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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Holiday Ale Fest: Early Sampling

Last night, the Holiday Ale Fest had a mini-tasting for bloggers. (Please, it's rude to laugh.) If the other beers at the fest are as good as the half dozen we tried last night, this is going to be an exceptional fest. I want to draw your attention to five in particular (in the order we tried them):
  • Bear Republic Baba Yaga's Imperial Stout. An unusual imperial stout. It's roasty and smoky, and reminded me of some of the single-estate coffees I've had at Stumptown. There's one Sumatran coffee that has much of this character. It's aged in cabernet barrels, and you find a sweetness at the edges of your tongue, as if pushed aside by the bitter, roasty main note.
  • Fort George North III. "North" is the beer brewed especially for this fest, now in--suprise!--it's third year. I was worried about this beer because the website says it has 99 BUs; the printed program said 50, though--which was more reassuring. A beer made with sugar plums and an abbey yeast strain, it comes across more like a typical English winter warmer. It mixes the two things you want most--a bit of gentle sweetness and a warmth from the alcohol. Hops come across more as a spicy accent note. While the imperial stout would leave non-stout fans cold, I would recommend this beer to everyone. Oh, and this is your only chance to try it--once the fest is over, the beer will be gone.
  • Hair of the Dog Jim 2009. This year's batch is a blend featuring a preponderance of Doggie Claws and Blue Dot, a fact evident instantly, by the piney hop nose. That pine carries through very clearly in the flavor, too, giving this beer a particularly seasonal character. The hops are not enormously bitter, and the beer finishes with a sweeter note. For beer geeks trying to isolate some of the minority blends, wait for the hops to pass, then see if you can catch a glimpse of the bock or English brown also blended in. Jim is only available at the Fest.
  • Deschutes Mirror Mirror. The brewery discovered some barrels in the brewery that had gotten mislaid. They contained some of the most-recent vintage of Mirror Mirror, Deschutes' barleywine. They have only 24 kegs, and half have come to the Fest. The rest will probably not make it out of Bend. These kegs contain 100% barrel-aged, unblended Mirror Mirror, and they are, to my palate, a far more finished beer than I recall having from the bottle. Rich, creamy, caramel-sweet, alcohol-strong, yet balanced with sprightly hopping, it's a wonderful beer.
  • Cascade Drie Zwarte Sang Noir. The final beer was my favorite. Another blend of various potions from Ron Gansberg's laboratory, this beer falls somewhere between a Flanders red and oud bruin, with some cherries added for complexity. I intend to have another pour of this, perhaps even the $4 full pour, and I'll study it then and take more detailed notes. Suffice it to say that if you're a sour ale fan, this must be first on your list. You will find few beers this good anywhere.
Finally, a tip of the hat to Preston Weesner, the impresario who organizes the Holiday Ale Fest. Over the course of years, he has managed to coax and cajole breweries into brewing one-of-a-kind beers for the fest. He does a great job of mixing up the styles so there's something for everyone. And he maintains a stash of beer somewhere in the Portland area that is maintained at precise conditions so that when he brings them out a year or four later, they're magnificent. He poured us a dram of the legendary Jim 2007, for example, which went on tap yesterday afternoon. (I didn't review it because, well, it just seemed cruel to talk about a beer that is no longer available for love or money.)

It was already fairly packed with people, even at 4pm on a Wednesday, evidence that the word's out. But don't let the crowds dissuade you--this has the makings of a real gem. (Maybe tonight, during the Civil War, you would find smaller crowds? A thought.)

The elite corps of PDX beer bloggers

Preston Weesner

Outside the Holiday Ale Fest

4pm on Wednesday and already a nearly-full house


  1. Hey Jeff,

    I know there are at least a handful of kegs of the Ft. George North out in the trade because their distributor offered one to us. Unfortunately we had to pass on it due to a combination of factors I won't get into, but I'd assume Bailey's, Saraveza, or the Brass will have (or maybe already had) it on.

  2. I'll add my props to Preston. He's a dedicated fellow and the Holiday Ale Festival owes him much as well as his tireless efforts at the Oregon Brewers Festival. Can't wait to raise a glass to him at Pioneer Square.