Holiday Ale Festival 2010

The idea for this exercise was to pick out some must try beers for this year's Holiday Ale Festival. On the first try, I almost recreated the whole list. On the second try, I narrowed it down to 19. Still a bit much for the purposes of this article. So, my goal is to narrow the list down to five beers, with a bit of cheating. The first cheat is obvious: my list of five beers contains, well, six beers.

For example, the following beers, while not on the official list (this is the second cheat), are not-to-be-missed Holiday Ale Festival staples: Cascade Brewing Barrel House's Sang Noir, BridgePort's Old Knucklehead, Deschutes Brewery's Super Jubel, Firestone Walker's Velvet Merkin, and Hopworks Urban Brewery's Kentucky Christmas. While these beers differ slightly each year, it's hard to go wrong with any of these. See, I've already tempted you with a few beers before I've even started the official list.

Sitting all by itself in the "oddball" category (this is third cheat, for those still counting) is Breakside Brewing's Cranberry Biere de Table. This Belgian style session beer weighs in at 3.3% ABV on a list that averages out at just a tick under 8% ABV. Now don't get me wrong, Breakside makes some great unique beers, but this better be the first beer you try before you lose all sense of scale with these other monsters.

Now before I get to the official list there are obviously a lot of contenders for top honors this year. This is not a list of best beer predictions, these are merely the beers that jumped off of the page and piqued my curiosity--and then the list was summarily hacked down to six beers. Will they succeed in their attempts to astound and amaze? We'll find out on Wednesday. The Holiday Ale Festival is a great exercise in brewery experimentation and it's also a great time for consumer experimentation. Many of these beers will never be seen again and it's your obligation to taste your way through some of the best, biggest, and craziest, beers you'll find at a festival all year. The full list and program for the 2011 Holiday Ale Festival is here.

The Official "Must Try Five" List of Six Beers:

  • Columbia River Brewing Drunken Elf Stout, Imperial Oatmeal Stout, OG 21.6, FG 5.6, 9% ABV, 58 IBU: With a hombrewed 9% Imperial Oatmeal Stout aging at home, I'm eager to see what Columbia River Brewing has done with theirs.
  • Eel River Imperial Climax Classic, Barleywine Style Steam Lager, OG 23, FG 5, 9.4% ABV, 94 IBU: A Barleywine Style Steam Lager? Sounds crazy, and I like crazy.
  • Laurelwood Bonaparte's Retreat, Corsican Christmas Ale, OG 18.5, FG 3.2, 8.2% ABV, 48 IBU: A beer featuring roasted chestnuts could be perfect fo the holiday. I'm curious to see how big the nut character is in the profile.
  • McMenamin's Red Nose Rye, Imperial Rye Ale, OG 19.5, FG 3.2, 8.4% ABV, 30 IBU: I love rye beers: the spicy and and dry finish can meld perfectly with the right earthy hops, and hopefully the big alcohol. Bear Repulic's Hop Rod Rye is a great example of this style, but for these experimental beers at the Holiday Ale Festival, I'd love even more rye leading the malts.
  • Commons Little Brother, Belgian Dark Strong Ale, OG 21, FG 3.5, 8.7% ABV, 24 IBU: I love strong Belgian-style dark ales: big complex malt, big alcohol, and this one's got a touch of bourbon from barrel aging.
  • Upright Provision, Biere de Garde, OG 15.4, FG 2.7, 7% ABV, 35 IBU: Yikes: 80% Beire de Garde (open-fermentation with a lager yeast) blended with 20% Old Ale (barrel-aged for one year with Brettanomyces)! This is exactly what I love about the Holiday Ale Festival: I can't even imagine what this beer will taste like, but I get to try it on Wednesday!