Skip to main content

Beer begins flowing at 'America's Oktoberfest'

By John Foyston, for CNN
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
<strong>80,000:</strong> Number of people expected to attend this year's Oregon Brewers Festival in Portland, Oregon. Many come from around the world and country for the event. This year the festival will run July 23-27. 80,000: Number of people expected to attend this year's Oregon Brewers Festival in Portland, Oregon. Many come from around the world and country for the event. This year the festival will run July 23-27.
HIDE CAPTION
Oregon Brewers Festival by the numbers
Crowded bar
Crowd-pleasing pints
Beer money
'Beervana'
Through a glass darkly
Classy glassware
'Oktoberfest' vibe
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Oregon Brewers Festival is a five-day annual event started in 1988 in Portland
  • More than 80,000 beer fans from all around world gather at this year's OBF
  • The OBF is a free and family-friendly beer party with more than 80 different craft beers

(CNN) -- Those hardy micro-brewing pioneers of the first Oregon Brewers Festival in 1988 were looking for some free advertising and a few people to taste the beers they were brewing in tanks scavenged from dairies, food processing plants and -- yes -- a never-used nuclear power plant.

They hoped 5,000 people might drop by and they corralled their buddies into manning the taps, promising a leisurely day of suds and sun at Portland, Oregon's Tom McCall Waterfront Park on the Willamette River.

More than 15,000 people came and chaos reigned.

Coolers didn't work right.

The beer poured foamy, warm, then not at all because the kegs were dry.

Brewers scurried back to their breweries for more kegs.

The owner of Deschutes Brewery drove nearly 200 miles from Bend with all the brewery's spare beer -- nine mini kegs.

The crowd drained those too, and loved it all.

America's Oktoberfest was born.

"I had traveled to Oktoberfest in Munich and knew what a big beer party was like," says Art Larrance, who now owns the festival. "I wanted to create that atmosphere."

The 27th Oregon Brewers Festival begins Wednesday, when a parade of hundreds of brewers and beer fans troops across Portland's Hawthorne Bridge to the park, where Grand Marshal John Maier will tap the first keg.

Hundreds more will be consumed over five days by a crowd of more than 80,000.

MORE: 8 best beer towns in America

Family-friendly behemoth

From shaky beginnings, the OBF has become perhaps the largest outdoor craft beer festival in the country, a sprawling, family-friendly behemoth that attracts visitors from around the world.

It's the spiritual home of Oregon craft brewing and the crown jewel of the city known as Beervana: Portland, Oregon.

Denver's Great American Beer Festival is older by six years and offers more beers -- 3,100 last year to the OBF's 80 or so.

Tickets cost $80: admission to the OBF is free and a tasting glass costs $7.

The GABF isn't a family event: its 40,000 attendees sign up for one of several sessions in a convention hall chockablock with beer fans intent on sampling all 3,100 beers, not in a grassy park on a glorious late July weekend with big white pavilions, ranks of picnic tables and riverine breezes a-wafting.

Serious beer judging is a big part of the GABF, where a couple hundred medals are awarded in dozens of categories.

In best laid back Oregon fashion, the OBF doesn't award medals and lets the crowd be the judge of which beers are its favorite.

"The GABF was the first, and it was their show," said Larrance. "We didn't want to copy them, so whatever they did, we pretty much went the other way.

"It's a very different festival in that sense, and that's why it's grown and evolved."

Oregon Brewers Festival, July 23-27, 2014, Waterfront Park, Portland, Oregon

MORE: America's luxury beer vacations

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
A foreign language can be the best aphrodisiac, so we traveled the world in search of the hottest accents.
updated 10:12 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
Hidden from the rest of the world for decades, Myanmar's Lethwei boxing is experiencing a revival globally.
updated 7:17 AM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
This aging cargo work whale makes more than 60 flights each week, carrying parts for all of the Airbus programs.
updated 7:32 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Vikings, vicious politics and vindaloo curries -- Scotland isn't all tartan and bagpipes.
updated 8:26 PM EDT, Sun September 14, 2014
Former brothels, public toilets and war bunkers now provide eccentric watering holes for those willing to drink deep.
updated 11:04 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Ushaka Marine World, Durban, South Africa
Joburg is trendy, Cape Town is glamorous, but Durban has style -- and a restaurant inside a shark tank.
updated 3:56 AM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Tirana's nightlife
Former Tirana stronghold of a totalitarian leader now home to a pulsing clubs and bar scene.
updated 11:38 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Whether filled with electric blue sulfur flames or hissing lava, these mega mountains offer incredible vistas.
updated 8:40 PM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
This once-a-year luxury cruise visits untouched islands and never-snorkeled reefs.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Peter J. Goutiere was just shy of 30 years old when he piloted a Douglas C-47 from Miami to Kolkata, India.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Breathtaking scenery, championship design -- many of the courses dropped into the Canadian Rockies are among the most memorable in the world.
updated 9:06 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
A floating hippo in the Thames river designed by artist Florentijn Hofman
Why Florentijn Hofman is sending a giant beast into London's River Thames.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
Scrap all those other bucket lists you've been compiling and start saving -- these memorable-for-a-lifetime trips don't come cheap, or easy.
updated 8:42 PM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
A squabble over a device that limits how far a seat can recline has brought inflight etiquette into the spotlight again.
updated 6:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Thirst for victory competes with thirst for booze in event where competitors raise their glasses long before they cross the finish line.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT