Valarie Mill pumped her fist. She’d correctly identified the beer in her black plastic cup as Buoy Beer’s Helles Lager.

The Warrenton woman nailed the second one, too – a Bohemian-style pilsner.

Then things got a bit wobbly. Mill missed two out of the next three. 

Still, she and her friend Debra Anderson, visiting from Colorado, were all smiles as they sampled beer amid the Astoria brewery’s towering brew tanks. They were part of an initial group of eight – four men, four women – who signed up to do blind tasting.

It was a rare teaching moment during Lager Fest, a two-day block party off the waterfront featuring live music and 19 must-try beers on tap.

Valarie Mill and Debra Anderson, right, concentrated as Kevin Lee, background, offered tips.

The festivities, which wrap up Saturday night, featured a nod to Buoy’s 10th anniversary, complete with a pair of frosted cakes and a special pilsner – crisp and straw-colored – released for the occasion. It’s called Cheers to 10 Years.

The festival drew a big crowd on Friday. The weather was perfect: warm and sunny, without a cloud in the sky.

One of the cakes celebrating Buoy’s 10th anniversary.

Mill and Anderson spent part of it indoors, huddled around an oak-barrel table, where they focused intently on their samples. Each was identified only by number.

They sniffed and swirled beer in their mouths as Kevin Lee, a former Buoy brewer who now works in sales, implored the group to use all its senses. Stick your nose deep in the cup. Pay attention to what your taste buds are telling you. Don’t forget the finish.

“Think about that mouthful,” he said softly. “Is it light? Foamy? Are there extra bubbles?”

Lee asked if there were any “beer nerds” in the group and seemed relieved to find none, noting that they tend to ask a lot of technical questions.

“What’s your beer knowledge?” he asked the tasters.

“Basics,” a man said.

Several times, Lee and co-presenter Madeline Poukkula told the group “there are no wrong answers,” drawing chuckles.

Mill jotted down “malty” and “bready” in her tasting notes. For another beer she wrote “meaty.” 

“It kind of tasted like meat to me,” she explained.

Anderson, meanwhile, deduced that one of the beers was German in character. She recently vacationed there, visiting beer gardens, and remembered the unique flavor.

Buoy was doing the blind tasting for the first time, taking Poukkula’s idea and running with it.

The brewery may have hit on something. An educational component to a beer festival seems like a good idea.

“We thought it’d be fun,” Lee said with a smile.



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We’re excited to welcome beer fans to Astoria Beer Zone, a blog focused on the North Coast’s vibrant craft beer scene. Expect a mix of fun stories and useful info about brews made here, and the people who make them.

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