What: Bend Brewfest

Where: Les Schwab Amphitheater, 344 SW Shevlin-Hixon Drive

When: Noon to 11 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday; children are allowed each day until 7 p.m.; no pets allowed

Cost: Free to attend. To taste beer, $20 for souvenir mug and five tasting tokens. One token is good for a 4-ounce sample, and full mug pours cost four tokens. Additional tokens cost $5 for five.

The Bend Brewfest, Central Oregon’s largest beer festival, begins today at the Les Schwab Amphitheater. It’s three full days and showcases 75 breweries — more than ever before.

With the two beers each brewery provides, combined with the specialty selections on the popular XTap, there will be nearly 200 unique beers pouring over the course of the weekend.

The XTap is located in the Brewtality Tent and features a rotating selection of special, limited-production brews from many of the attending breweries. Keep an eye on the schedule on the board outside the Brewtality Tent for updates, as brewers and brewery representatives will be on hand to talk about their beers as they are tapped.

With the sheer number of options available, there is a wide variety of taste experiences from which to choose. Naturally the usual style suspects will be on tap in abundance — there are at least 55 variants of IPAs listed — but there are also a number of other interesting styles worth trying.

Sours

Fans of sour beers will not be disappointed with the number and variety available. Once considered to be more of a niche category, in recent years sours have grown in popularity and have become much more mainstream. Ten such beers will be found at the regular tents, and at least eight should be available throughout the course of the weekend on the XTap.

Two sour styles in particular have become especially popular. Berliner Weisse beers are German-style wheat ales soured with lactobacillus cultures (think yogurt). They are generally lower-alcohol, refreshing ales often flavored with fruit. Notable examples include Volkssekt Berliner Weisse from Bend Brewing Co., Passionfruit Sour Ale from Breakside Brewery, Cactus Wins the Lottery from Ex Novo Brewing and Strawberry Crush from 10 Barrel Brewing.

Gose beers (pronounced “goes-uh”) are also German-style wheat beers, though they are not as tart as Berliner Weisses and are spiced with salt and coriander. Look for Laurelwood Brewing’s Gose and Sierra Nevada Brewing’s Otra Vez as solid examples of the style, in addition to Anderson Valley Brewing’s refreshing Briney Melon Gose, brewed with watermelon.

Sour ales will have a strong presence on the XTap as well. Look for two in particular from Hood River: Pêche Mode, a sour Belgian ale aged with peaches from Double Mountain Brewery, and the Belgian-influenced Oude Kriek from Pfriem Family Brewers. Deschutes Brewery’s Breakfast in Bruges is another that is not to be missed.

Gluten-free

For those who suffer from a gluten allergy but still want to imbibe, seek out Portland’s Ground Breaker Brewing. The first dedicated gluten-free brewery in the country, Ground Breaker brews all-natural, gluten-free beers crafted from a varying combination of chestnuts, lentils and sorghum, as well as specialty sugars and fruits depending on the style.

Brewing beer without the grains that contain gluten can be tough to master, but Ground Breaker seems to have done it. They consistently win medals at the Great American Beer Festival; last year it was for their IPA No. 5, which is pouring at the Brewfest. Olallie Ale, brewed with blackberries and rose hips, is also on tap, and the very first XTapping of the weekend highlights Citrus Pale Ale, aged on lemons, limes and grapefruit.

Cider is another gluten-free option, as well as an increasingly popular alternative to beer. Ten different cider makers are showcasing 20 different ciders, and five more will feature on the XTap.

Fruit blends constitute the majority, though there are several traditional apple-only ciders for the purists. In addition to the locally produced options from Atlas, Red Tank, Rimrock and Doc Fields, other worthwhile cideries to seek out include 2 Towns Ciderhouse, Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider and Whiskey Barrel Cider Co.

Strange brew

Finally, every festival has them: the strange, unique brews that defy categorization. Don’t be afraid to try them; as often as not these are the beers people will remember and talk about. Ultimately not all will appeal to everyone’s tastes. Several worth trying this year include: Sweet Heat from Burnside Brewing, a wheat beer brewed with apricot puree and Jamaican Scotch bonnet chili peppers; 50 Shades Of (Earl) Grey from Natian Brewery, an IPA infused with black tea; and a personal favorite, Black Cherry Stout from Walking Man Brewing.

The Bend Brewfest is a great venue for sampling new and unfamiliar beers, so be adventurous. And most importantly, be responsible: Plan for alternative transportation if you don’t have a designated driver. Have fun and stay safe!

— Jon Abernathy is a local beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears in GO! every other week.

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