The Holiday Ale Festival 2011 started yesterday in downtown Portland. So far I'm much more impressed with the beer selection than I remember being for the last couple of years -- there were some fabulous beers, and very few failures, in my opinion. Here are a few recommendations of my favorites, in order:
- Firestone Walker 100% Bourbon Barrel Aged Velvet Merkin: the perfect amount of vanilla/bourbon in a robust stout. A home run.
- Elysian Bye Bye Frost: seriously hoppy yet rather dry barleywine.
- Bear Republic Old Saint Chongo: a strong dark wheat beer, with a tiny hint of chocolate.
- Lagunitas 2010 Olde Gnarly Wine: predictably delicious bitter barleywine.
- Ninkasi The Little One: a small beer from the second runnings of Critical Hit barleywine; hoppy yet light-bodied. If you like Hair of the Dog's Little Dogs, you should enjoy this, though it's nearly twice as strong.
- Hopworks Kentucky Christmas: no surprise that this is hoppy, bourbony, and delicious.
- Double Mountain Chimney Stout: solid stout with a long, dry finish.
- Burnside Barrel Aged Permafrost: strong hoppy ale with just a bit of bourbon.
It's a little embarrassing that my top 4 beers are from outside Oregon, since I'm usually such a reliably provincial hometown booster. There were several other beers I tried that ranged from not bad to very good, but the ones in the list above really shine. It's strange, because I am often left cold by Velvet Merkin/Merlin, and similarly for Elysian Bifrost, but the souped-up versions were wonderful.
There are only a few beers I can pan:
- Breakside Cranberry Biere de Table: has a clove flavor I really didn't care for; on the plus side, it uses a nice light touch with the cranberries.
- Fort George Kentucky Girl Stout: this went a little sour in the barrel, adding a kind of musty, chile-pepper flavor; it wasn't terrible, and you might enjoy the sourness, but I think most people won't.
- Buckman Fruit Cake: Ezra pointed out that this tasted and felt like egg nog; not a great beer.
- Collaborator Hallucinator: Pretty sure I've had this in the past and enjoyed it, but it tasted bland and maybe slightly off to me yesterday.