It's hard to believe that it's already time for Portland's Holiday Ale Festival, which runs this Wednesday December 1 through Sunday December 5. This year, there are 47 beers on the "standard release" list -- though they're anything but standard -- bolstered by a few one-offs on the limited release list. There are more interesting and once-only beers than you'd suspect could fit into Pioneer Courthouse Square. If you don't attend the Holiday Ale Festival, then the terrorists win.
The price has gone up $5 since last year: you'll pay $25 to get your plastic mug and 10 tickets. Additional tickets are $1, and as always they will not fill mugs from earlier years. If you're really stingy, the festival website has a link to buy a ticket in advance for $20, but since that also includes a $2.60 "convenience fee", it seems a little silly. Or, if you're a real
sucker big spender, you can buy a mug, 20 tickets, and a VIP wristband for $49.60. The VIP band doesn't get you any different beers, it just lets you cut to the front of the line, provided you can elbow through the boneheads that get their beer and then just stand around in front of the counter.
Here is your survival checklist for the HAF:
- Bring lots of water. In years past, there hasn't been free tap water, though you can buy bottled water.
- No minors allowed. Period. Don't even try it.
- Entrance is on SW 6th Avenue.
- Go early. The space is pretty small and fills up quickly after work. The festival opens Wednesday at 2 PM, and at 11 AM on the other days.
- Keep watching for the special tappings. Even the regular beers are special, but some of the special ones are really something.
- Don't drive. The beers are strong, the parking and traffic are ridiculous. Best bet for bike parking: NE corner of Broadway and Morrison.
- Warm up your beer. These are some flavorful beers, but because of the weather they can't help but be poured awfully cold.
- Samples, not full pours. A full pour is between 3 and 3 1/2 times the volume of a sample, but costs 4 times as much. Typical bass-ackwards festival pricing.
- Cascade Brewing Sang Noir: A rich bourbon-aged cherry double red ale. Sour, but only in a good way, with lots of malt and fruit to back it up. Even better than last year's Sang Noir: there's more cherry and less funk. [Update: Oh cool! The 2009 version will be on the special taps Thursday after 2 PM. Compare the vintages.]
- Columbia River Brewing Paddler's Porter: Well-done chocolate-vanilla porter -- no really, it's good -- from the folks who took over the old Laurelwood Pizza location.
- Lompoc Franc'ly Brewdolph: A twist on Lompoc's usual seasonal -- partly aged in wine barrels. Think aged Jubelale, with a Belgian nose and a hint of red wine.
- Alameda Papa Noel's Moonlight Reserve: Good NW winter warmer with roasty bitterness. Like a slightly richer Full Sail Wassail.
- Coalition Lost Glove: Another classic cold-weather beer. Malty, hoppy, straddles the line between old ale and barleywine.
- Vertigo La Nina: A coffee porter. Big coffee smell; mild coffee liqueur taste.
- Gilgamesh Cranberry Saison: I was dubious about cranberries in beer, but this was just right. A little fruit, and I think the cranberries were a nice cover for the saison funk. This will be a nice change-of-pace beer.
- Block 15 Figgy Pudding Olde Stock: Lovely fig/molasses aroma, but I found the flavor too boozy, and surprisingly bitter. Not bad, but couldn't live up to its hype. You're going to try it anyway, maybe you'll like it more than me.
- Bear Republic Ebeweesner Scrooge: A blend of smoked and sour beers, partially open-fermented, with every kind of alcohol-producing critter thrown in. But for all that effort, not much flavor beyond the raspberry tartness.
- Seven Brides Weezinator: I thought this was way too bitter for a doppelbock, even though I like doppelbocks and bitter flavors.
- Natian Old Grogham: A big strong IPA, starts off nice, but has too much lingering aspirin bitterness. Think Lagunitas Undercover Brown + aspirin.