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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Notes and Updates on the Holiday Ale Festival

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 food situation is not great--and if you're a vegetarian, it's pretty terrible.  I'd advise you to eat beforehand and just snack while you're there.  There is water, but you have to go to the Northeast corner of the main tent, near the exit, to find it.  These are huge beers, and you really, really need to stay fed and hydrated.  A four-ounce pour of a 10% beer (common here) is the same a shot of whiskey. If you drink your first batch of 10 tickets, you may well find yourself in trouble, so beware.  To add insult to injury, the Fest is for some reason charging designated drivers five bucks just to get in.  For those good eggs willing to tag along to give your drunk self a ride home, this is a harsh penalty indeed.  Non-drivers should maybe pool their dollars and pick up the tab.  (Note to Fest: knock that off in the future.  You want designated drivers, especially when your beers are so boozy.)

The beer
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 also enjoyed BridgePort Honey Porter, Deschutes Yule Goat (though it was pretty brett-y), Fort George Hogfather, Golden Valley Santa's Smokin' Bock, and Hopworks Kronan the Barbarian.  Just four misses: Base Camp White Squall (balance was a touch off), Laht Neppur St. Dorothy's Peach Cordial Ale (too sweet), Mazama Mazamanator (too strong and too fruity for a doppelbock), and Viking Winter Squash Porter (a braggot that was actually really good except the spicing threw me off--I'd love a version without spice).

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?


  1. I have to say, in general, the designated driver situation at beer events is shameful at best. I regularly skip beer dinners I would love to attend but cannot get a discounted DD ticket for my wife who wouldn't drink and would responsibly get me home. Thanks for calling this out.

  2. The DD situation has always been bad. My wife refuses to go now, and I rely on the bus when I don't boycott the high prices. That being said, the Widmer Bier de Noel was the best hoppy beer at the festival, despite its name. And the Lagunitas cappuccino stout was also great, a huge, well balanced flavor bomb.