Mmmm. A mildly deceptive nose, given the fruit notes that follow, with layers of oak, then a delightful and lingering finish. Sounds like somebody’s been wine tasting. Nope. Beer and whiskey tasting. The line between the two grows less distinct every year. The inaugural Big Woody Barrel Aged Beer and Whiskey Festival is off and running, and tonight’s your last night.

Big Woody Festival

Oregon is, now, world renown for our wines, causing much whining in other growing regions. Yeah, boo-hoo. Cry me a river Napa and Bordeaux, we won our reputation fair and square. Also well-known are Oregon craft beers, thanks to such pioneering brothers as the Widmers and the McMennamins. Up and coming are small distillers, making small batches of artisan single-malts, bourbons and other whiskeys, offering depth and subtlety that just aren’t possible from big distillers.

Newer still is the notion of aging beer in wood barrels, just like fine whiskey, just like fine wine. The result: fine beer. Really fine. The Big Woody Barrel Aged Beer and Whiskey Festival brings it all together on two spacious levels of the Leftbank Annex, from 4 till 11. Price of admission gets you a wristband and a commemorative 4 oz. snifter filled with 20 wooden tokens. Hand over your tokens one by one and that snifter gets half filled with tastes of a dazzling array of wood aged beers from 17 brewers on the main floor. From sour ales to cappuccino stouts to “experimentals”, there’s a lot of range upstairs, with wood aging being the common thread. My favorites are Deschutes “2012 Super Jubel”, with its great malty hit and just the right hoppiness, and New Belgium’s “NBB Loves Leopold” sour ale, with an almost pineappley tartness that I’m going to want to remember come summertime.

Downstairs, there are 8 whiskies being poured from two stations. Here, the “price” varies. A taste can cost anywhere from three to six tokens. For me, the hands down winner is Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon. Vanilla, orange, chocolate, caramel, it’s all in there. Just amazing. Sip and swoon. Also wonderful is the Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Whiskey, with its caramel apple notes and smooth finish.

There’s a joke among Oregon winemakers: winemaking is 40% lifting heavy stuff, 40% cleaning heavy stuff, and 20% drinking beer. So, you’ll be rubbing elbows with plenty of winemakers if you attend the Big Woody Festival, count on it. The line is blurring nicely.

Leftbank Annex
January 17 — 18, 2014
4 p.m. — 11 p.m.

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