When a bevy of beer samples converges with the breeze and spray of the ocean, it can only mean one thing: It’s Pouring at the Coast in Seaside.
In its eighth year, this annual event, to be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, March 18 at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center, promises a taste of some of the best craft beer being brewed in Oregon and parts of Washington in a beach-town setting.
While many communities in the Pacific Northwest host local craft beer festivals, Pouring at the Coast “really does have its own flair and flavor,” according to Brian Owen, executive director of the Seaside Chamber of Commerce. “It’s one of the first for the year, and then also, it’s a destination,” he said. “It’s more than just a beer fest. It’s a day at the beach. It’s an (invitation to) ‘Come play and stay in Seaside.’”
‘Interesting and fresh’
The partnership between Seaside Brewing Company and the chamber, which began a few years into the event, has been crucial to optimizing the festival experience for both attendees and vendors. While the chamber has resources for planning, promoting and presenting the event, Jimmy Griffin and his team at the brewery have a connection to the craft beer industry and know what it takes to entice other breweries to participate.
“(Griffin) talks beers,” Owen said. “He understands what a brewer needs and how to attract them to come and be a vendor ... He knows the players.”
Each of the approximately 40 breweries in attendance will offer from one to a few different varieties, introducing and familiarizing people with their brand. Some use is as “a live lab to break out some of their new stuff for the spring and summer; some stick with their old standards,” Griffin said, adding, “Making a friend who loves your beer is the whole goal.”
The organizers aim for diversity among breweries and brewers to give the festival variety and depth. About half the companies coming this year have participated in the past, and the rest are new faces. After ensuring the local coastal companies receive “a good representation,” Griffin tries to bring in multiple new breweries to “keep it interesting and fresh for the people who come every year.”
For locals, the festival is an opportunity to sample selections from companies who don’t normally distribute to the coast. For visitors, the festival is one more good reason to come to the beach.
Participants can travel among the breweries, sampling what catches their eye and discussing the drinks. Rather than relying on volunteers who may not be familiar with the brands or beers, the organizers ask the breweries to pour their own beer, which is done by the brewer, owner or a representative. The idea, Griffin said, is people don’t want to merely try a beer, “they want to hear the story behind the beer.”
Because of the ratio of breweries to attendees, the event is conducive to plenty of one-on-one time.
“It’s kind of perfect the way we do it,” Griffin said. “It’s a good healthy number of breweries, for sure, but there’s also a lot of personal interaction.”
Last year, about 800 people attended the festival. Based on online sales as of early March, the event will have significant attendance by out-of-town visitors, from Portland and Eugene to Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. In addition to the chamber’s more robust social media campaign through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, many of the breweries are marketing the event within their local communities, according to Owen.
“This year, we are communicating in areas we never have,” he said. “So we are looking for a little bump in attendance. This year, hopefully, my goal is for 1,000.”
Gone this year, but not forgotten
While marginal growth for the afternoon tasting is anticipated, a slightly different look to the overall event is a certainty.
For starters, the Oregon Coast Brewer’s Dinner, the traditional and well-loved kick-off to Pouring at the Coast held the night before, will not take place this year.
“There was a conflict we were not able to overcome in a timely manner,” Owen said. “We did have to put that off to the side.”
The organizers hope to bring it back in coming years, although the dinner likely will be revamped or restructured. Another idea for the future is to make Pouring at the Coast a two-day tasting festival, which could affect the reappearance of the Brewer’s Dinner.
“All those things are on the table,” Owen said.
The Home Brew Competition also will be absent this year. Because Pouring at the Coast overlaps with the first round of judging for the National Homebrew Competition, organizers knew it would be difficult to find an adequate number of certified judges to adjudicate the event correctly.
“If we couldn’t do it right, we didn’t want to do it,” Griffin said.
However, many homebrew competitors in the past did not actually attend the event, but rather sent in or dropped of their submissions.
“They weren’t necessarily active within the event itself,” Owen said, adding the lack of the competition — which was conducted upstairs, behind closed doors — should not affect the experience for those who attend the festival.
Like the Brewer’s Dinner, the Homebrew Competition may return to future events. Regardless, the organizers are optimistic about what Pouring at the Coast is and can continue to offer locals and tourists alike.
“With the additional growth opportunities we’re looking,” such as adding a second tasting day or changing the dinner, Own said, “we’ll continue this event to be a wonderful asset for Seaside and for our visiting population.”
As Griffin puts it, “Everyone is looking for an excuse to go to the coast. You throw 40 breweries on top of that, and it makes it really hard for people to say ‘no.’”
The River Inn at Seaside, the official Pouring at the Coast hotel, also is a sponsor for the event. Attendees can get 15 percent reduced rates by mentioning “Pouring at the Coast” while booking rooms.
Concession-style pub fare from Oregon Fine Foods will be available for purchase at the event. Tickets at the door are $20, which includes a souvenir pouring glass and five tastings. Additional tastings are available for $1 each.
For more information, visit pouringatthecoast.com or call 503-738-6391.