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Monday, November 30, 2009

Holiday Ale Fest Preview

Holiday Ale Festival, Dec 2-6
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Wed, 2 pm - 10pm
Thurs-Sat, 11am - 10pm
Sun, 11am - 7pm
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Portland now has three or four festivals that beer geeks consider must-see events, but putting one atop the list would be hard work. With one very major caveat, the Holiday Ale Fest may now be in the driver's seat. At no other fest do breweries send such rare, limited-release beers. Barrel aging is now the norm, and some of these have been treated to months of care. Beers come mainly from the West Coast, but the Fest manages a few international classics, as well. Add to that the special tastings that include vintage beers and you have Beervana's most concentrated collection of fine beer of the year.

The caveat: until organizers figure out how to fold space into inter-dimensional pockets, the size of the venue (Pioneer Courthouse Square) is not adequate to manage the size of the crowd. Last year they eked out a bit more space by adding an upper level, but it was still insanely busy. That upper tier returns this year, along with the expanded days, so you might find a time and place to enjoy a relatively peaceful pour. Friday and Saturday nights? Not so much.

While barleywines and winter warmers are a regular feature, we have a couple of interesting trends this year. Porters and stouts are making a serious showing. This is excellent news, for they are ideally suited for the Portland winter months. In particular, there are three Baltic porters, four imperial stouts, and four flavored stouts (plus a flavored porter). I don't know if this counts as a trend or not, but there are four abbey ales. Experimentation with Belgian-inspired beers, mainly in the form of Upright and Cascade, continues apace.

Interesting Beers
You know what you like. You don't need a blogger to tell you what to drink. But if you're looking for something to fill in your hand, these are the ones I'll be looking at:
  • Stouts. Perhaps my fave style, and I may not drink anything else. (Not true.) In order, these are the ones that call to me: Bear Republic Baba Yaga, an imperial stout aged in cabernet barrels, MacTarnahan's Chocolate Imperial, not exactly imperial strength, but featuring chocolate nibs and oats, Ninkasi Unconventionale, a tarragon, lavender, and heather-spiced imperial.
  • Cascade Sang Noir. An absurd mixture of vintages, mixtures, and barrels, with a few bing cherries for good measure. Only available at the fest.
  • Baltic Porters. Perhaps my fave style. Wait... Anyway, three here, but depending on which booth I arrive at first, I'll be trying either Laurelwood's Polska Porter (10%!) or Hopworks' Kronan the Barbarian.
  • Block 15 Oaked Saint Nick. An old ale aged in toasted American oak and dry-hopped with Mt. Hoods.
  • Hair of the Dog JIM, 2009 vintage. A blended ale brewed only for the fest.
  • Fort George North III. I am drawn to the diced sugar plums added to this trippel, but I fear it might be overhopped (99 IBUs). Still.
No doubt this will not form a complete list, but it's my target starting beers. Also of note, I've had the Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux in the past, and it's amazing. Spend the two tokens if you've never had it.

Special Tastings
Again, you know what you like. Still, I should draw your attention to a couple of stand-outs. 2007 was the year Hair of the Dog first released JIM, and it was an exceptional beer. Just one keg of this vintage remains, and it will be tapped at 2pm on Wednesday. Also in that time slot, the Fest's oldest beer, a 2003 Old Knucklehead (BridgePort) and a 2005 Samichlaus. At 5:30, they'll tap a 2007 Scaldis Noel. I don't know what this beer tastes like aged, but it's sublime when they release it. Probably worth a couple tickets to find out.

If you're around at 11 the next morning, you might watch Bayern tap its wooden cask of Face Plant with a wood hammer and spigot. But for beer (not to say that Face Plant, a weizenbock, won't be delicious), I'd try the Kona Da Grind Kona Coffee Imperial Stout. At 5:30, they'll tap Lompoc's Bourbon-barrel Aged Pagen Porter, which looks tasty.

They'll do special tastings Friday and Saturday, too, but they haven't yet released the line-up. Check in on their Twitter feed or Facebook page for updates.

I will be at the Fest on Wednesday for a blogger tasting, and I'll report back my findings. I'll go one other time with friends, too--probably Saturday. Reports as I have them, plus I'll guide you to other news/reviews as I see them. Cheers!


  1. Damn you Jeff, you beat me to it, ahh, now my post looks like a duplicate. If it didn't take me so long to find that darn picture. See you Wednesday.

  2. Can't wait; I'll be there (early) Saturday afternoon. When I looked over the list I was thinking the same thing as you Jeff; a lot of variety. I went to the Fresh Hop fest in both Hood River and in Portland this year and while it was great, the variety offered here (along with all of the limited releases) makes me much more excited.

  3. Jeff,

    I'm looking forward to getting a chance to meet you at the preview Wednesday.


  4. FYI - you can buy a $40 package to festival for $25 at 94.7 half price deals. Pretty good deal.

  5. Jason, could you post a link? That's a great deal ... if I could find it.

  6. The coupon is at As far as I can tell its a $40 voucher for $25 so should be more flexible for a couple entries or a bunch of extra tix.

  7. Yep, it is at the link Justin gave above.

    I picked up my voucher yesterday. It is for 2 tasting mugs and twenty tokens. You have to pick it up at the Entercom offices in the South Waterfront. (Ignore the shipping and handling charge if it appears on your order - they are refunding that).