I was able to get down to The Little Woody early on Friday right after they opened, courtesy of Lay it Out Events (they provided a media pass for me), and as a self-professed beer geek I have to say I’m impressed with the quality of event that this has become. Unlike some beer festivals I’ve attended, this one is focused on quality, not quantity, with a carefully curated selection of beers that highlight both the diversity of what beer can be, as well as the amazing number of breweries that Central Oregon has to offer (not to mention the guest breweries that are attending).
If you’re looking for something to do this Labor Day weekend, I strongly recommend checking out The Little Woody. I do of course have some comments about the fest itself, but first some beer recommendations—the “must try” list as it were, five beers that are unusual that you won’t find anywhere else:
- Three Creeks Grandma V. Ryely: This is their Stonefly Rye aged on vanilla beans and oak spirals that have been soaked in Grand Marnier. It’s only 4.6% alcohol by volume but it’s super flavorful and refreshing; the liqueur and vanilla both come through but not overwhelmingly, and it’s light enough to be a good hot-weather beer but still has a touch of spice from the rye (like a rye bread) and body from the wood.
- Block 15 Prickly Wit: A Belgian Wit-styled beer aged in Pinot Noir barrels with prickly pear fruit and wild yeasts, 5% alcohol by volume. There’s a lot of complexity and different flavors going on, it starts fruity (the earthy notes of the prickly pear), turns a touch wild-sour in the middle, and finishes with a malty character that (no kidding) reminded me of popcorn. I really liked it, someone else I talked to didn’t (they don’t like popcorn), but it’s worth a try.
- 10 Barrel One in the Sun: You will either love this or hate this. There’s no middle ground. Intensely sour, so much so that there’s a bit of nail polish aroma, 6% alcohol by volume, and (optionally) served with raspberry syrup to cut the sour and add a nice sweet fruity character to it. This was the straight-up sourest beer I think I’ve had from any local brewery, and I drank half the beer straight, and half with syrup.
- Boneyard Twisted Sister: a light wheat ale (4.5% alcohol) aged for 12 months in a bourbon barrel. Very unusual, you get the grassy crisp wheat (similar to a hefeweizen) married to a strong bourbon presence. Other people I talked to really like it, and I was intrigued enough to get this for my final pour (after tasting someone else’s).
- Oakshire Gin Barrel Aged Imperial Overcast Stout: This is a doubled-up version of their popular Overcast Espresso Stout, beefed up to 9.5% alcohol, and aged for five months in a gin barrel with Oregon blackberries. It’s coffee and blackberries and a touch of alcohol heat all combined into a liquid dessert in a glass. This might be a good beer to finish with.
You’ll notice that most of these are actually lighter in alcohol than “barrel-aged beer” usually implies: that’s because (in my opinion) when dealing with lighter beers, you can enjoy a lot more complexity and subtlety with beers that don’t assault your palate with lots of bourbon and alcohol flavors. And they are truly interesting beers that I think a lot of people will enjoy.
Of course I tried a bunch of other beers as well, and I didn’t find one I didn’t like. Here are those, with my impressions:
- GoodLife India Pale Ale: Their Mountain Rescue Pale Ale aged in barrels. Not as fresh as their regular Pale on tap, but it has the same nice hoppy flavors and a bit of cedar-like spiciness from the wood.
- Deschutes Solace Rose: 10.5% Flanders-style brown ale, very similar to The Dissident (though with a different base yeast I believe), aged with cherries and in Pinot Noir barrels for 18 months. I heard at least one person opine that it was better than The Dissident.
- Oakshire La Ferme du Funk: (I had a taste of someone else’s pour.) Nicely fruity, a touch of sour, a bit of mustiness (this is a good thing).
- Silver Moon Boyz in the Wood: (I had a taste of someone else’s pour.) The taste I had was a nice blend of beers that reminded me more than any other beer I tried of a barleywine, and it had a touch of wild yeast character.
- Silver Moon Bourbon Barrel Chocolate Darkside Stout: (I had a taste of someone else’s pour.) This smells like chocolate decadence and is rich and chocolatey with a bit of a bourbon note.
- Three Creeks Crosswalk Imperial Porter: (I had a taste of someone else’s pour.) Huge bourbon flavors paired with charred wood, alcoholic (10%) and “hot.”
I also heard very good things about Boneyard Bourbon Black 13, Cascade Lakes Honey Badger Bourbon Barrel Strong Ale, and Hopworks Bourbon Ace of Spades.
As for the rest of the fest itself, here’s what I really liked:
- The venue. At first glance, the parking lot (and lawn) of the Des Chutes Historical Museum really shouldn’t work, but for some reason it does. It’s fairly spacious but still has an intimate feel to it. (Granted I haven’t been there in the later evening when it gets really packed.)
- Rinse water. There’s a rinse water station in the middle area of all the beer stations, which is great since many of these beers have strong flavors and you’ll want to rinse your glass between them. I do wish there were more rinse stations however.
- Tables. They have some “barrel-top” tables and some regular tables set up amongst the beer stations in the parking lot, which is great if you can snag one to set stuff down on. First-come, first-served of course, but it’s nice to have some respite when you’re standing on asphalt.
- Variety. The first year, there were 14 beers on tap (not all of which were barrel-aged). This year, there are 27.
- Friendly staff. Everyone I encountered was unfailingly friendly and helpful. Let’s hope it stays that way especially as the crowd grows on the main day (hey, nerves can get frayed, it happens).
Things you should know:
- The taster glasses are four-ounce sampler glasses, and all beers will cost you two tickets to fill this glass (at $1 per ticket). No “sample” fills for 1 ticket.
- There is food, but only four vendors: Cafe Yumm, Pisano’s Pizza, the Honey Pot, and “German Food” (I didn’t get the specific name of this vendor, this was just the banner they had out).
- There is no wine, and no cocktails (other that the whiskey tasting). I had originally blogged that there would be, and found out later that was wrong. It’s all beer (and whiskey) only.
- Any beers that have “lactic” or “brett” or “wild” (or some variation thereof) in the descriptions will have some soured, possibly “funky” characteristic to it. (And even some that don’t have those words in the description will, it’s the nature of barrels.) If you’re not into the sour beers, stick to the darker, bourbon-barrel-aged beers (stouts and porters are great for this).
- Boneyard’s Bourbon Barrel Sug Knight, their 15% imperial stout that everyone seems to be talking about, will be tapped sometime Saturday night.
- Little Woody-themed Silipints are available as contest prizes: for $1 you can try to win one by tossing a ping pong ball through a small hole.
And finally, some pictures: