Brewers Rock Olympia Brew Fest

After a week of 90+ temperatures throughout the Puget Sound area, an overcast, but still warm, day surrounded people coming to the First Ever Olympia Brew Fest. This is a community sponsored festival that benefits the Thurston County Chamber Small Business Development Program.

It also provided a chance for South Sound residents, and those of us who are willing to drive long distances to beer festivals, a chance to sample some beers from smaller breweries you do not see at many festivals. Some bigger breweries also participated which helped draw a fairly large crowd throughout the afternoon and on into the evening.

It was kind of a quirky festival. the $25 admission (advance) got you the Portland style plastic drinking mug and six 5 ounce pours of your choice. You could buy more tastes if you were so inclined.

Shock of all shocks. I was not so inclined at this festival. Somebody put out the word that everybody should bring the same stuff, and to make matters worse, bring lots of super hoppy IPAs and weak-kneed Blondes. Not that there aren’t many advantages about having weak-kneed Blondes around.

Fortunately for me Iron Horse Brewing from Ellensburg, WA, brought Quilter’s Irish Death, a beer I swear is sent from heaven to keep people of Earth happy. We had a nice visit with Ross Chalstrom, the owner of Iron Horse, about their move to a new brew house in Ellensburg at the end of the month. He seemed pretty excited about it. Might be time for another Road Trip east on I-90 to see how it all came together. He had the High Five Hefe on his second tap. That also is one fine brew.

I was pretty eager to try beers from Puyallup River Brewing, MT Head, Westport, GoodLife,  Grove Street, Kulshan, and Big Al’s. All these breweries make some really nice beers, so I am sure that a great many people liked what they tried. Unfortunately for me, they didn’t bring any of my favorites.

I did sample the Strawberry Saison from Puyallup River Brewing. Eric Akeson is a passionate brewer who makes some very creative beers. I found this beer to be very typical of the Saison style – a style that I am not particulary crazy about, but it is all the rage around here these days. It had a distinctive strawberry nose but the finish was pretty much what you would expect in a saison. There is a difference between a sour and a tart beer. My preferences lean more toward tart. I need more practice learning the nuances of this style as I further my beer education.

Also, Elk Head Brewing from Buckley, WA was there with four of their exceptional beers – and one of my personal favorites, the Black Stag Stout. They also brought Citronic, Blast Zone and Liberty Cap. Something for everyone. Nicely done.

Fish Brewing from Olympia brought Starfish, an Imperial Red with a bit of a hop kick but not offensively so.

If you are into hoppy IPAs, you might have liked a few of these:

  • Bastard Kat IPA – Kulshan Brewing – 70 IBUs
  • Rude Parrot IPA – 7 Seas Brewing – 75 IBUs
  • Big Hoppa IPA – Big Al’s – 80 IBUs
  • Country Boy IPA – Everybody’s Brewing – 80 IBUs
  • Dick’s Imperial IPA – Dick’s Brewing – 85 IBUs
  • Supergoose IPA – Hales Ales – 87 IBUs
  • Sculler’s IPA – Skagit River Brewing – 89 IBUs
  • Tricerahops IIPA – Ninkasi – 100+ IBUs
  • One Hop Wonder – Harmon Brewing – 100+ IBUs

Here’s what disappointed me about this festival. First, I was looking forward to GoodLife Brewing Company, an up and coming Oregon brewery. Cancelled. Something about a big Beer Festival in Bend, OR. Second, Elysian promised – well if not promised, maybe  “indicated” would be a better choice of words – that they would have their 2012 Night Owl Pumpkin Ale. Not so. Must be saving it up for their Great Pumpkin BeerFest 2012.

And third, Sound Brewing from Poulsbo did not bring the much publicized Ursus Spelaeus; blends of rich maltiness, notes of chocolate, coffee, toffee & subtle licorice with a perfect balance of hops. The Belgian yeast strain adds touches of fruit, herbs, and spices. What’s not to like about that? But no. Owner Mark Hood rattled off a few places where I could get some, as he poured me a Dubble Entendre. Another winner in my books.

I did not stay very long. I had my six tastes and was faced with a sea of IPAs interspersed with a Summer, or a Wit or a Lager. It started to rain a little. My wife went with me to this one – she had intended to spend time at the Olympia Farmers’ Market while I did my research for this blog. But that took far less time than she had imagined, and the sprinkles were enough for her to prod me to take an early out.

I will say the organizers did a good job in pulling this together and found a good spot if they intend to grow this next year. However, they could use a lot better marketing – signage in particular. There was absolutely nothing that visibly shouted Olympia Brew Fest anywhere around the Olympia area, and especially not in the Port Plaza market area. people were coming up and asking, “What is going on here? What is this?”

Also the swag was pretty weak. A first time beer festival needs a cool shirt, some real glass glassware for souvenirs, fridge magnets (“I was there!” – First Ever Olympia Brew Fest) or stickers. Something to keep and look at  – and remember – until next year’s festival.

Oh, well, next year.


Photography and content by Bob Shoemaker (
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