I have interrupted my usual slow writing process – remember, you’re at the lager of beer blogs – to rush some timely piece into production, just for your eyes, dear reader.
Ideally, this would be an expansive, nearly comprehensive piece on exactly how to proceed during the upcoming FODA23 in Astoria. Hosted by Fort George, the Festival Of Dark Arts is a bucket-list worthy tasting festival featuring dark and barrel-aged beers from the best breweries in the PNW. This year it falls on Saturday, February 18th – this weekend. If you’re not already packing your thermals and waterproof everything, you should be making plans to attend next year, and this counts as research – and justification, if it sounds like your sort of weekend. You can thank me later.
Tickets go on sale on black Friday, and sell out quickly every year, so if you don’t have one there’s not much you can do about it but volunteer! HOORAY! I happen to have written about volunteering several years ago, but never did a follow-up after FODA2020 because things got pretty weird in the world pretty quickly around that time, and I basically abandoned beer writing for 2 years. The season that never ends – Beerfest Season – Right About Beer was meant to be a multi-part exploration of all things beer fest but lives forever incomplete, with my conclusions from that weekend lost to the vortex of pandemic time.
I have again volunteered this year to serve the first shift in stoutlandia, but I’ll be driving from Portland. NBD, I’m still #truklif stylee in my Excursion, so I don’t even have to load up my ‘camping’ gear to get ready – just fill the tank and set off at a medium pace west. I’ll spend Friday in Astoria screwing around and hitting the underground arcade for pinball (not gizmo’s, iykyk), trying to talk to D-man at Bridge & Tunnel, with plenty of time to check out the new brewery (Obelisk) and get some coffee at Astoria Roasters. I have written about Astoria in great detail previously, and even have a video tour I did in June ’22 posted on YT under (what else) right about beer. I didn’t go everywhere in town while I lived in Astoria, but it wasn’t for lack of time. Happy hour pints at The SEA crabhouse, or maybe Rogue on Pier 39 (but ONLY for sunset pints and ONLY if it’s a partly-cloudy sunset. You’ll know around 3pm what it’ll be) are called for. A walk along the riverfront with a pre-roll is highly enjoyable if it’s not pissing down rain.
Most people will probably arrive a bit later and fill up the nicer restaurants in town, so if you’re heading in Friday afternoon you’ll probably want to call ahead and check on reservations. That said, there are plenty of casual options, several fast-food joints, and a Safeway all within reasonable walking distance of center/downtown Astoria. Some of the hotels are on the far side of town from the Safeway, though, but those are the ones with the most food options nearby. Plan ahead – you don’t want to be driving through Astoria all the time, which has one main drag that splits into one-way streets through the downtown area.
To get literally anywhere in Astoria from anywhere else East-West, you’ve got that one route. Law enforcement can basically just sit and wait for folks to light up and have a chat with, and they do. There are local Astoria PD, Clatsop Sheriff officers, State Patrol officers, and a Port of Astoria office – not to mention several federal agencies that operate locally, including the Coast Guard. I had interactions with every one of these agencies at one point while I lived out there, and all I did was drive through town after 11pm consistently on my way home from work for a few months. Yep.
What I’m trying to say is, DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK IN ASTORIA. You will probably be walking back from FODA unless you have a dedicated sober friend/DD, since the cabs are few on the ground and they run as far as Seaside for regular folks – which is a nice lead into another plea for basic civility while you’re out getting toasty on the darkness. These small towns will always be short-staffed as long as things keep operating the way they do now. Your service will be slow and ambivalent in many cases. Bridge and Tunnel is owned and operated by one man and his loving wife. It took me about a year before I accepted that service out there was different to begin with, seasonal on top of that, and then covid rolled through and gave everyone cover to just suck if they wanted to. YMMV but patience and planning are called for this year.
On Saturday, get a good breakfast – BUT DO NOT GO TO PIG AND PANCAKE. Just don’t do it, I took my folks to the one in Astoria about a year ago, and it was disgusting – there was a giant grease stain on the wall leading to the bathrooms, borne of many touches of something gross, and feces smeared all over the bathroom. These are not good signs, I’ve worked plenty of back-of-house gigs and if they’ve let the public bathrooms get that bad, there are lots of other problems you can’t see.
Instead, try Blue Scorcher or Labor Temple, head out to pier 39 and visit Coffee Girl – pay no mind to the Rogue, unless you’re really a fan – I worked there for a while, and Rogue never advertise the location or build it up otherwise, so the cooks were never the same. You could grab lunch there and be alright, I suppose, but don’t drink too much while you’re there – everything on tap there can be found elsewhere. You’re in town to sip the good stuff, right? If you’re out in Warrenton, Arnie’s cafe is a sure bet but will be crowded, and Trina and Ron’s serves up booze as well as breakfast in the morning with more space for groups and more grease. You can always ping me on twitter @rightaboutbeer if you have questions about some place – there’s a good chance I’ve been there.
The weather looks to be on the warmer side this year, but it rains in waves on the coast, so at the very least bring waterproof shoes and jackets. You’ll be happier keeping track of an extra hoodie or coat in the afternoon than freezing while standing in line later, trust me here. Depending on your proclivities, someone in your group should probably have a backpack with essentials in it, someplace to put your stuff when you need to run to the car or get some food somewhere ‘off the block’. It’s worth it to take a walk, at several points in the night, and grab a bottle of water from one of the little shops or smoke a doobie or just have a quiet sit in one of the parks nearby. Even with so many people in town, Astoria will feel mostly empty if you step outside of that little bubble by the Fort.
An enterprising DD’er could make some serious cash running people back and forth from the hotels on the ‘west’ side of town. It’s more than a mile from F.G. to the Holiday Inn, and almost 2 miles to the Bayfront, which isn’t bad – unless it’s raining and windy and you’re cold and drunk. If your feet get wet while you’re out walking around you’re fucked. You’re not going to freeze to death out there but your night can go sideways real quick if your ride gets pulled over and your jacket was in that car, which never returned from their ’quick trip to the KFC’. So plan ahead.
Look, it’s going to hurt on Sunday morning if you use all of your tokens. You’ll do yourself a world of good to plan ahead for that, as well. There is a Fred Meyer and a Walmart in Warrenton if Safeway isn’t your savior, and you’ve got to drive past several more on the way back to Portland no matter which way you go, but that thick-ass coating on your tongue will stick around long after you’ve brushed your teeth if you haven’t had enough water over the last 24 hours. Take advantage of the water stations between every sample.
I had to turn several people away from my trailer in 2020 because they were in too deep, and it was starting to show. There are some differences behind the scenes that make FODA stand out, more than just the kind of beer it will feature.
I mentioned that I am volunteering for this event – for the cost of a few hours of my time, I get free entry, a glass, and a handful of tokens to sample beer after my shift. I advocate for volunteering as often as I can, because without volunteers, these events couldn’t happen. Fort George is the sponsor and main ‘investor’ in FODA, with generous help from many other local Astoria businesses, and lots of working together with breweries and distributors to get special beers together. They simply don’t have enough staff to man 25+ tap stations for 3 shifts and still manage all the other regular operations on the block, let alone the special events, displays and installations that are the actual focus of FODA.
Generally speaking, larger brewfests are managed by an organization designed specifically to manage those fests – the recently ‘suspended’ OBF is a great example – which gives them some cover and room to maneuver and raise funds and recruit the hundreds of volunteers that ran OBF (for instance). With Fort George being the main sponsor, they have to cover some liabilities that relate to their licensing to serve alcohol, among other things, and so all the volunteers for this festival must have OLCC server’s permits.
I had thought this might make some of the folks I ran into a bit more skilled in the actual pouring of the beers in 2020, but I was not entirely correct. There were several volunteers who had no idea wtf they were doing and wasted precious beer as a result. We’re also obliged to monitor the behavior of people we serve, and I had thought the additional requirement to get basic training and spend money on that training would result in a more professional volunteer force…and I was wrong. I had to remind one lady that we could be held responsible if we over-serve someone who goes and gets in a nasty accident on the way ‘home’ – she kept trying to convince people to get full pints of a 13% stout, and it wasn’t appropriate. It’s all in good fun until someone falls sideways into the garbage cans next to your trailer and cuts their head open.
Overall, though, the people who attended FODA20 were a mixed bag. I think this year the crowd will be different – for all the reasons stacked over 3 years of covid and all the other besides. I strive to give people a great pour and some conversation while they work through a new brew. I will study the taplist Friday and try to get some sense of the vibe in town, and hopefully run into the handful of people I knew from Fort George that kept me going back every week when I lived out there. I will listen to the conversation at Bridge & Tunnel and tell people to come see me the next weekend, as I’m also serving in Hillsboro the last weekend of February. Some folks are just there to fuck around – I’m there to add to this event, to work that tap and talk about beer and…eventually…stumble back to my truck to pass out alone.
I will probably give away some tokens, because I’ll be toasty well before last call (I still have some from last time). I will hide my keys from myself. I will have food waiting for me, and water, and blankets and nothing in particular planned for Sunday morning. I will talk to you, and some other people, and if I mention my blog here to a hundred people three will visit (THANKYOU!). Maybe this year I’ll come back for a full post-game report, like I’d planned in 2020. My personal life isn’t top-shelf these days and I’m just barely hanging on, but this gives me something to focus on for a few days – so come along for the ride.
Please comment, share on your socials, and find me on twitter, patreon and even youtube for more rightaboutbeer content. We’ll see you in Astoria, maybe, or Hillsboro, even. Cheers.