Day one of the frosty Holiday Ale Festival is in the books. Day two, less than an hour from opening, looks frostier still. (It's 29 degrees as I write this.) That makes for a lovely time under the tents, but don't depend on those heaters getting the temperature up to 68. They strain to keep it pleasant, but there are pockets where it never really warms up. (When the outside temperature is the normal 45, the inside can sometimes get steamy.)
A few other notes
|The $5 designated-driver wristband.|
The main event, of course, is the beer, and as usual they're pretty amazing. Bière de noëls devide people, so it's harder than usual to make recommendations. How do you feel about spice? What about smoke? Where's your sweetness threshold? Depending on how you answer these questions, your mileage will vary. I have always had a rocky relationship with spice, and so tried nearly no beers that used them. On the other hand, I love smoked malt, so I was out sniffing for the smell of char. Over the course of six hours, I had a full pour or neighborly snort of just 15 of the beers, so my sample size is also limited. However, all those caveats noted, here were the ones I liked:
- Alameda Long Beard's Baltic Porter. One of those smoky beers, and one of two or three that vied for my fave. Baltic Porters are simultaneously smooth and intense (they're usually lagered), and a vivid, almost sour roast note is typical. Alameda puts a spin on that with the smoke, and it really works. Deep, resonant beer. So many winter beers are meant to be drunk by the snifter, but I could have easily tucked into a pint of this.
- Cascade Cherry Diesel. A very well-made cherry stout, meaning tons of roast battling tons of cherry. The two tango in the way cherries and chocolate are famous for doing, and the effect is similarly decadent.
- Elysian Doom. I confess I was attracted partly by the name, forgetting that I was getting an IPA (maybe the only one at the fest?). It's exceptional. A head like mousse and incredibly rich, super tasty hopping that blasted through my tired palate. It was my nightcap and I'd like to try it again fresh.
- Ninkasi Single. By contrast, I kicked the fest off with this beer. A little titan--a mighty mite?--with a substrate of esters that harmonized nicely with spicy/herbal hops (Saaz?). Also one of the best beers I tried.
- Old Town Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum. Also late in the day, so my faculties were diminished. It seemed to have a wonderful harmony between the rum barrels and burnished maltiness of the old ale.
- Pints Hibernator. A lovely weizenbock that functions as a perfect palate-refresher. Lots of phenolics and spice that help enliven a tongue battered by alcohol and sweetness.
I saw a bunch of people there I wish I'd spoken to more (like Suds Sister, Matt Van Wyk, Ritch Marvin, Pete Dunlop, Sanjay Reddy and several others). What is it with fests that make it hard to talk to everyone you'd like? Here's hoping I get another bite at the apple; I'm planning for a Saturday foray too. See you there?