On Wednesday afternoon I was drawn to Pioneer Courthouse Square like a moth to a flame.
It was time for the Holiday Ale Fest to begin, and for those in the know it truly is a holiday as we all take the days off from our respective jobs to be there at the opening.
This year it began earlier then ever at 2pm on a Wednesday. The experienced beer festival goer knows you must arrive to these things early, and preferably on a weekday if you want to beat the craziness.
And this year was no exception, I arrived before 2pm to find a line already a block long. Once I got in there weren’t any lines but the place filled in record time. By 3pm the place was full and a line was forming for only 2 beers, Hair Of The Dog Jim and Samichlaus. 2 infamous and rare beers that are both enjoyable yet both overrated in my opinion.

Each of these beers is definitely worth checking out, they are both beasts and unique. One was once the highest alcohol beer in the world (samichlaus), and is still the strongest lager (14%abv) the other is a beer brewed in honor of the late Jim Kennedy and the Holiday Ale Fest. Jim from Hair Of The Dog is a blend of other barrel-aged HOTD beers, different each year and then toasted with a few commercial bottles from the cellar. One year of this brew had a 91 Rodenbach Alexander added and another a Cantillon. I could definitely pull out some funk and souring from those vintages in addition to all of the bourbon spice and wood notes. Its also a very hot beer, it will warm you up and the hops are not forgotten. The newest vintage was very hoppy and green and needs some time to improve and the edges to round off.

Holiday Ale Fest Risque Elf

Unfortunately this year they came up with some terrible art to advertise the fest. A slutty looking santa’s helper named “Holly” with a lot of cleavage and a short skirt with some candy cane stalkings. Awkwardly holding a tulip glass of beer.
Apparently this is the first in a series of different girls for each year of the festival.
Now I have no objections to a hot girl holding a beer but the art is cheesy and way overdone. Very unclassy and borderline sexist.

Regardless this is a great beer festival. Easily one of my favorites. Perhaps #1. The Collection of brews here is unprecedented, for a beer drinker like myself often I have had 80% of the beers at any given festival before it begins, but at this one I think its more like 25%. The setting and location under those great big tents creates a great atmosphere. This fest is truly the event of the holiday season!

My beer picks to search out are:

Alaskan: Barleywine
A must try beer. One of the top barleywines in the world. Its dark even for a barleywine and has many layers of malts.
It has the typical barleywine sweetness but the finish is relatively dry and with just the right amount of hoppiness to balance it out. I love to pick out the flavors in this carmel, toasted wood, brown sugar, spicy hops…

Bear Republic: Barrel Aged Old Baba Yaga
Probably the consensual pick of the fest. This Cabernet barrel-aged Imperial Stout stood out among all the other imperial stouts and big beers. Appropriate winter beer sweetness balanced with a sour red wine grape character and some even hopping.
Not that this beer is sour by any means but just that subtle note of fermenting grapes. Not sure if I have had anything like that in a beer before. And I have had numerous wine barrel aged stouts. Some great roastinesss and smoky leather qualities peek through and ultimately overwhelm the palate to make this a very memorable beer.

Cascade: Drie Zwarte Pieten “Sang Noir”
This is a big 10.2% abv Flanders Red style. Made from a blend of barrels it has a lot of appropriate sourness.
I have had 2 other “Sang Noir” blends and this one is the finest. They have achieved the most sourness here as well as some great berry sweet tartness and dry oaky barrel flavors. This is the palate cleanser of the fest.

Deschutes: Lost Barrels of Mirror Mirror
This is supposedly lost barrels of the 05 Mirror Mirror Barleywine. I am not that big of a fan of the current Mirror Mirror which is a blend with parts aged in various wine and whiskey barrels as well as tanks.
This version is unblended 100% oak aged and you can really taste it. It still has the overwhelming sweet maltiness but this time balanced with a heaping of toasted oak flavor. Almost as if sucking on the wood in a good way.

Firestone Walker: Velvet Merkin
I have had this 4 times now. It is always a highlight. This oatmeal stout is one of the tastiest under 6%abv beers around and is a delight to the stout starved Portland market where everyone is concentrating on hops and extreme beers. In description it sounds like any other, creamy, rich, coffee, chocolate…but in taste it manages to pack in more of those flavors in terrific balance then most others.

Fort George: North III
Brewed specifically for the fest is this interesting offering from Astoria. 8.8% abv with Honey Malt, maple syrup and sugar plums.
The sugar plums unfortunately/predictably are lost. Sugar usually leaves little flavor behind. But the honey and the maple shine through and yet dont overwhelm. Some nice spicy notes as well and a belgian yeast character.

Full Sail: Wassail Holiday Blend
A blend of Full Sail’s annual winter warmer Wassail with 35% of the blend being their Top Sail bourbon barrel Imperial Porter. This wasnt for everyone but I loved the combo of the toasty malts and spicy hops of the wassail with the boozy, roasty and vanilla characters of the Imperial Porter and some of that bourbon sweetness showing up.

Laurelwood: Polska Porter
A 10.1% Baltic Porter. For those that dont know this style a Baltic Porter is a strong porter brewed with a lager yeast instead of like an ale. Typically they have a lot of the european maltiness from Munich malts.
I am always happy to see a baltic porter even when they dont taste much like one as this beer.
It does taste like a terrific Robust Porter or Imperial Stout. Thick heavy chewy body with layers of roastiness and sweet malts. This is a bit like a 4 shot espresso with a big dollop of cream.

Also of note:
Upright Brewing Holy Herb
(biere de garde style brewed w/ Hyssop and aged on Eucalyptus wood!)

Hopworks: Kronan The Barbarian
(baltic porter)

Brasserie Dupont: Avec Les Bons Voeux
(a wonderful saison)

Bridgeport: Bourbon Ebenezer
(barrel aged version of Bridgeports winter brew)

Eel River: Spiced Baltic Porter
(truer to style baltic porter with just light winter spicing to freshen it up)

Ninkasi: Unconventianale
(Imperial stout made with lavender, tarragon and honey!)


Bayern Faceplant

Laughing Dog Chocolate Huckleberry Stout

Lompoc Brewdolph

Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils

Rock Bottom Blitzen

Ezra aka Samurai Artist

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  • Taplister

    For the record I think Jacquelyn Bond is a great artist though her works are very risque. Also the festival isn’t an all ages, family orientated event. Therefore we are all adult enough to potentially enjoy her (assuming the artist is a woman) artistic creation “Holly”.

    But since beer fests are already male dominated I would enjoy a more gender neutral mascot in order to welcome our female kin to enjoy some wonderful beers at a truly wonderful festival. It just feels out of place for such a warming and community minded festival. -Scott (@gizmopunk) Co-founder of Taplister.com.

    Great beer notes by the way Ezra, and a topic that should probably be brought up and discussed by the board members at the festival.

  • Ezra

    I was not commenting on the artists skill. Clearly they hired a professional watercolor artist. I am just commenting on the tastefulness of it. And again, no problem with a sexy woman but this is over the top into charicature. And the fest may be 21+ but that has nothing to do with the borderline sexist image.
    Plus that image is plastered everywhere outside the fest.
    Not that I am suggesting it should be taken down, I am all for free speech and not a prude.
    I would not mind if it were a nude woman if it was done in a tasteful manner!

    Ezra aka Samurai Artist

  • Ken Baer

    Great blog post. Though I didn’t think the Lompoc Brewdolph was that bad. I had it the other night as part of a taster at New Old Lompoc.
    I really liked the HOTD Jim 2008.

  • Angelo

    I really enjoyed the banter and your comments betwixt one another here. It’s nice to see indiscriminate exchange and forthrighteousness. Hyphenated word rule!

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