Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday Ale Festival 2011

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.
The layout is much like it was last year, but there is a little different feel because the tents are transparent everywhere this year.  It made a huge difference in the southwest corner section, which was gloomy and claustrophobic last year but seems open and airy this year.  If you're looking for the mug rinse/drinking water station, it is tucked away near the northeast exit (near 6th and Morrison).

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.
Great festival this year!  Kudos to Preston and the gang for putting it together.


  1. Sounds somewhat interesting.... I didn't hear about anything earth shatteringly new or exciting, but a decent selection Holiday beers. I pretty much wrote off this year but I might just make a showing yet. ;-)

  2. Doc: The special beers didn't seem so exciting, but the main selection seemed really good to me this year. What did you like at the festival?

  3. The Doc won't be attending the HAF this year, he has other commitments.


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