Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Modern Fair Needs more Beer

What stands at the center of the wacky crossroads we call a modern Fair? Beer, that's what!

And if there's an image that ought to express the essence of the Fair, it would be hard to do better than this smiling couple.

A man with hops and his ladyfriend, and everybody's smiling. It's like he just won a crown of hops!

Alas, it's actually from Portland. Journalist John Foyston captured the Governor at the party for the Lucky Lab's neighborly brew, "The Mutt." The Mutt is a fresh hop ale made with backyard hops of uncertain and various provenance brought by friends and neighbors - no purebred, it's all mutt!

The Governor happened to be there, and he smiled. You may recall a note from a couple years back in which we thought he needed a beer. The confirmation couldn't be more gratifying.

There's something timeless about the image. Sure, the Governor doesn't need to pick hops for an income, but maybe there's something intensely regional, local, about our relation to hops and the pleasure we derive from them. (Picking hops, 1930s, Oregon State Library)

As for the Fair, we were talking with friends about the nature of the Fair. What is the proper role for a Fair in the 21st century? Does it have one? Is it too much a vestige of the 19th century?

Management shows the changing role of the fair. From the Oregon Agricultural Society in the 1860s to the State Board of Agriculture in 1891 to Oregon Parks and Recreation in 2006, there's a clear shift from farming to fun. But is it too much an amusement park sideshow today?

Happy people with hops points the way: Maybe beer and wine are the quintessential modern agricultural products! And they bridge so much: bringing together old and new, urban and rural, large and small, entertainment and farming in a way perhaps no other agricultural products do. The drinking, of course, is supremely convivial and sociable!

Can berries, tree fruit, root vegetables, leafy greens, beef, lamb, or pork do all that? A modern agricultural icon has to be something everybody wants to celebrate. Even places out east, like Joseph, Hermiston, and Burns, might have barley nearby. Everywhere in Oregon people toast and drink beer and wine, we're sure of it! Beer is the crossroads drink.

And it turns out there is a small history of beer at the fair.

The official history says that in 1952
The newly created State Fair Commission approved the sale of beer at the State Fair. The order was rescinded a few days later following protests by church groups who didn't like the idea of liquor at an event that attracted so many young people. Beer did not make a comeback until 1971.
In 1958 Lillie Ward, who became Director of the Fair in the 70s, shows the award for "Champion Malting Barley."

But well before that, Salem Beer has a long history at the fair. (The first ad at top from September 1, 1906, the second from September 18th, 1902.)

More recently, last year Rogue was at the Roof Top Pub, but they don't seem to be there this year, and the publicity for the pub stinks.

It's good that the homebrew contest made it back after the Legislature corrected an OLCC mess. But they oughta have a demonstration hopyard and vineyard, a pilot winery and brewery, and a bigger family-friendly pub - they could to tell a history of Oregon and of farming through beer and wine. That sounds like a proper fair for the 21st century!

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