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Monday, December 02, 2013

A User's Guide to the Holiday Ale Fest

Pioneer Courthouse Square
Wed-Sat, 11a to 10p, Sun 11a to 5p
Initial tasting package (required): $30, includes mug + 10 tix
Additional tix $1 apiece
No minors, no pets


I want you to just luxuriate for a moment in some names you'll find this Wednesday at the Holiday Ale Fest:
  • The Scut Farkas Affair
  • Oud Freakcake
  • Hogfather
  • Yule Goat
  • Gargantua
  • Doom
  • Hibernator
  • The Twerking Elf
The point is, brewers love love love winter.  They make and sell most of their beer in the summer, but it is the dark wet months, when yule logs crackle, when they get to turn their ids loose.  I just did a scan through the list of "standard" pours at this year's Holiday Ale Fest (those you'll find on the main floor at all times), and not a single one is a regularly-brewed offering.  Not one!  If you pine for a Wassail or even Abyss, this is not the fest for you.  If, on the other hand, you want to see what happens when a brewery ages an oud bruin in Maker's Mark barrels with cranberries, figs, dates and raisins, you're in luck.  This is the first rule of the Holiday Ale Fest: bring your good cheer and have fun.

HAF is one of the best events of the year--and arguably the first "modern" beer fest.  It's a curated affair where beers have been specially brewed in service of a theme.  In this case, that theme is impressionistic, which adds to the fun.  A brewery might think nothing says noel like a German weizenbock while another thinks it means an abbey single.  Many, of course, believe it means a barrel-aged beer made with odd ingredients like marshmallows, panty hose (seriously, I think), and turnip honey (Oakshire, Slanted Rock, and Viking Braggot).

Many of those oddballs are going to be lumps of coal, but along the way these experiments will yield the occasional gem.  This leads us to rule number two: sample broadly and share information.  There's no reason more than one member of your party has to endure a train wreck--or should be hoarding the good stuff.

Since the beers are all one-offs no one has tasted, it's impossible to assess them by description alone.  However, there are a few ways to approach them if you want to divide them by category.  Or rely on me to do it for you. 
The Small Beers
Mostly you'll find grandes cervezas (more than half the pours are 8% or higher and 18% are in the double digits), but a few little guys may help lengthen your session.
  • Deschutes Yule Goat (5.4%, a brett-aged brown ale); 
  • Firestone Walker Luponic Merlin (5.5%, hoppy oatmeal stout); 
  • Fish Gingerbread Ale (5%); 
  • Ninkasi Single (5%); 
  • Oskar Blues Black Mamba (5.6% dunkelweizen); and
  • Rock Bottom You'll Shoot Your Eye Out Kid (4.8% helles). 

Straight-up Beers 
This is a surprisingly small group, less than 25% of the whole, and one to which I will direct special attention.  They are those beers brewed to relatively normal styles with no oddball ingredients (and there's a lot of overlap with the group above).
  • Base Camp White Squall (barley wine); 
  • Coalition Shenanigans (barley wine); 
  • Dick's Code 1081 (winter warmer); 
  • Firestone Walker Luponic Merlin, 
  • Fort George Hogfather (I think; it's a Baltic Porter); 
  • Hop Valley The Wolfe (English barley wine); 
  • Mazama Doppelbock; 
  • Migration Big Sipper (Belgian dark); 
  • Ninkasi Single; 
  • Oskar Blues Black Mamba, 
  • Pints Hibernator, and 
  • Rock Bottom You'll Shoot Your Eye Out Kid .

Barrel-aged Beers 
Breweries now cast their nets wider than just bourbon distilleries--this year they used brandy, rum, and wine barrels as well.
  • 2 Towns Naughty and Nice Cider (bourbon); 
  • Bear Republic Santa's Lost Wallet (brandy); 
  • BridgePort Oak Aged Honey Porter; 
  • Cascade Cherry Diesel (Heaven Hill bourbon); 
  • Crux Oud Freakcake (Maker's Mark bourbon); 
  • Deschutes Yule Goat (bourbon); 
  • Eel River Gargantua (bourbon); 
  • Gilgamesh BAHS (bourbon); 
  • Hopworks Kronan the Bourbarian (bourbon); 
  • Lagunitas High West Whiskey Barrel Stout; 
  • Lompoc Revelry Red Ale (whiskey and wine); 
  • McMenamins Mele Kalikimaka Coconut Stout (Hogshead Whiskey); 
  • New Belgium Cascara Quad; 
  • Old Town Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum (rum); 
  • Rogue Big Ass Rye (new oak); and 
  • Vertigo Polar Blast (whiskey).

Sour Beers
Wild ale fans will be disappointed to find only four beers to scratch their itch.  That's it.  However, watch for the special-release beers--there may be a tart or three in that group.
  • Crux Oud Freakcake; 
  • Deschutes Yule Goat; 
  • Lompoc Revelry Red, and 
  • Stickmen Twerking Elf. 

Black Beers
Give me a cold, drizzly night and you better give me a warming dark ale.  This is the fest for dark beer fans.
  • Alameda Long Beard (Baltic porter); 
  • Bear Republic Santa's Lost Wallet (stoutish); 
  • BridgePort Honey Porter; 
  • Cascade Cherry Diesel (imperial stout); 
  • Columbia River Hawaiian Christmas (coconut porter); 
  • Firestone Walker Luponic Merlin (stout); 
  • Fort George Hogfather (imperial porter); 
  • Hopworks Kronan (imperial porter); 
  • Lagunitas (coffee stout); 
  • McMenamins (coconut stout); 
  • Natian McGuinness (imperial milk stout); 
  • Slanted Rock Panty Hose Porter (Baltic porter); 
  • Speakeasy Erotic Cake (chocolate milk stout); 
  • Stone Spiced Unicorn Milk (chai stout); and 
  • Vertigo Polar Blast (imperial vanilla porter).

The Really Crazy Stuff
You want weird?  HAF's got weird.  This brings us to the third rule of the Holiday Ale Fest: make sure you don't burn out on bizarre experiments.  But you should nevertheless try a few.
  • Burnside It Makes Reindeer Fly (weirdness factor: a rye ale made with carrots and raisins);
  • Crux Old Freakcake (weirdness factor: oud bruin made with orange and lemon zest as well as cranberries, figs, dates and raisins);
  • Gigantic The Scut Farkas Affair (weirdness factor: gummi bears);
  • Natian McGuinness (weirdness factor: milk coffee stout aged on Kahlua-soaked oak) (also note, to avoid confusion, that the founder/brewer is Ian Guinness);
  • Oakshire Swiss Mrs. Alpine Alt (weirdness factor: an alt mashed with toasted marshmallows and brewed with cocoa nibs and lactose);
  • Viking Braggot Winter Squash Porter (weirdness factor: a braggot--mead and ale--made with turnip honey and winter squash)

All of those are taken only from the "standard" group.  Each day they're also pouring specialty beers (mostly vintage stock) which add a whole 'nother level of specialness.  You can see the list and schedule here.

I'll be at the Fest on Wednesday and promise to have a quick and dirty reactions post up before the beers pour on Thursday.  See you there--

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