Hops Fest attendance breaks record for nine-year event

With dozens of beers for sampling, there were some tough decisions to ponder at the annual Hood River Hops Fest.

Saturday’s packed Hops Fest was like a carnival for the taste buds.

It was not because of the tents and loud noise. The festival is a sensory extravaganza of bitter, effervescent, tart, dry, sweet, cedary, and most of all, hoppy tastes and aromas found in the beers from 64 breweries in the Pacific Northwest, all lined up for beer-o-philes to sample, discuss and debate.

The festival, organized by Hood River Chamber of Commerce, boasted a midway of tap handles, not tilt-a-whirls, and the wooden tokens offered entrance to a sipping gallery, not a shooting one.

As warm weather (and a break from the wildfire smoke) welcomed the record crowd of 10,000, there was a sense of anticipation — getting in line for a favorite ride.

The line was long at times, too, at one point stretching around the block on Columbia between Fifth and Seventh streets.

“We like to come here, visit all our brewer friends and see what beer they’ve made,” said Cindy Marasco of The Dalles, comparing mug samples with her friend Ryan Mooney.

“We had a long list and a hard time whittling it down. We’re going for the IPAs and Imperial IPAs ... we can’t wait,” said Dorothy Robinson of Seattle. She and Bob Sharble were the first festival-goers through the gate at noon. It’s their second time at Hops Fest.

“I thought it was a pretty nice way to celebrate my birthday. This is the highlight!” Robinson said.

“It’s good you caught us on the first one because our taste buds are going to be gone,” said Emily Duerfeldt of Camas, visiting with her husband, Adam. “It’s our first time (at Hops Fest). We wanted to come for a long time, and just decided we gotta go, plus we love Hood River. We’ll hit Double Mountain for lunch and come back here and sample a couple of beers.”

Many visitors wore beer, brewery and beer festival T-shirts from throughout the U.S., but the retro orange T-shirt worn by Portland’s Justin Muller just read “Beer.”

He and Helen Lee, Portland, liked the festival so much last year that they came back.

“We rented a house this time. We got serious,” Lee said. “We love Hood River.”

For some, the occasion was all business. Todd Gilman of New Belgium Brewery said, “A beer festival is a sampling opportunity; it allows us and everyone here to get the beers out in front of people, whether it’s a new seasonal product or a one-off, like a fresh hop here today — it allows you to get those out in front of people, en masse. It’s a bigger opportunity to reach people who really want to drink good beer.”

Rick Farris of Keller Brew Supply in The Dalles said, “Just pouring the beer hopefully it’ll be exposure; hoping to get people to realize we’re in The Dalles (since December).

“Hopefully we’ll get some exposure and build up the clientele. Each week we get new people in, who say ‘We didn’t even know you were here.’

“Home brewers kind of take care of themselves, but you gotta kind of push. If they want to make beer they gotta find a place to get supplies and hopefully they’ll find us,” said Farris, who with his partner, Larry Keller, volunteered as beer pourers.

It is volunteers and not the brewers who serve beer at Hops Fest, but the brewers and brewery owners were on hand. Visitors got to meet Derrak Smith of Big Horse, Jason Kahler of Solera, Doug Ellenberger of Everybody’s, Jim Kelter of Full Sail, Charlie Devereux of Double Mountain, Josh Pfriem of Pfriem Family Brewing and Charles Porter of Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, representing all seven breweries in Hood River and White Salmon.

Smith said he cut short his time at a family reunion in Newport to get to Hood River in time to set up his kegs Saturday morning. He presented his signature Paragon Double IPA with fresh hops, and a coffee stout made in collaboration with 10 Speed Roastery in Hood River.

“Super-psyched to be at Hop Fest,” said Pfriem, who opened his brewery in April. “This is my rookie year, as all the other brewers are calling me for my first year with Hops Fest.

“It’s pretty exciting. With Oktoberfest festivals in Germany they are creating a lot of excitement with the beer, and you only have that once a year, and fresh hops are the same kind of thing, and people are making this the quintessential fresh hop beer festival in the nation.”

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