Holiday Ale Festival 2010 (Media Preview)

Well, here we are again.   It's time for another great Holiday Ale Festival here in Portland.  It's also time for us to wimp out and not tell you exactly what to expect.   But that is part of the draw of the festival: expect to be surprised.   Of course, we've posted the beer list and the Rare Beer tapping schedule, but words are only 2% of the fun.

Last night, some of us were invited to participate in the media preview of the event.  This simply amounts to people in the beer media being invited to partake in samples of the beer selected by Preston Weesner, organizer of the Holiday Ale Festival.  We sit around, drink beer, take notes, take photos, and enjoy the company of the other beer media in town.   It's a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

But first, a few notes on subjectivity.  If I say cranberry, you might think tart.  You might think about being knee deep in a bog.   Hell, you might even think of that time your dad locked you in the basement until you finished your thanksgiving side dishes.  A simple word can evoke a wide spectrum of memories and emotions.  When you talk about the subjectivity of taste, it gets even cloudier.  Now, I can say the word smoky.  Is it a good smoky, bad smoky, or just one of many elements on the palate?  Of course, I could qualify it as an "ashtray kind of smokiness" and that would give you some direction, but what if I liked the taste of ashtrays and cigarette butts?  Well, I could expound further on the virtues of an ashtray component to the overall profile, but that only covers a single aspect.  What about the rest?  Do you really want to read a book on each beer that I've tried, only to end up with a completely subject viewpoint on something?   As my therapist says, that's kind of like being unable to see the forest for the trees.

Holiday Ale Festival 2010 (Media Preview)
Ladies and gentlemen, your media.

Rather than lengthy writeups about individual beers, I want to get right to the core of the festival and talk about the festival goals and process which will, inevitably, enlighten you about why this festival exists and why you should go.  And you should go.  A few times.  And, if possible, start on Wednesday afternoon at 2:00pm.

The Holiday Ale Festival is one of Portland's premiere beer events.  Why so premiere?  Well, this has everything to do with the qualifications festival owner Preston Weesner puts on the participating breweries: none (with the hint that the beer should be unique to the festival).  It is completely up to the brewer on what they decide to submit to the festival.  Light saison?  Epic 14% ABV malt monster?  Baltic Porter aged in barrels fashioned from wood stolen from an ancient shipwreck once displayed at a French museum (BrewDog's next beer?).  Whatever the beer, they are born from Preston's unique relationship with the brewers and breweries.  For the Holiday Ale festival, breweries go out of their way to not only impress and surprise festival goers, but they also know that Preston's standards are extremely high.   This becomes a responsibility put on the brewers to go out of their way to create something unique and innovative.   But while a collection of extremely different beers like this is impressive, Preston is the first to admit that with such variety and experimentation, all beers won't please all people.  And that brings us back to the topic of subjectivity.

How you taste a beer.   The temperature the beer is served.   Your mood.   Your mood ring.   The beer buzz traveling through the crowd.   What you're eating.   Other beers you've had by the same brewery.   The beer you just had before the one in your hand.  All of these things color your palate alter your perception of what you're drinking.  So how do you enjoy such a wide spectrum of beers?  Experiment.  Sure, pick a list of beers that intrigue you from the list, but also take a few gambles.  Words can rarely do justice to the experience of tasting a beer, so wander around and be surprised.  It's not about competing to be the best beer of the year, it's about the whole experience of the festival.

Combine all of the unique brews with the Rare Beer tappings that happen throughout the day Wednesday through Thursday, mix in a little Portland rain, and you have a great beer event.  One of our favorites of the year.

For even more information on the Holiday Ale Festival, check out these other local publications:

Thanks to Chris Crabb, Preston Weesner, and Geoff Phillips (owner of Bailey's Taproom) for hosting the Media Preview.

Check out the rest of the photos here.