During last year's Holiday Ale Festival setup, I helped by drinking beer.
Portland Holiday Ale Festival Media Preview 2007

PORTLAND, Ore. - Sept. 9, 2008 - The winter season holds many gifts for beer lovers in the form of big, bold ales designed to fend off the cold chill of a long winter night. The Holiday Ale Festival has gathered together 40 of these winter warmers, most of which cannot be tasted outside of the event, for a joyous weekend celebration. The 13th annual Holiday Ale Festival will take place Dec. 4 through 7 at Pioneer Courthouse Square, located at 701 SW Sixth Ave. at the intersection of SW Broadway and Yamhill Streets, immediately on the MAX Light Rail line.

Hours for the event are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thurs. through Sat., and 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sun. Admission into the venue is free. To taste beer, the purchase of an initial $20 tasting package is required, which includes a souvenir mug and 10 beer tickets. It takes four tickets for a full mug of beer, or one ticket for a taste. Additional beer tickets can be purchased for $1 apiece. The festival stops selling beer tickets one-half hour prior to closing.

Despite being held outdoors in the chilly month of Dec., more than 15,000 festival attendees stay warm and dry under a large tent that covers the venue. Gas heaters create a cozy ambiance beneath the boughs of the region's largest decorated Christmas tree. In addition to beer tasting, the festival also features on-site food, event merchandise, complimentary root beer for designated drivers, mead sampling, and seasonal background music.

Traditionally, winter beers are complex in aroma and flavor, big in body, and high in alcohol. Thanks to an extra dose of malt, these beers are rich and bold, with chocolate, caramel or coffee flavors; others benefit from the addition of herbs, spices, and fruit. In keeping with the flavors of the season, there are often hints of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves in the brew.

The beer names are clever, and often as enjoyable as the quaffs: Last year’s offerings included Bad Santa, Blitzen, Brewdolph, Fa La La La La, Lost Claus, O’ Holy Hops, On Comet, Santa’s Private Reserve, St. Nick's Sock Knocker, Tannen Bomb and Wreck the Halls.

Returning to the event is the fifth annual Belgian Beer Brunch, taking place on Dec. 7 from 10 a.m. to Noon on the upper level of Pioneer Courthouse Square. The auxiliary event features European pastries, meats and cheeses to accompany an assortment of Belgian winter beers not available at the festival itself. Tickets cost $35 and are available now at www.holidayale.com.

The roots of brewing special winter and holiday beers trace back to the mythologies of Greece and Rome. The pagan celebrations of the winter solstice marked the return of light to the world, and triumphant ale was brewed to mark the occasion.

The Holiday Ale Festival is for ages 21 and over. For more information, visit www.holidayale.com or call 503-252-9899.