Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Holiday Ale Festival 2008

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
I didn't expect to like Widmer's fruity stout at all, but it was really well done -- the blackberries complemented the stout flavor nicely without being a nuisance. Van Havig's tripel and Hopworks' barleywine were right on the money. The stout from Firestone Walker -- who seem to be landing on Oregon with both feet right now -- was very solid, especially when you consider that its 5.5% alcohol is about half the strength of most of the beers at the festival.

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
That Scaldis Noel was an amazing thing to behold. It was literally good to the last drop -- I looked into my plastic mug and saw a tiny drop at the bottom, and when I tipped the mug back and sucked it noisily into my mouth, it was as delicious as the first sip. The Samichlaus was almost as stunning as the Scaldis, very sweet but very good. It was a great pleasure to try 3 years' worth of Jim: the notorious 2006 version was funky, sweet, strong, and all over the place; the 2007 was notably less funky and more barleywine-ish; the 2008 is a big, big, fruity beer that I hope to meet again someday. [Update 2008/12/04: Brian reports that the Firestone Walker special Wednesday night was mislabeled: it was really the Parabola Imperial Stout. To be honest, it didn't seem like a Belgian, but it was so big and so good that I just rolled with it. Anyone have a report on the Saucerful?]

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).


  1. Sounds good, but it can't possibly top the annual Bobnoxious Christmas Beer Tasting.

  2. Lee: I try to have a sense of humor, but you're really talking out of your rear end here. Check the beer list for this thing; about 4 out of 5 of the beers are unavailable in any way, shape, or form outside of the festival.

    Now you know how to get the goat of a Portland beer geek :-)....

  3. Yeah, but does it have Bobnoxious?

    I rest my case.

  4. [Fingers in Ears] Can't hear you, can't hear you.

  5. Hmmm...Lee has been known to only a only talk in superlatives (i.e., out his ass), but when it's about me I totally agree!

    Somehow I think I'm being dissed from Portland! ;-)

    Wait til you see my beer list!

    It'll have some Ed the Homebrewing Bassist's libations that can't be had anywhere else and Austin's own NXNW Holiday Ale! Plus no crowds, good conversation, and Scaldis Noel! (the mind eraser of Christmas Beers)

    Cheers...we're just jealous...send a few samples down or show up if your in Texas! (Bobnoxious' 2008 Holiday Beer Tasting is Dec 19).

  6. Well, I worried it would seem I was disrespecting you Bob, which is not what I meant at all. I just let my patriotism get the best of me.

    Mmmm.... Scaldis Noel!

  7. Interesting thing about the Firestone Walker Parabola/Saucerful of Secrets mistake… it actually wasn't mislabeled - they were supposed to put Saucerful of Secrets on first, but someone mistakenly put Parabola on instead. I was lucky enough to be standing about 3 back in line right as they took Parabola off (just shy of 4pm Wednesday) - while they still had a nearly-full pitcher, and when they told the person standing in front of me that it wasn't Saucerful but Parabola, he just walked away! *laugh* Fortunately, I knew exactly what Parabola was (having squeezed about 5 drops out of the last spent keg at Bailey's 1st anniversary), so I immediately ordered a full pour. :) Now that's a bourbon stout!

    Later that evening I got to try the Saucerful of Secrets as well, and it was much mellower - a Belgian Strong also bourbon-aged, but more subtle in the bourbon notes - reminiscent of Walking Man's Old Kentucky Homo (which is a bourbon-aged imperial IPA), but somewhat sweeter. I loved 'em both!

    I went back the next evening after the Firestone Walker tasting at Belmont Station (for which I was about 2 minutes too late to catch the XII… *shrug*), and they still hadn't put the Parabola back on. I was told at the time that, the day prior, they managed to go through half the sixth-barrel before they realized they'd put on the wrong beer. *gasp* I didn't realize how lucky I was until then. :) I was primarily there for the Allagash Curieux anyway, but they did put that one on early, and it ran out before the afternoon rush… *shrug*


  8. anónimo: Thanks for the Parabola info... It just adds to my confusion, because if they switched back to Saucerful at 4 PM, that's what I was drinking. If so, it was really dark and stouty for a Belgian, not to mention very un-Belgiany.

    So I've gone from 1) That's a delicious non-Belgian Belgian; to 2) Aha! it was really a stout; to 3) I don't know what I was drinking, but it was good.

  9. No, you definitely had the Parabola… just because they took it off just shy of 4pm doesn't mean they'd put Saucerful of Secrets on so quickly (by my estimation, that took about a half-hour). What was left in the pitcher at that point was definitely Parabola; and it was dark… and it was stouty… and very Bourbon(e)y. And it was glorious.