A Shared Love of Beer
by Michele Christopher
It happens the last full weekend of July, in downtown Portland on the waterfront, next to the Willamette River. Thousands gather for the Oregon Brewers Festival, partaking in fine beers from brewers across the Northwest and North America. Being the last weekend of July, it's usually hot and stuffy and oppressive, even though the event takes place outside. It's the perfect atmosphere to cram thousands of people together and get them all pissed on great beer.
I've attended the last two years and neither time has the event failed to impress. The most memorable moment from the first year, 2005, was when my roommate and I found ourselves seated at one of the tables beneath one of the many large open-air tents, grateful for the shade and the slight decrease in temperature it brought. Both of us cradled our four-ounce samples of whatever darkish beer we had just procured from a nearby brewer and we both were at least a bit buzzed. The heat was particularly bad that year, the air still and muggy, so many people crowded beneath the tents in an effort to find their own patch of blessed shade. Surprisingly, the section of table we sat at was mostly clear of people.
A couple wandered over and sat across from us. The woman was drunk, talking before she even sat down, and the man accompanying her shot us apologetic glances. She wanted to know about us—where we were from, were we a couple, wasn't the festival great? I allowed her the answers, the woman nice enough and the atmosphere friendly and convivial, the beer providing a sense of easygoing camaraderie. We were from Vancouver, Washington (not Vancouver BC, about 300 miles away in Canada); we were only roommates, not a couple; the festival and beer was indeed great. I was quickly informed that they, too, lived in Vancouver. When we narrowed down our specific addresses, it further turned out that we lived about a tenth of a mile from each other. Small world.
The conversation escalated from there. The woman tried our beers, offered her own to us. She chatted excitedly and told us more and more about herself. The man with her sat quietly, chiming in rarely, a look of embarrassment growing ever more apparent. I didn't mind her, though. The woman was nice and easygoing. She was silly and drunk, sure, but that was half of those in attendance. I was a couple more beers away from being the same.
Beer festivals are communities that offer up an appreciation of beer—something that you don't find as consistently in a bar, or even a nice brewpub. There's a certain excitement and shared purpose at a festival. You get to be around people who think like you while also being promised the opportunity to sample multiple beers, all of which should be of at least decent quality (though that certainly doesn't mean you're going to like every one). It's two great worlds brought together to form a beer-lover's paradise.
The communal spirit is made stronger by the expectation of alcohol-fueled fun. Most people are there with the explicit intent to get drunk, all while savoring something they love. Barring being the designated driver—a sad state of affairs you should always avoid when attending a beer festival—drunken fun will most definitely be had. Not only will it be you and your friends, beer after beer after beer, slipping farther and farther down the alcohol slope, but it will be almost everyone around you, losing themselves in the decadence, the line of beer taps stretching for hundreds of yards, offering brew upon brew, each one unique and special and very possibly brand new to you. It's heaven. It's a beer museum, a beer hall of fame, proffered up to you for a slightly exorbitant but oh-so-worth-it price. It's a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon begging for your attention and your wallet, and you gladly giving it both.
The second festival, this summer's, offered up something less exciting but more mystifying than drunken neighbors. As I wandered amongst the different beer stands, beneath the tents, fighting my way through the crowds, an occasional cry would go up amongst the people. It started out small but then grew louder until it swamped me, the crowd of people letting loose with cries and hollers—cheers, really—with no apparent external cause. The first time it happened, I dismissed it. The second time, I grew curious. The third time, fuck it—I jumped in and cheered with the rest of them. It may have been the beer or it may have been the community spirit. But it was probably the beer. Either way, it felt good to let loose with a loud cheer for no other reason than a love of beer, a love of the festival, a love of the existence of it all—and a blind following of my fellow drinkers.
The cheers happened again and again throughout the afternoon and I never did figure out what caused them. Was it some kind of event, a free beer being offered somewhere, the wacky doings of a drunken festival-goer garnering the approval of the crowd, or was it just some drunk guy who started whooping with excitement, and his buddy who joined him, and the drunk guy five feet away who couldn't help but continue it, and on and on through a crowd loosened by alcohol and susceptible to group pressure and rowdy camaraderie? It could have been one of the former but I still suspect it was the latter. Someone started it and others continued it. Funny enough, it happened in two different sections of the festival, again and again, independent of each other. Perhaps there was an explanation beyond simple drunkenness and group dynamics, but I very much doubt it. After all, I joined in without knowing the source, for no other reason than it was happening and I had been enjoying beer all afternoon.
That's the beauty of a good beer festival, though. It's the community of it all. It's the purposeful drunkenness. It's all the fine beers, just begging you to taste them, revel in them. It's the silliness of thousands of drunken people crammed together on a hot afternoon, wandering about with plastic mugs and beer guides, wooden tokens and wrist bands. It's a hot weekend afternoon at the end of July and the beer is pouring, the taps are open, the drunken happiness is thick and palpable, urging you on, drink-drink-drink-drink-drink.
And you do.
Joel's favorite Christmas song is The Twelve Days of Beer
my god, that's beautiful
Posted by: turtle | November 29, 2006 10:08 AM
I don't even like beer and that made me want to go out and drink with a bunch of strangers.
Posted by: michele | November 29, 2006 10:14 AM
Nice one, Joel.
We have one in Toronto as well, it goes over great every year. I'll try and find a link.
I think a lot of these happen everywhere. Wish there was a database, or maybe a tour bus that takes you all over North America. If every city timed it right, you could be loaded for three or four months straight without ever walking inside.
Posted by: Dan | November 29, 2006 6:54 PM
It was indeed beautiful, turtle.
Michele, drinking with strangers is fun, unless of course they're assholes. Also, if you don't like beer, that's what flasks are for.
Dan, a four month bender? That is an absolutely brilliant idea. I'm going to try to implement it.
Posted by: Joel Caris | November 30, 2006 12:51 AM