Holiday Ale Festival Wednesday, Nov. 28th: 12pm-10pm Thursday - Saturday: 11am-10pm Sunday, Dec. 2nd: 11am-5pm
The 2012 Holiday Ale Festival is upon us once again—for its 17th year! This will be our 10th year attending the festival, so we can provide you with some details on how to make the best use of your time while attending this great festival.
According to festival manager Preston Weesner, "It's really special to be able to hold this event in such close proximity to so many of the breweries that Oregon is known for. The savvy beer faithful come to the fest to meet up with friends and sample the special offering their favorite brewery has decided to share, then make plans to go visit the breweries after the event is over. It's a great time to be a beer geek and appreciate the amazing craft beer scene."
Preston does his best to find a lot of beers you won't otherwise see around town. Sticking them all under one tent is a great way to experience these beers, and compare and contrast them. You'll get a peek into the mind of some of the brewers as they start with a blank slate and create some great fermentation experiments. But there is a lot of beer, and we've got some tips to help you sort it all out.
- These are big beers. Pace yourself, be smart about consumption, and plan ahead. Not only will these ideas keep you safe, you'll get more enjoyment out of the festival.
- Big festivals attract big crowds. Short lines mean you need to get there early. Getting to Pioneer Square at noon on Wednesday or 11am on Thursday or Friday goes a long way making sure the crowds are still in their cubicles. That is, if you can escape your own cubicle.
- Make a list of the beers you really want to try based on the descriptions below. Words aren't everything, but going in with a game plan helps you accomplish your goals: trying a lot of great beers. Planning ahead helps you stay on track and not get too sidetracked by the shortest lines. Also, listen to friends. Putting faith in opinions you trust can help you find the breakout beer of the festival. Because these giant beers can destroy your palate quickly, stick to your game plan. Too many impulsive stouts before you try that Pils at the top of your list can adversely affect the taste of the more fragile beers. Checkout our notes below. Based on our years of experience, we've marked () some of the beers below with the notes that will guide us through this year's festival. Hopefully, they'll help you as well!
- One of the best—and most useful—tips I've learned about beer was from local legend Fred Eckhardt: Equal parts beer and water. For every pint you drink, drink a pint of water. It's about hydration as well as pacing yourself. It makes sense—when you're sober. Three beers and three waters in your system is much better than six beers in your system. The hard part is remembering and practicing this rule while out drinking.
- Special tappings: For four days, the festival will be tapping four, very limited beers at 2pm. Get in line. We've marked () some of our past favorites and future hopefuls below.
- Price: To enter and consume beer, the purchase of an entry package is required. The general admission package at the door costs $30 and includes the 2012 tasting mug and 10 taster tickets. Advance general admission packages cost $30 and include the tasting mug, 12 taster tickets and expedited entry all five days. Advance VIP packages are available for $65 and include the tasting mug, 28 taster tickets, a bottle of water, access to VIP lines (including special tappings) and express entry all five days. Express re-entry requires a wristband and the 2012 mug, and is subject to the festival's capacity. Previous year's mugs will not be filled. Advance packages are available online at www.holidayale.com after Oct. 19. Once inside the festival, a full mug of beer costs four taster tickets, and a four-ounce taste costs one ticket. Certain limited release and special tappings may not be available in full mug pours, or may cost double tickets. Additional beer tickets can be purchased for $1 apiece. Designated drivers in a party of two or more may purchase a designated driver wristband for $5, which includes Crater Lake Root Beer or bottled water for the duration of the stay.
- Brunch: Returning to the event is the ninth annual Sunday Beer Brunch, taking place on Dec. 2 from 11 am to 1 pm on the upper level of Pioneer Courthouse Square. The auxiliary event features European pastries, cured meats and artisanal cheeses to accompany an assortment of exclusive vintage winter beers not available at the festival itself, plus special large format bottles to be shared. Tickets cost $65 and are available at www.holidayale.com.
Wednesday @2 PM 2005 Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus: tasters only, double tickets 2008 Alaskan Big Nugget: 2 tickets per taste, 6 per fill 2008 Oskar Blues Ten Fiddy: 2 tickets per taste, 6 per fill 2008 North Coast Old Stock: tasters only, double ticket
Thursday @ 2 PM 2009 Dogsh Head Festina Peche: regular pricing 2009 Kona Black Sands Porter (from the island): regular pricing 2009 Deschutes Lost Mirror Mirror: 2 tickets per taste, 6 per fill 2009 Cascade Sang Noir: 2 tickets per taste, 6 per fill
Friday @ 2 PM 2008 JIM Commemorative: 2 tickets per taste, 6 per fill 2009 JIM Commemorative: 2 tickets per taste, 6 per fill 2008 Deschutes Snow Quad: 2 tickets per taste, 6 per fill 2010 New Belgium Transatlantique Kriek: 2 tickets per taste, 6 per fill
Saturday @ 2 PM 2006 Anchor Old Foghorn: 2 tickets per taste, 6 per fill 2007 Anchor Old Foghorn: 2 tickets per taste, 6 per fill 2009 Rock Bottom Maude Flanders: 2 tickets per taste, 6 per fill 2010 Bear Republic Ebeweesner: 2 tickets per taste, 6 per fill
10 Barrel Brewing Co
"The malt bill of this Belgian Christmas beer is based around a milk stout with notes of molasses toasted bread and raisins. The hops deliver hints of pine and bubblegum. The main character of this beer is contributed by the Belgian Abbey yeast with its essence of candied fruit. To take this over the top the brewers also wove in caramelized dates and raisins cinnamon sticks in the hop back and cocoa nibs in the boil then conditioned it on raisins and figs."
Alameda Brewing Co
Vintage Papa Noel's Special Reserve
English Olde Ale
"Papa Noel's Special Reserve is the bigger brother of Alameda's popular winter seasonal Papa Noel's Olde Ale. This batch was brewed in December 2010 and aged in a variety of wood barrels including fresh white oak rum and whiskey then blended. True to the olde ale style this beer has a wonderful malt character with notes of raisins chocolate toffee and caramel."
Avery Brewing Co
Old Jubilation Ale
English Olde Ale
"This winter strong ale has a gorgeous mahogany hue a hint of hazelnuts and a finish reminiscent of mocha and toffee. No spices just a perfect blend of five specialty malts."
"This beer started out as Bayern's award winning Doppelbock; over a course of nine months of a freezing process it ended up as an Eisbock. The freezing process involves lowering the temperature of the beer in the aging tank to a point that the remaining water in the beer freezes. Several transfers from tank to tank to extract all the ice resulted in a very smooth higher alcohol beer."
Notes: The process of freeze distillation with Eisbocks can be a blessing or a curse. The significant flavor of alcohol is important to this style, but if it isn't propped up by the proper malt backbone, it can be a house of cards. Not sure where this one will fall, but it's on my to-do list.
Bear Republic Brewing Co
Prepare to be Boarded
Barrel Aged Spiced Stout
"This barrel aged stout is rich with the flavors of molasses and spices of the East Indies and the Caribbean the same spices that enriched the coffers of empires (and pirates) during the 17th and 18th centuries. Including allspice black pepper cinnamon ginger nutmeg and mace this true 'pirate stout' is as black as coal and will put you in the right holiday spirit. Avast matey and a ho ho ho!"
Notes: This one looks complex. How will the spices hold up in a "black as coal" stout? At 8.1% ABV, this stout could be soft enough to showcase the spice blend.
Bison Brewing/Logsdon Farmhouse Ales
Berkeley/Hood River, CA/OR
"Cocoa-Bretta is an organic collaboration cheer that combines Bison's award winning Chocolate Stout and Logsdon's Bretta. This stout beer was brewed with cocoa multiple yeasts and finished with strains of Brettanoymces then keg conditioned with pear juice."
Breakside India Passion Elixir
Imperial Red Ale
"Breakside's Jacob Leonard collaborated with Lompoc Brewing's Bryan Keilty to brew this strong hoppy red ale. On the grist side the brewers included flaked rye and dark wheat. For hops they turned to Willamette and Centennial. And to finish they rounded the beer out with a bit of honey for more body. Enjoy this winter hop bomb!"
Notes: Flaked rye, dark whete and a bit of honey? I'll be in line.
Oak-Aged Old Knucklehead
"Generous amounts of NW pale caramel and chocolate malts were blended with English Goldings kettle hops and Willamette Valley Cascade and Chinook Hopjack hops. It was brewed in small batches fermented and then aged on American white oak. The oak aging imparted caramel and vanilla flavors to complement the bold and smooth malt flavors and unique hop character of this true NW ale. "
Burnside Brewing Co
"Burnside wanted to create a unique strong winter warmer that featured a malty body yet was light in color with a distinct hop presence. Enjoy the deceiving light color yet remarkably well balanced malt and hop of this beer."
Diesel #2 (Chocolate)
Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
"This beer was brewed with chocolate and roasted malts black strap molasses and dark Belgian candi sugar then aged for nine months in Heaven Hill rye whiskey barrels on Bourbon vanilla beans and Black Mission Figs. You'll first notice aromas of dark sweet chocolate coffee Bourbon and molasses with hints of vanilla. Then dark coffee and milk chocolate intermingle with a slight Bourbon heat and a lingering sweet dark chocolate flavor that will leave you smiling with a beer mustache!"
Notes: Diesel #2 is a favorite when it hits the taps at the Barrel House.
The Lost Glove
American Style Strong Ale
"Both English and American base malts give this beer its hefty 8.4% alcohol while British brown malt and Chilean caramel malt lend it color and sweetness. Five different hops give a complex but approachable hop profile to balance out the malty sweetness. A high alpha hop varietal Nugget is used for bittering. Tettnanger and Cascade round out the middle while a blend of the three make up the hop back. "
Barrel Aged Old Ale
"While there is some hop presence this beer is malt driven with a flavor profile dominated by sweet grains. This barrel aged ale made in conjunction with the Festival will keep you warm through long nights cold winds and persistent rain; an ale that perfectly fits the next few months in Portland."
Columbia River Brewing Co
Stumblers Chocolate Cherry Stout
Imperial Oatmeal Stout
"The Columbia River brewers took their double award-winning Stumblers Stout and winterized it giving it a higher ABV plus the addition of cocoa nibs and Oregon tart cherries."
The Commons Brewery
Dark Belgian Ale with Boysenberries
"Boysen is a dark strong malt forward Belgian ale with dark fruits added during maturation. Chocolate notes create a foundation for the boysenberries and yeast esters to ride on."
Notes: I'm not quite sold on chocolate and berries mixing in a beers flavor profile. If anyone can change my mind, it will be The Commons.
Crux Fermentation Project
Snow Cave Winter Warmer
"Style guidelines, what guidelines? Snow Cave gives a nod to all winter beer styles. Starting with a heavy dose of wheat malt and ending with a touch of chocolate this high gravity interpretation of a winter warmer will keep you cozy in the harshest of winters."
Notes: I haven't tried anything from CFP yet, no more excuses.
Imperial Smoked Porter
Imperial Smoked Porter
"This strong porter features a solid smoke presence a rich malt character and a smooth rounded mouthfeel. Additions of dark muscovado sugar oats and wheat contribute to its complexity."
Notes: Though I love heavily peated Scotch, smoked beers can be hit or miss with me. A robust imperial porter may just have the haunches to compete with the smoke.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Belgian Style Brown Ale
"This deep mahogany Belgian style brown ale was brewed with beet sugar raisins and Belgian style yeast resulting in a beer that's as complex as a fine red wine."
Eel River Brewing Co
Noel Barrel Age Blend
Christmas Spiced Imperial Red Ale
"This Imperial red ale was brewed with cinnamon nutmeg allspice and cloves then blended with Eel River's Triple Exultation which had been aged in Bourbon barrels for six months."
Firestone Walker Brewery/Barrelworks
Paso Robles, CA
Barrel Aged Oatmeal Stout & Gueuze Blend
"A collaboration with the Holiday Ale Festival this Barrelworks project is a blend of one-year-old Heaven Hill Bourbon barrel aged Velvet Merkin that was blended with a touch of a young Gueuze from Firestone's sour program. The result is a lighter brighter but still barrel-forward Merkin for your sipping pleasure. "
Notes: Velvet Merkin has always been one of the beers to beat at the Holiday Ale Festival. Will this Gueuze blend be a step forward or a step backward? Whichever way it falls, it's a brave step.
Fort George Brewery & Public House
The Three Wisemen
Bourbon/Rum/Tequila Barrel Aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout
"The Three Wisemen honor the holiday tradition of gifting: in this case gifting your liver an Imperial oatmeal stout that has been lovingly conditioned in Bourbon Tequila and Rum barrels then brought back together to form a wonderfully warming cunningly complex and graciously gratifying Yuletide elixir."
Notes: Bourbon, Rum and Tequila barrels?! Sold.
Full Sail Brewing Co
Hood River, OR
2011 Black Gold
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
"This beer was initially brewed in February 2010; a portion of the batch was reserved and aged for almost a year in 18-year-old Bourbon casks from Kentucky. This extended aging presents hints of vanilla and allows the stout to pick up the flavors of the wood Bourbon and oak. It has a strong roasted malt character and a full body. Chocolate and caramel nuances blend with the hops for a smooth finish."
Notes: You can't go wrong with Full Sail Black Gold.
Old Man Gower's Holiday Tipple
Holiday Style Beer
"The recipe for this malty caramel holiday beer was passed down to the brewer by Old Man Gower. According to the brewer "It was Christmas Eve in the drunk tank. An old man said to me 'Won't see another one.' And then we sang a song The Rare Old Mountain Dew. I turned my face away and he told me about this brew."
Notes: I have no idea what any of that means, but Gigantic Brewing has been proving their brewing skills with every beer release.
Spiced Belgian Strong Ale
"This spiced Belgian style ale was brewed in the spirit of holiday breads. Dark roasted malts and large quantities of molasses make a robust and slightly sweet body. Light hopping and spicing from vanilla cloves cinnamon and nutmeg create a festive finish."
Golden Valley Brewery
"Using neighboring Panther Creek Cellars French oak barrels--which have had two to three vintages of Panther Creek Pinot aged in them--took the claws off the sharper edges of this big boy. Roasted malt character melds into oaky vanilla vinous notes to create a luscious beer experience."
Notes: Flavors from Pinot grapes and oak can be great for a beer. If these notes are too subtle, make sure to allow this one to warm up and open up.
Kells Brew Pub
Kells Mexican Mocha Porter
"Delicious chocolate porter meets warming spices cold brewed coffee and spicy peppers. There is no better way to warm up this winter!"
Lagunitas Brewing Co
Ye Olde GnarlyWine
Barleywine aged 2 years
"Olde Gnarly Wine Ale has been aging a couple years for your enjoyment. The first sip is for thirst the second for pleasure. The third is for romance and the fourth...some say is for pure madness. This favorite of the brewers has been absent for a while as it was delayed by a brewhouse destroyed at sea."
Belgian Style Red
"This Belgian style red ale was brewed in October 2011 with the Belgian Ardennes yeast strain then aged for a year in Cabernet Franc barrels. The resulting beer has a malty and creamy body."
Notes: This Belgian style red is a great vehicle for the Cabernet Franc flavors imparted from the barrels. I'm going to grab this one early before all of the stouts destroy my palate.
Lucky Labrador Brewing
Milk and Cookies
Spiced Milk Stout
"A treat for Santa or yourself this smooth milk stout was brewed with chocolate black and roast malts for a nutty flavor that's complemented by the addition of rum soaked raisins."
Notes: You had me at rum soaked rasins.
MacTarnahan's Brewing Co
Barrel Aged Fruit Beer
"The brewers filled brandy and Bourbon barrels with a wheat beer brewed with fig concentrate. They then added fig puree to the barrels to kick up the fruitiness another notch. After six months those barrels were blended with year-old barrel aged porter and a touch of fresh Imperial stout. Layers of fruit brandy caramel cocoa and coffee make this an ideal beverage to enjoy on a cold winter's night."
Strong Scotch Ale
"Ward off the winter cold with the warming malty cheer of this strong scotch ale. Very lightly hopped with a hint of smokiness from the peat smoked malt this big beer is designed to showcase the wonders of the grain. The deep reddish hue and high alcohol content is like a cozy hearth fire."
Feel the Rath
"This beer is golden in color with a smooth and complex mouthfeel. Brewed using Trappist yeast plus late additions of fresh ginger and Minneola orange zest this beer delivers a smooth wave of citrus on the nose while providing spicy earth qualities on the palate. Feel the Rath exemplifies what monks have created for hundreds of years in Belgian tradition coupled with a Migration twist that traditionalists can be proud of. "
New Belgium Brewing Co
Fort Collins, CO
Belgian-style Brown with Raspberries; special holiday release
"This beer begins with the aroma of fresh red raspberries followed by the ripe seductiveness of a fruity brown ale with depth and delicate malt notes. It is deep ruby in color with flavors just as rich. Every year New Belgium sends a delegate to the Pacific Northwest to oversee the process of turning freshly picked berries into a pure juice to be added in fermentation."
Ninkasi Brewing Co
Mahogany Strong Ale with Chocolate and Coffee
"This beer was made in honor of the end of the Mayan calendar and to celebrate the last beer festival of modern civilization. Deep mahogany hued and fermented with an Alt yeast strain this beer has a clean toasted malt profile that finishes with a bright citrus and floral hop presence. This beer was conditioned on 80 lbs of chocolate nibs from Theo Chocolates in Seattle with the addition of Guatemalan coffee from Water Avenue Coffee in Portland to impart a rich flavor with perceived bitterness from the hops chocolate and coffee."
Very Ill Tempered Gnome
American Strong Ale
"Oakshire took its Ill Tempered Gnome and turned it up to 11! Well 9% at least. With more malt more hops and more flavorful goodness you'll want to seek out this rare and limited Imperial winter ale. VITG has a complex malt profile of caramel light fruit and toasty nuts and is backed up by a warming alcohol presence and a bold citrus hop blast."
Notes: This has always been a favorite beer of mine at the Holiday Ale Fest and I won't skip it this year either.
Rock Bottom Brewery
Bohemian Christmas Pilsner
"King Wenceslas is not only the patron saint of Czech brewers he is also the subject of perhaps the most beloved Christmas carol of all time'even though oddly enough most people don't know any of the words past the first line (in fact for many years they were lost all together). But if you look up the newly re-discovered lyrics you'll find that good King Wenceslas looked down (on the Feast of Stephen) saw a poor man gathering wood and ordered his page to take the man a jug of a strong pale lager. Thus was born the traditional Bohemian Christmas Pilsner. "
"Brew 15000 is a very limited strong dark ale. It is John Maier's 15000th brew and Rogue originally brewed just 1515 bottles all of which were autographed by the Master Brewer himself. The brew pours a frothy dark beige head which gives it a beautiful appearance. You may taste a lingering fruity ester from the Belgian yeast. It's got a smoky roasty flavor and a slight edge of mint."
Rusty Truck Brewing Co
Lincoln City, OR
Cherry Chocoholic Baltic Porter
Baltic Porter flavored w/chocolate & cherries
"This classic Baltic-style porter was brewed with hulless black barley dark caramel malt honey malt and a touch of smoked malt. After a four-week lager fermentation it was aged on 90 lbs of hand-pressed Willamette Valley cherries per 10-barrel batch and flavored with natural chocolate flavor. Expect big chocolate and cocoa aroma and flavor balanced by a sweet cherry flavor and finish. It's dark as night full-bodied and hopped enough to balance the rich malt and chocolate-cherry profile."
Seven Brides Brewing
Lil's Brandy Barrel Pils
"When Willamette Valley Vineyards vinifera barrels arrived the brewers at Seven Brides added Lil's Pils to age specifically for the Holiday Ale Festival. This delicate style of beer picked up flavors of oak and Pinot Noir and will leave your taste buds with a subtle heat of brandy."
Notes: This is a mighty strong Pils which might crumble under the weight of the high ABV and the brandy barrels. It is, however, a gamble I'm eager to take. If it succeeds, it should be amazing.
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers
San Francisco, CA
Spiced Payback Porter
Robust Porter with Masala Chai Spices
"Speakeasy opted for a twist on its perennial favorite Payback Porter. The brewers took inspiration from the traditional Masala Chai tea brewing the dark porter with a combination of vanilla bean ginger cardamom clove and black pepper. "
Stone Brewing Co
Stone Suitable for Cave Aging
Imperial Smoked Porter
"Stone's Imperial porter a tribute to Danny Williams pours an opaque dark brown with aromas of dark roasted malt cocoa vanilla Bourbon and wood. The taste is much the same with a woody finish and a Bourbon kick with each sip. The smoke comes out as the beer opens up but it's never too strong. "
Terminal Gravity Brewing
Aged Winter Strong Ale
"Festivale (pronounced festive-ale) is one of Terminal Gravity's most popular beers annually available from late October through Christmas. 2008 was a particularly tasty year with a lower terminal gravity and higher ABV than most years. The brewers held back several kegs with the Holiday Ale Festival in mind. It has aged very well and is now a hoppy dark copper strong ale the perfect pint in which to get lost."
Bob Barley's Dreaded Holiday Ale
Cascadian Dark Ale
"Bob Barley CDA gets its dark color from de-husked German malts that have been cold-mashed. This process produces a dark beer without the astringent flavor that can often accompany darker malts. 2-Row base malt Crystal 120L wheat and Caramel Vienne are used to add complexity to this holiday ale. Generous amounts of Magnum and Amarillo hops provide balanced bitterness and hop aroma. When you taste this beer you will want to shout 'Ya Mon!'"
Walking Man Brewing
Santa's Little Black Homo
Spiced Cascadian Dark Ale
"This spiced CDA is Big Black Homo's jolly little brother. It was brewed with jovial caramel and black malts to provide a jubilant malty character that mirthfully mingles with Summit and Centennial hops. But wait! The merrymaking doesn't end there; a festive whack of cinnamon sticks were thrown into the kettle and freshly cracked allspice berries were added during fermentation to further cheer this merry mutha up! Jingle THAT Santa!"
Widmer Brothers Brewing
Brrrbon Vanilla - Cask Strength
Bourbon Barrel aged Imperial Red IPA w/vanilla
"Rich oak and vanilla aromas dominate this Imperial red IPA with hints of dark chocolate and caramel. The Bourbon flavors accentuate the subtle sweetness from the vanilla giving this beer a deep complexity and balance. An earthy fullness makes this beer the perfect winter warmer."
Notes: This looks to be an unblended version of Brrrbon, which I think is a very underrated beer. It may gain more converts when this "cask strength" version is sampled.