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Tis the Season (of Brewfests!)

Lighthouse Brew Festival 2014’Tis the season! (Of brewfests, that is.) We wish joy and merriment and good beer to you and yours.

In just under a month, we’ll celebrate the 19th Annual Lighthouse Brewfest in Lincoln City, OR – not only do guests enjoy a multitude of original brews, but they ponder the yearly Mighty Beer Atom (2014 version shown here) as well as the creative and sometimes baffling Tiny Brewer Art.

Until 8/16, here’s a little background to tide you over … to tide you over… get it?

In 1986, the Northwest microbrewing revolution was in its infancy and McMenamins itself was just a small family of a half-dozen Portland-area pubs. Oregon’s pioneering craft breweries, Bridgeport and Widmer, had been established in 1984. Following the passage of Oregon’s brewpub law in the fall of ’85, McMenamins had opened the state’s first brewpub, the Hillsdale, in October. May 1986 saw the debut of the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse, McMenamins’ seventh location, which featured the company’s second brewery. Two months later, the Lighthouse brewpub became the third McMenamins’ brewpub and only the fifth in the state.

It was the first of its kind on the coast. In fact, there hadn’t been a brewery on the coast since the curtain of Prohibition fell in 1916.  Until the Lighthouse Brewpub’s debut, taverns up and down Highway 101 retained much of the old-school qualities: no kids, few women and just one tap – either Oly or Blitz. So, the Lighthouse offered a new experience: a family environment, good food and a range of beers brewed on site. It also may have been the first Oregon brewery that allowed the public a constant, unobstructed view of the brewing operations by way of a floor-to-ceiling, two-story window.

The pub looked to its brewery to lure more customers. The magic and alchemy of brewing proved to be a draw, and tours of the Lighthouse’s lovingly named Captain Neon’s Fermentation Chamber helped keep the lights on until the summer, when the fair-weather tourists arrived.

Greg Kebkey, 1980s Lighthouse Brewer Brewers at the Lighthouse, beginning with the first – Gregory Kebkey, seen here – have provided a rising tide of frothy and often delicious adventures. Kebkey, who later moved on to become the first brewmaster at the original Rogue Brewery in Ashland, loved to experiment. “The sky is the limit,” he said in 1987, with obvious delight. His experiments included such seasonal fare as cranberry apple ale, pumpkin ale, rhubarb beer, even pinot noir beer.

Very early on, the Lighthouse brewers paid tribute to the neighboring monolith and came up with the pub’s signature brew in the process: Cascade Head is a tasty golden ale that for years was McMenamins’ standard light ale, and today remains a favorite of the Lighthouse crowds.

Other notable beers served up at the Lighthouse include Captain Redbeard (1992), a distinctive red ale first brewed at Cornelius Pass Roadhouse by Jack Harris, who then brought it to the sea when he became brewer at the Lighthouse. (Captain Jack went on to be the brewer at Bill’s Tavern in Cannon Beach, and in 2007 opened Fort George Brewery in Astoria.) In 1996, Mike Hogan, the one-time unofficial mayor of Lincoln City, concocted a big, rich, powerful stout he named Chewbaccan Stout, due to his geek-like devotion to the Star Wars universe. This burly brew won top prize at that year’s Hillsdale Brewfest.

Hogan is also lauded for initiating the Lighthouse Brewfest in 1996. He rallied breweries up and down the Oregon Coast as well as throughout McMenamins to come together at the Lighthouse for a confluence of music, food, fun and beer. The Mighty Beer Atom and Tiny Brewer Art were clever features of the festival. That was not the case with Frankenstein’s Revenge. This 1998 entry has been described  as “the most god-awful, horrible beer ever tasted.” Its aggressive aroma reminded some of Bac-O’s and Cheez Whiz.

At this year’s Lighthouse Brewfest, try more palatable concoctions such as an International ESB from the Fulton Brewery, the MPG (Multiple Pale Grains) pale ale from Monroe Street, a Phillip Toodatop English IPA, compliments of the Lighthouse Brewery, and a host of others.

See you at the coast.

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