Portland's Macro BrewFest cheers the chug

Warms the mouth... fruity... with a lingering aftertaste of real.
All photos by Caitlin Donohue

“Are you noting the hints of coriander in your Rolling Rock?” my buddy wants to know. On a late summer afternoon, the couples and regulars scattered around us throughout a southeast Portland, Oregon neighborhood dive are taking a break from the microbrews their city is known for. For them, it was all about the tall cans. And for a damn good reason – the proud beginning of what may well be the world's first Macro BrewFest, which went down this past weekend.

Not that Glen Wallace, owner of festival host O'Malley's Saloon and Grill, isn't into fancy suds. Wallace, who moved to Portland from his native Boston nine years ago, came up with the idea while at one of Beervana's (as Portland, site of a national record 30 in-city craft breweries, has been colloquially termed) many micro brew fests. 

“Me and my buddy were sitting there with our little plastic cups and our beer nickels,” Wallace, an affable chap, tells us as we drink to his new festival's health at one of O'Malley's streetside picnic tables, the Southeast Foster Road traffic whizzing by a few feet from our bench seats. The two friends were reflecting on the bum hand that cheap beers are dealt in a town that often prizes hops over national ad campaigns. “The macro and domestic beers really seem to get shunned a little bit,” Wallace says, whose own draft pulls are evenly split between local stars like Eugene's Ninkasi Brewery, and old school pulls of Coors and Pabst Blue Ribbon. “And I tend to think in contrarian terms.”

O'Malley's Saloon and Grill owner Glen Wallace and his macros

Credit to this oppositional nature his next move: Wallace placed an order for an obscene amount of 16 different kinds of suds, the beers that we all drink, but aren't necessarily stomping at the bit to stand up for. I take a break from sampling wares so that he can proudly escorts me into his walk-in refrigerator, which at the three day festival's start was piled with cases of Coors Banquet, Steel Reserve, Olympia, Old German, and Natural Ice. “We were going to stock Iron City too, but they had a canning problem in Pennsylvania or something like that,” he reflects.

To truly give the much maligned macrobrew it's due, Wallace went big with the concept: a bluegrass night, a comedy night that with the help of a stand-up connected staffer attracted sign-ups from 34 amateur yucksters. He sold “beer passes” for five bucks, which got you four tall cans of the Americana elixir of your choice, and in this manner got rid of 800 beers in three days – a big event for a small dive bar. To get people invested in the concept he offered a bonus feature: ballots to vote on O'Malley's new house beer. His “dark horse” favorite, the white and red cans of Rainier, took home top honors from his discerning patrons, which he seemed to be happy about. “I've had a few long nights with Rainier,” he told me.

And such was the world's first Macro BrewFest – which, judging from the way Wallace was talking, may not be the world's last. He's looking into trademarking the event's name. After all, he says, people are beginning to return to their old standbys in these economic hard times. Miller High Life will always be there for its fans, an important fact in a Beervana where unemployment is currently standing at 10.2%. Chug! 


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