2012 OBF: Interview with Chris Crabb and Preston Weesner

The 25th installment of the Oregon Brewers Festival kicks off at Portland's Waterfront Park tomorrow!  Chris Crabb and Preston Weesner, two of OBF's key organizers (and busiest people in the State of Oregon), were kind enough to spend some time answering my questions about the festival...

For those already familiar with the festival, are there any notable changes to the 25th installment of OBF?

Chris Crabb: We've added a Sour Tent, based on the popularity of the Buzz Tent and the trending of sour beers. That should be a huge hit with the attendees. We also have an amazing music lineup this year, including the Cherry Poppin Daddies on Friday night! But otherwise, no changes. Prices are the same as the past couple years: $6 for a tasting mug and $1 for tokens. Four tokens to fill the mug, one token for a taste. This is a festival that draws 80,000 people from all over the world. If it isn't broke, why fix it?

The Buzz Tent was a huge hit last year—so much so that beer was gone and the tent was closed before the weekend started.  Will anything be different this year?  How can fest attendees find out what's pouring at any given time?

CC:  Last year, we were promised beers that we promoted (and counted on) that weren't delivered. At the end of the day, we didn't have enough beer. This year, we purposefully have not shared what will be in the tent, because we want it in our hands before we promote it. Preston did release a bit of info on an interview with Lisa Morrison on Beer O'Clock that can be listened to here

Preston Weesner: We will post a starting list each day of the event, and we have a dedicated Twitter feed (@OBFBuzzTent) to get the tappings and changes to the masses at they happen,.

How did the decision to open the Sour Tent come about?  While sour beers are popular among beer geeks, do you think craft beer drinking masses area ready for them?

PW:  This came about for two reasons. 1: The Buzz tent ran low last year and we filled with Cascade Sours, which were extremely popular. 2: The director of the OBF, Art Larrance, also owns Cascade Brewing, which has developed a national reputation for its Northwest Style Sour Ales, and he believes it's time to let the secret of Sour out. We also have a dedicated Twitter feed for that (@OBFBSourTent).

For those that missed the OBF movie, will it be shown again?  Where can we see it?

CC:  There will be a second showing on the big screen on Wednesday, July 25, at 7 pm at the Living Room Theaters. Tickets cost $5 for the movie, or $10 with an official poster. The film will star at 7:30pm with the short film "Weathering Spring" playing beforehand. After that, we will upload to You Tube and possibly Netflix. It's important to note that this is not a documentary of the festival, it's more of a promotional piece for those who have never been before to get a feel for what the festival is all about.

How many breweries submitted applications to join the festival?  Can you provide any behind-the-scenes insights into how the breweries are selected?

CC: More than 100 submitted applications this year. Applications are sent out the first week of January, and due back, with payment, by the third Friday in February. The "with payment" clause is important, because if more than 82 breweries apply, we have to start making cuts, and the first ones cut are those that didn't play by the rules. After those are culled, we go to a lottery. However, if a brewery is on the wait list this year, they will be given priority the following year.

How has the craft beer culture grown and changed in the last 25 years? 

CC: Craft beer culture has changed in so many ways. In 1985, there were 21 craft breweries in America. In 1988, there were only 8 craft breweries in Oregon - today we have 148! The festival was started to bring attention to these craft beers (back then they were referred to as microbrews, a term not really used anymore). The founders wanted to get some press about their beers. And speaking of press, that has been one of the biggest changes. In the beginning there was one reporter covering beer in Oregon: Fred Eckhardt. Eventually a few more signed on, including Jeff Alworth and John Foyston and Alan Moen. But it was all print journalists, there was not such thing as a blog. I used to do a media preview on Friday of the festival that involved a group of maybe 12 media walking from tap to tap for tastes. This year, my media list is at about 80.

The festival has gone from a 2-day to a 3-day to a 4-day event, and there are rumors it may expand even more in the future. Only time will tell!

A huge thanks to Chris and Preston for taking the time to chat!  I can't wait...  

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