This website has been in my headspace for a while now, and 2019 is the year that I will finally kick it off. And if Paths to Pours is about going special places and trying special beer, I'd be hard pressed to find a better spot than the Festival of the Dark Arts in Astoria, hosted by Fort George!
This year, there were 73 stouts on tap. And most of these aren't little stouts. There were some, including Fort George's own Itsy Bitsy Stout (4.3%), but most of these are big, barrel beers. Chocolate and whiskey and breakfast and dessert all in lovely liquid form. So it is a bit of an assault on your palate, in the darkest, most delicious way.
What I love about this festival, even more than the decadent libations, is the community event that it is. It's a beloved festival, with no small amount of dark arts themed costuming. There are Hogwarts students rubbing elbows with goths. But not all of the decoration is black. Because Fort George makes room for artists to craft colorful marvels for the throngs of stout-sipping onlookers.
The glass studio pictured above is Fern Hill Glass, which operates in the same city block as Fort George, so they could just open up the doors and let festival attendees flow through. The artist below that is Charlie Herrin, who was set up in the Lovell Brewery, near some towering tanks. There was also an ice sculptor. And there was live music happening at multiple locations throughout the complex, from opening until closing.
And that "complex," the festival grounds, and Fort George's base of operations, is pretty big. They have multiple buildings with multiple levels. They have indoor spaces and outdoor spaces. It's a distinctive place, a fort of sorts. And on one weekend every year, in mid February, it is full to bursting with stout enthusiasts and artisans of many mediums.
Every corner of the brewery is in use, pouring different things. It is impossible to try everything, and because these are such big beers, working through your tokens takes pacing and endurance. There are a few things that went fast. Cloudburst Brewing's offering was gone by the time that I got up to the counter, as was a Mexican chocolate beer stout from Cerebral Brewing in Denver. I was sad to miss these, but it opened up the opportunity to try other things I wouldn't have otherwise sampled, so my disappointment was quickly dispelled!
A standout stout for me was Skookum Brewing's simply but aptly named "Barrel Aged Breakfast Stout," which was a milk stout finished on whole coffee beans. These were familiar components, but Skookum's beer came together masterfully, spreading nicely through my mouth, full-flavored without being syrupy. It was so well-balanced! As much as I appreciate trying odd flavor combinations (I enjoyed Fort George's tamarind stout), and as much as stout is an ideal canvas for experimentation with sweet, salt and sour, my favorites were the classic approaches. I don't know how many coffee stouts I had, made with oatmeal, and aged in whiskey barrels, but there is a reason there were so many. Those things come together to make damn good beer. And those of those that were memorable, were memorable because of their excellence instead of their eccentricity.
There is a station at the festival specifically dedicated to Matroyshka, Fort George's Russian imperial stout. "Matroyshka World" has the base beer, called From Astoria with Love, the barrel aged version, called Matroyshka, and then a whole slew of variants. I gave the one with cinnamon and maple a taste. It was straight out of the cask, so it was close to room temperature, and you could smell the cinnamon off of it from a foot away. I didn't know what to make of my first sip, but the Matroyshka worked its magic across my tastebuds, and each subsequent sampling had a little more nuance. This is often my experience with cask beers. They aren't cold or carbonated, which can sometimes mask flavors, so every ingredient is immediately noticeable. But the unadulterated flavors take a little time to adjust to and to process. Given that Matroyshka is a 12.75%, it's definitely a sipper, and that is wonderful, because the experience is not to be rushed.
I love this festival, and I will try to be back every year that I can make it work. If you want to attend yourself, watch Fort George's website and social media posts closely. When they announce the date, book a hotel room THAT MINUTE. And set your alarm the day before ticket sales begin. It all goes very fast. But I hope you can make it.
And I hope that if you do, you'll take another day to check out the beautiful, historically rich town of Astoria, and certainly the other awesome watering holes in town. Buoy Beer has a wonderful pub and restaurant down on the pier, which has amazing seafood and incredible beer. Reach Break Brewing is nestled in right next to Fort George. And they are next door to Reveille Ciderworkrs and across the street from Pilot House Distilling. And then there is Bridge and Tunnel Bottle Shop and Taproom. Not to mention Hondo's, or Astoria Brewing...
Yeah, there are a lot of places to drink in this town.
The day after the festival, I had a Belgian trippel at Buoy, a funky farmhouse at Reach Break, and then...well...we went back to Fort George. It was less crowded the day after Dark Arts, but it was still bumping. I probably should have gotten a stout, because February is stout month, and half of the taps were deep, dark goodness. But I needed a break from such beer. I got an IPA, Fort George's Suicide Squeeze. A piney, resinous west-coast IPA that is amazing anytime, but when it's fresh from the source, out of a keg that just got put on...yeah...no regrets.
Fort George makes fantastic beer. And they make it and serve it in a fantastic place, which sometimes is hosting an incredible festival and sometimes not. What really makes them special, though, is what they are to this community. And their partnerships extend beyond Astoria. We'll talk about them again later, and their annually released 3-Way IPA, which is always a collaboration with two different breweries.
Yeah, it's hard to imagine a better place to highlight with my inaugural post. Fort George is a destination brewery that cultivates the arts, and fosters community and collaboration. And...uh...I love stout.