Holiday Ale Festival 2011

The portlandbeer.org team has come out of the other side of opening day of the 2011 Holiday Ale Festival in tact. Mostly.

Perfect day: 50° and sunny for a 2pm kickoff. I was eager to work my way through the beers I mentioned in the "Must Try Five" List of Six Beers article. Very eager. Our pre-festival list held up very well under plenty of drinking scrutiny. It can be hit or miss coming up with a game plan before trying any of the beers, but I wanted to make sure to highlight various beer styles, as well as show the different approaches that the brewers had to their creations. Here's how it went.

The Official "Must Try Five" List of Six Beers (Revisited after tasting):

  • Columbia River Brewing Drunken Elf Stout, Imperial Oatmeal Stout, OG 21.6, FG 5.6, 9% ABV, 58 IBU: Big stout, huge coffee, gives way to chocolate. If you like your coffee stouts strong and heavy, this is a great choice. The addition of oatmeal in the grain bill gives this beer a perfect chewy mouthfeel.
  • Eel River Imperial Climax Classic, Barleywine Style Steam Lager, OG 23, FG 5, 9.4% ABV, 94 IBU: This one's got me confused, but in a good way. Unfortunately, this was probably my sixth sample of the day, and by that time, some of the subtleties were starting to get lost on me. Also, the huge, odd aroma of spruce was actually due to the decorative tree I was standing beside. So, already, I've got two strikes against me. Most fresh American barleywines are an attack on the senses: big sweetness, big hop character, high alcohol. This beer, seemed more subtle than the traditional American counterpart, and I'm not sure if this was from the steam-style of beer that ferments wort with lager yeast at ale yeast temperatures. Barleywines, however are not yeast forward by design, so I'm completely thrown off by this one. I can say that it was delicious, and an experiment that I'd like to try in isolation to try to tease out the specific nuances of this beer.
  • Laurelwood Bonaparte's Retreat, Corsican Christmas Ale, OG 18.5, FG 3.2, 8.2% ABV, 48 IBU: Great chestnut aroma and flavor that sits on a strong ale foundation. Good balance of malts and alcohol for some non-aggressive warmth.
  • McMenamin's Red Nose Rye, Imperial Rye Ale, OG 19.5, FG 3.2, 8.4% ABV, 30 IBU: Arghhh, this is the only beer only list that I didn't get to try. It wsa next on my list when the special tappings came out and it got lost in the shuffle. Any rye beer fans get a chance to sample this one? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
  • The Commons Little Brother, Belgian Dark Strong Ale, OG 21, FG 3.5, 8.7% ABV, 24 IBU: Big candy taste, slight complimentary hint of root beer barrels, dark. A touch of chocolate and wood round out the profile. Not much bourbon came through, but it was there and blended in with restraint. Keep your eyes on this brewery a lot of great beers are emerging.
  • Upright Provision, Biere de Garde, OG 15.4, FG 2.7, 7% ABV, 35 IBU: This beer was my first favorite of the day. I'm glad that I had it at the beginning of my tasting list because, while complex, there were a lot of subtleties that would have not been evident after the inevitable Holiday Ale Festival mouthpunch. The 20% portion of the blend was aged with Brettanomyces, but since it was only a small piece of the beer I didn't get much Brett from it. I'd be really interested to see how the Brett side of the blend tastes on it's own to see the starting point.

Beers not on our list (we pushed onward and upward, just for you):

  • Hopworks Urban Brewery Kentucky Christmas: Yes, yes, yes, yes! My notes say: Big wood. Great malt/bitter balance. Bourbon. Wood. Spice. (followed by what can only be described as an ugly star or possibly a weather vane?)
  • Firestone Walker 100% Bourbon Barrel Aged Velvet Merkin: No blend back for this year's release, it is 100% from barrels. And 100% awesome. The same care taken for beers in their Reserve series shines through on this one attaining an amazing balance of roast, wood, chocolate, bourbon, alcohol. Let it warm up in your mug for ten minutes to reveal it's perfection.
  • Deschutes Brewery Super Jubel: This beer also has tendencies toward perfect balance. It's a great malt showcase, with hints of sweet plums and raisins.
  • BridgePort Brewing Old Knucklehead: I've always been a fan of this beer, especially with a little time on the bottle. The sign at the HAF says "vintage", but there's no documentation of when this is from. Good, solid American Barleywine. Dear BridgePort, please brew this once a year, age in barrels, cut no corners, and release annually in 4 packs.

Gone but not forgotten (special tappings for Wednesday):

  • 2005 Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus: As described in the program, this beer is ideal for aging. I put this to the test this year when I bought a fresh bottle of this after reminiscing on the 2008 Holiday Ale Festival, where another magical keg of the 2005 was poured. Blech! This was the closest thing to a drainpour I've had in years. Way too hot (14% ABV), way too sweet. To imagine that this creation could turn into a sublime masterpiece over the years is a big stretch of the imagination. And yet, here we are, six years later, and we've arrived at amazing!
  • 2008 Oskar Blues Ten Fidy: Still very big, bold, and chocolaty after three years, though time has rounded the sharp corners nicely. Fantastic.
  • 2009 Lost Barrels of Mirror Mirror: Mirror Mirror is great fresh, awesome aged, and delicious aged on barrels.
  • 2007 Cascade Brewing Barrel House Soured Baltic Porter: I somehow missed this one. I fear that I have made a terrible mistake.

With the exception of the special tappings, you shuold be able to try most of these beers throughout the weekend.  Unfortunately, yesterday was my only trip to the festival before I leave town, so I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say for the rest of the fest!

Check out the rest of the photos here.