The 2008 Portland Holiday Ale Fest has begun at Pioneer Square. At 5 PM today it was still manageable, but by 5:30 PM it was breathtakingly crowded. If you plan on attending one of the next couple days, the earlier the better. By the way, the entrance is on 6th Avenue this year, not off Broadway as in years past.
One nice innovation this year is the special-beer-area up above the main floor of the event. By absorbing part of the crowd -- and some of the longer lines -- it takes some of the pressure off the main area. Most of the special kegs are in that area. The special beers Wednesday night were simply out of this world, but since they're now long gone, I'll gloat over them at the end, and first give you some recommendations that should be available the next couple of days.
I didn't try all of the festival beers, but I can recommend a few favorites (3 out of 4 from local breweries):
- Rock Bottom: Blitzen Belgian tripel: flowery nose, beautiful
- Widmer: Babushka's Secret black raspberry Russian Imperial Stout: full-bodied, light fruit, dark stout
- Hopworks: Noggin Floggin' barleywine: delicious and rich
- Firestone Walker: Velvet Merkin stout: nice and roasty
There are a lot of beers I didn't yet get to try -- including the "Imperial Pepper Stout" from Lagunitas, which was a no-show Wednesday -- but I can complain of a few disappointments. The Deschutes Mirror Mirror from 2005 seemed a little musty -- if you've got it in the cellar, drink it now. The Eel River Climax Noel was too syrupy and not as interesting as I'd hoped. And Blizzard of Ozz from Off the Rail was completely broken, with a bad Chloraseptic taste.
Some of the best beers at the festival are single-keg offerings put out on Wednesday and Thursday. If you're going there tomorrow, be sure and take advantage of them. The standouts from tonight were:
- Dubuisson: Scaldis Noel 2007
- Hair of the Dog: Jim 2006, 2007, and 2008
- Eggenberg: Samichlaus 2005
- Bridgeport: Old Knucklehead 2003
- Firestone Walker: Saucerful of Secrets 2007
I'm going back tomorrow to fill in some of the gaps; hopefully I'll have more raves to report after that. Check it out for yourself (I repeat, get there as early as possible).