery’s Maibock, a wonderfully balanced if not wholly traditional example of the style.

Stone’s Gotterdammerung IPA: The praise I just directed towards the Bundesrepublik is entirely moot for hoppy beers, which, sorry Deutschland, the Stars and Stripes has pretty well covered. Which explains why I was so surprised that this beer, an imperial IPA brewed with entirely German hops and malts, was so damn good. I will be scouring local bottle shops for a bomber of this, you can be sure.

Those five beers barely scratch the surface of all the goodness on tap last weekend. The best bang for your brewfest buck is the pleasure of trying a style or brewery you’ve never encountered before, so get out there!

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