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Fun on Tap: Willamette Valley Breweries Celebrate Zwickelmania 2020

By Matt Wastradowski

According to the Brewers Association, Oregon's 284 breweries produced more than 1 million barrels of beer in 2018-which breaks down to more than 256 million pints. (Thirsty yet?)

And every February, Zwickelmania celebrates the state's massive craft beer industry with two full days of behind-the-scenes tours, free tastings, and other fun events-including, yes, throughout the Willamette Valley. And for the first time in 2020, Zwickelmania will take place during Oregon Craft Beer Month-which, until this year, has always been held in July.

For Matt Dakopolos, head brewer at Xicha Brewing in West Salem, Zwickelmania presents the rare chance to get out from behind the mash tun and reach a curious audience-beer geeks and novices alike. “My time is stretched so thin, so I have to have a lot of intention around how I spend my time,” he says. “And Zwickelmania is one of those activities where I get to be completely invested in that activity and reach a bunch of people who might not otherwise come to our establishment.”

So even if you can't tell the difference between Nugget and Citra hops, there's still plenty to enjoy. Here's a breakdown of how to make the most of Zwickelmania, along with fun events happening this month at breweries throughout the Willamette Valley.

What is Zwickelmania?

In so many words, Zwickelmania is a celebration of the Oregon craft beer scene. Every year, more than 100 breweries throughout the state open their doors for all kinds of events-behind-the-scenes tours, meet-the-brewer sessions, free samples, and more.

And that name-Zwickelmania-is more than a made-up word that's fun to say. The festival is named for the zwickel, which is the spigot on a conditioning tank that allows brewers to pour a sample and see how a beer is progressing as it carbonates. 

Most breweries taking part offer zwickel samples, so visitors can see how their favorite beers are progressing before they're released. “It celebrates the process of beer being produced, and most folks consuming beer don't have a really easy opportunity to see how a beer tastes at various stages of its production cycle,” Dakopolos says. “And it's really interesting to try a product before it's ready for prime time.”

This year, Portland breweries are hosting their Zwickelmania open-house celebrations on Saturday, February 15, with the rest of the state-including the Willamette Valley-following suit on Saturday, February 22. It's best to check with a brewery beforehand to see whether they're celebrating (the official Zwickelmania webpage is a good source of information), and there are no tickets to purchase.

What Should You Expect at Zwickelmania?

There's no one way to do Zwickelmania-but for all the differences among breweries, education and exclusive tastings are a common theme.

At Xicha, for instance, visitors can try the brewery's traditional German hefeweizen alongside the same beer currently aging in añejo tequila barrels. Dakopolos says the side-by-side tastings offer a real-time look at how flavor changes in a barrel-and how that beer changes over time-in an approachable, easy-to-understand way. “That's a really fun conversation to have and a really fun experience overall,” he says.

Visitors can also purchase cans of State of Excitement IPA, a collaboration among 30 Oregon brewers designed to celebrate the state's congenial craft beer scene, at participating breweries. In the Willamette Valley, participating breweries include Allegory Brewing, Golden Valley Brewery, Heater Allen Brewing, and Vanguard Brewing Company.

Which Willamette Valley Breweries Are Taking Part in Zwickelmania?

Here's a rundown of five Willamette Valley breweries are celebrating Zwickelmania-and what they have planned:

  1. Allegory Brewing: The downtown McMinnville brewery, known for creative collaborations and an ambitious barrel-aged program, is collaborating on the official Zwickelmania beer-and will offer samples and release one or two new beers.
  2. Alesong Brewing and Blending: The southern Willamette Valley brewery will offer afternoon tours and free zwickel samples.
  3. Heater Allen Brewing: Known for its outstanding lagers, Heater Allen will offer brewery tours and free zwickel samples.
  4. Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery: Visitors can chat with Founder and Head Brewer Christian DeBenedetti, check out the Wolves & People brewing system, and enjoy free zwickel samples.
  5. Xicha Brewing: The West Salem brewery will offer beer tastings, special releases, food specials, and brewery tours. Visitors can also meet and chat with Head Brewer Matt Dakopolos.

For more information, visit the Oregon Brewers Guild's official Zwickelmania webpage.

Your adventure begins with the official Willamette Valley Travel Guide. Request your complimentary printed guide or download a digital guide today.

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