Holiday Ale Festival 2009: Pretty Great
In years past I have taken the Holiday Ale Festival for granted. Sure, it has always had a phenomenal selection of beers and I always enjoy myself, but for some reason in my mind it was always overshadowed by the plethora of summer festivals. I have often unfairly equated "summer" with "better" and this notion probably stems from my school days when summer actually meant something. Hundred degree temperatures and hay fever did not matter much as long as school was not in session. However, now that I am firmly planted in adult life, summer is just that hot period that makes my back stick to things and when I feel a deep loathing toward children. Luckily, with my season bias out of the way, this year I was able to enjoy the Holiday Ale Festival more than I ever have before. After attending Wednesday, I can honestly say this may be the most satisfying beer festival Portland has to offer.
I began to enjoy myself from the moment I arrived. Entering the giant tent in Pioneer Courthouse Square was like entering into that scene from The Muppet Christmas Carol where the creepy Ghost of Christmas Past takes Michael Caine to the fun and mildly wacky Christmas party being thrown by a bear. Except there were no ghosts, bears, Muppets or Michael Caine. And it wasn't the Victorian Era. Plus, the tent at the festival was heated with gas and in The Muppet Christmas Carol there were wood fires burning to keep the festivities heated. Actually, aside from the holiday party feel of the festival, the Holiday Ale Festival shares minimal similarities to The Muppet Christmas Carol, or any other version of A Christmas Carol. Well, unless there is a version of a Christmas Carol I don't know about where a ghost takes Scrooge to a beer festival in the middle of present day Portland where he is able to sample over 45 big, warming beers from December 2nd to December 5th which, I am sure we can all agree, would be the best Christmas Carol ever. In short, it was a festive atmosphere, something that is often missing from many festivals.
What else is often missing from festivals, beer festivals that is, is the emphasis on the beer. Luckily, the Holiday Ale Festival does not forget the "ale" in in the middle of it's name. Not only does it not forget it, it puts it on a pedestal made of diamonds and magic. Those 45+ big, cold weather-thwarting beers our hypothetical Scrooge could try as he walked up and down the aisles range from Imperial Reds to Stouts to Barleywines to American Strong Ales, all of which are artfully crafted and none of which pander to the masses. Everything seems to be special. For example of this beer specialness, Cascade has created magic with their "Sang Noir 2009", described as a "barrel aged sour ale" but should actually be described as a "seven barrel blend of awesome with a cherry finish that should have you thanking the lord that this beer exists". For another example, Full Sail has taken their Wassail, which is normally a fairly standard Winter Warmer, and combined it with their Imperial Porter aged for nine months in Makers Mark casks. If you need a third example, this time one that completely embodies the words "holiday" and "ale" all at once, Fort George has brought North III to the Fest, a beer that was made using actual sugar plums, a fruit I assumed was made up entirely for The Nutcracker that I now know is very real. North III is sweet, rich, and hits you in the face with holiday cheer.
While all of the above were absolutely fantastic, the highlight for me so far this year has been the 2009 Jim, a collaboration between Preston Weesner (that fellow who organizes the festival) and Hair of the Dog's Alan Sprints. Jim is a blended beer made with Hair of the Dog's Fred From the Wood, Doggie Claws and Blue Dot IPA mixed with a German bock, an English brown ale and an American strong ale. What makes Jim all the more special, and what made it the favorite in my eyes, was the amount of effort and love that went into this tribute to the late Jim Kennedy. If you ever have the opportunity to hear Preston (that fellow who organizes the festival) speak about this beer and the man to whom this beer is a tribute, I suggest you listen. I was lucky enough to have such an opportunity and am an thankful for it. I would attempt to summarize his remarks on Jim, both the man and the beer, but I am just not that good of a writer. All I can say is that Jim, the beer, is big on Doggie Claws and Blue Dot but sweet enough to fight the chill in the air. If you were cold before tasting Jim, I can assure you that feeling will not last.
The only thing that pulled me away from the festival was this article's deadline, because I want to be back Thursday promptly at 11:00 am to get my hands on yet another Cascade beer. Unlike the Sang Noir 2009, this Cascade is a Baltic Porter and will only be pouring in limited quantities beginning at 11:00 am Thursday. It is probably amazing and will only be pouring at the Holiday Ale Festival. This is far from the only limited release beer at the festival. Thursday's specials include a barrel of Bayern Face Plant, a dark wheat bock, Da Grind Buzz Kona Coffee Imperial Stout and Ho Ho Homo Erectus, which is Walking Man's imperial IPA aged in rum barrels. For specials on following days you will have to subscribe to The Holiday Ale Festival's feeds on either Twitter or Facebook which is where they will be announcing what will be tapping and when. So for all of you who secretly wanted a Facebook account but pretended like you didn't, here is your chance to get one and save face. Seriously, do it, we can play FarmVille together.
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