The Unofficial Guide to the Oregon Brewers Festival: Tips from a Portland hophead

Oregon Brewers Fest, now "vintage" mug, this is the first year they'll be using glass. I'll have to find a new camping cup but glass=class!  Attribution: richtpt

Oregon Brewers Fest, now “vintage” mug, this is the first year they’ll be using glass. Attribution: richtpt

The reigning king of Craft Beer month is the Oregon Brewers Festival, fondly known as OBF or just Brew Fest. This five day symphony of beer brings in people from all around the Northwest, across the country, and frequently a few worldwide beer aficionados as well. On the last full weekend of each July for the past 26 years, beer lovers have enjoyed frosty brews amid sun and snacks, at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. This once-weekend-festival now spans five days from Wednesday to Sunday offering over 80 different brews from around the country available in a 3 ounce sample for one token (equal to $1) or a full glass for 4 tokens.  This year the festival is expecting attendance upwards of 100,000, with almost half of these beer nuts coming from out of the Portland area. As the festival has grown in popularity the lines have grown, but so has the merriment as you will see when you raise your glass for your first impromptu thousand-man toast when it comes roaring through the crowd. In addition to delicious hoppy beverages, you can also find local restaurants, a variety of arts and crafts vendors, and of course a stage featuring a rockin’ good band. For a true taste of Beervana come to Oregon Brewers Festival and enjoy a few fresh pours.

Tips for a happy, hoppy beer festival:

  • Best time to go to for a genuine beer tasting experience:

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday all day or Saturday early afternoon when there are short lines, relatively sober people, and often the people pouring are true beer aficionados that are planning to partake later in the day. You’ll also find many of the brewers hanging around behind their taps earlier in the day.

  • Best time to go for some rollicking good fun: 

    Inside one of the two tents. Attribution: richtpt

    Inside one of the two tents. This year you can look forward to whole new setup.  Attribution: richtpt

Saturday evening when the crowds get bigger and the people get bolder, but be prepared for long, meandering lines, and dealing with some not “sotally tober” people.

  • Best time to go for free beer:

Technically that’s not supposed to happen, but when the taps are closing Sunday at 7, you never know what might happen…

  • What to do when you hear a roar coming through the crowd:

Raise your glass and yell along!

  • Looking for a particular beer:

Show up any time before Saturday evening and late Sunday when taps start to run dry.

  • Try the rarest taps:

Do your research, look online at and get the guide at the fest, most importantly try not to waste your tokens and sobriety on beers that are always available at the grocery store.

  • Get that beer with a mile-long line:

Don’t do it! Sometimes people just get in line because everyone else is there so they think it must be good. You’ll see the long lines form and disappear throughout the day, pick the brews that sound good to you and wait for that line to fade away.

  • How to not spend a penny:

    Those awesome beer-pouring-volunteers are earning free tokens, a mug, and a sweet tee!

    Those awesome beer-pouring-volunteers are earning free tokens, a mug, and a sweet tee!

Volunteer! Sign up early, usually a few months before, and pour beer, sell tokens, or help out at the fest for free tokens and glasses.

  • Stay thrifty:

Find someone you don’t mind swapping saliva with and share a beer glass, that’s a $7 savings if you don’t mind waiting your turn or sharing samples. I recommend you stick to choosing from among friends and significant others for the optimal not-weird-beer-sharing experience.

  • Be thrifty and eco-friendly:

Did a buddy already go the day before? Call him up and get that glass.

  • Find the bathroom:

The Honey Buckets are at both far ends of the fest so keep walking until you don’t see any more tents. Head for the Morrison or Burnside Bridges.

  • Can’t handle the hops:

    Dead-and-dusty Waterfront Park,  a tip for the ladies, your sandals are gonna be full of dirt and dead grass.

    Dead-and-dusty Waterfront Park, a tip for the ladies, your sandals are gonna be full of dirt and dead grass. I opt for flip-flops or closed-toe

It’s a five-day festival! Come back tomorrow. Your tokens are also good every year so save them up and sober up. Or if it’s literally the hops that are bugging you, quit drinking IPAs, switch to something light, then start training those taste buds, this is Oregon after all home of the best IPAs!

  • Where to go for your after party:

Dan & Louis Oyster Bar, Kells Irish Pub, Rock Bottom Brewery, and Paddy’s Bar are all nearby, or for something fancy and classic, and if you don’t look like you just came from a beer fest, head to: Mother’s Bistro, the Veritable Quandry, Hubers or Portland City Grill. Dozens of other small restaurants, cafes, and bars are nearby including quite a few delicious Thai places.  Cheap, quick, delicious eats can also be found at the Food Cart Pods up a few blocks on 3rd and 5th avenue between Washington and Alder, and a huge selection around the same area around 9th & 10th avenue. 

  • How to pre-funk:

Get your Portland-on before OBF on Sunday by participating in the Big Float, an inner-tube parade and float across the Willamette River, followed by a beer-food-music celebration, promoting using our river for recreation and keeping it clean.

  • How to have a good time:

Take the MAX, stay hydrated, eat before during and after, apply sunscreen liberally, and please, please, please don’t drive. And bring along your favorite beer buddies of course.


Quick Facts:

OBF: just one of the many reasons Oregon is Hop Heaven. Yum!

Just one of the many reasons Oregon is Hop Heaven. Yum!

When: last full “weekend” of July, from Wednesday to Sunday (hours are usually 12-9 and 12-7 on Sunday)

Where: Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Portland, Oregon

How Much: $7 for a beer tasting mug, $1 per 3 oz. sample or $4 for a full 12 oz. mug

More Information:

What’s new at OBF this year? Watch this vid.

Do you have any tips to add?

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