The 2014 Holiday Ale Festival kicked off in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square yesterday and The New School was there even before gates opened at 11am to almost closing time after 9pm to give you the scoop on the best and worst of this years fest. Holiday Ale Festival’s best parts are balanced and boozy big beers and a festive atmosphere while the negatives tend towards high prices, crowding and drunken patrons. This years fest had a lot of everything to go around and The New School has highlighted the Good, the Bad and the Must Try beers and Ciders.
The layout of the fest is the same as recent years with two different lines of beers on two sides of the main floor with a lounge featuring about four beers upstairs and another larger upstairs space with even more taps and a seating area. The food options seem to be changing from year to year with this year a German Pretzel vendor and awesomely Bunk Sandwiches which serve up great and big and alcohol absorbing sandwiches.
Although every year I hear complaints about the annual cartoon pinup girl for the fest it’s like organizers are doubling down on them, this year there was temporary body tattoo’s of the various years pinups spread around on tables. Unfortunately this year a lot of the beers were multiple tickets per pour and not clearly marked, and this is not counting the special rare tappings which are always more expensive. Mhttp://newschoolbeer.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpultiple times we found beers that were 2 tickets per pour and signs pointing generically to the left indicating prices but unclear what they referred to. Most confusingly was a huge contingent of Bear Republic beers which highlighted both the best and worst of the fest. There was no less than 7 Bear Republic beers on at one time and only one of them was listed in the festival guide. I think many of them wont be on multiple days of the fest so it makes it difficult to say what to recommend and what not to.
There were of course some great beers and a lot of good beers, some ok beers but only a few real bad ones. Before we share our picks it comes with the caveat that we didnt have every beer but over 30 were sampled in the first day, unfortunately we missed some like Burnside Brewing’s and Lompoc Brewing’s but this may be the most complete sampling you will find so far.
Feckin: Top O’ The Feckin’ Mornin’
This Imperial Espresso Milk Porter from Oregon City wows with a delicious cold coffee aroma and all the best qualities of an iced coffee with cream. The vanilla is subtle and I think it’s even better that way. • ABV: 8.5% • IBUs: 35
Stone Brewing Co.: New Desecrator (Black Barley Wine)
While Black Barleywine is an apt description I could also compare it to an Imperial CDA. Full bodied malt character and tons of pacific northwest hops make this a Barleywine first and foremost with a black color and light roast adding a new level. Like a great barleywine it’s huge and a mouthful of flavor but not cloyingly sweet. • ABV: 12.0% • IBUs: 100
McMenamins (Edgefield): Lord of Misrule ( Rum Barrel-Aged Mexican Mocha Imperial Stout)
I know, I know, but McMenamins is really stepping up their game and this was the 2nd most surprising outstanding beer of the festival. A full bodied but not bitter Imperial Stout and all that entails with just hints of rum and a strong chili pepper flavor without heat. ABV: 8.1% • IBUs: 24
Eel River: Gargantua II
A Whiskey Barrel-Aged Imperial Strong Ale with Vanilla. Full bodied, malt forward, sweet but not cloying, lots of flavors from caramel malts, toasted nuts, whiskey spice, oak and vanilla it delivers a flavorful wallop. Possibly the best big beer/dessert beer/winter warmer of the festival. ABV: 11.5% • IBUs: 80
Hopworks Urban Brewery: The Incredible Abominable of the Enchanted Barrel Forest
I was afraid an Imperial version of Howporks winter warmer Abominable would be too sweet but I didnt give Brewmaster Tom Bleigh and his team enough credit. The most difficult beer to say at the fest also has one of the more balanced flavor profiles from toffee filled malts to a solid hoppy backbone both bitter and piney. It comes off closest to a more balanced Imperial IPA with the barrel-aged character in the background. ABV: 9.0% • IBUs: 100
Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider: Providence
Apparently this is a limited release tapping but it was on the final jockey box up tap and steaming out of the serving vessel. It’s served hot and mulled and back-sweetened with some honey and has light spices. It’s a bit sweet but the way it’s served hot and with some light spicing it’s quite pleasant and a perfect wassail. • ABV: 10.2%
Alameda Brewing Co.: Admiration IPA
Just a really good chew winter IPA with great piney hop flavor and balanced bitterness. Full flavored with a lasting floral hop bite, not boozy or overly intense like most of these beers. ABV: 6.8% • IBUs: 65
Bridgeport: Smoked Lager
Malty smooth and a good amount of smokiness. Goes a touch beyond a mild smokiness into a medium savory amount that might be too much for newbies but is delicious for smoked beer fans.
Drake’s: Jolly Roger
An Imperial Coffee Stout, everything you want in an Imperial with a big full and beefy body, nice roastiness with some bitter hops backbone. Pretty balanced, not overly sweet or bitter.
Gigantic Brewing: Red Ryder BB Gun
This is a very slightly tart but very fruity saison with cranberries. I would never have guessed saison but Cranberry and perhaps some Orangey citrus character comes through for a slightly one note but refreshingly different offering. ABV: 6.3% • IBUs: 22
Golden Valley Brewery: Pinot Noir Barrel-Aged Tannen Boom
This beer occasionally makes a welcome appearance and while the tart wine and fruit character contributes to a thinner body then one might expect I appreciate it’s charms especially among all these big and bitter beers. ABV: 8.2% • IBUs: 50
Migration Brewing: Frankie Claus (Imperial Belgian Stout)
Bittersweet Belgian chocolate and candi syrup. ABV: 11.8% • IBUs: 60
Old Town Brewing Co.: Bluth’s Original Chocolate Banana Hefeweizen
One of two Chocolate and Banana themed beers, these interesting beers always come in two’s. Both versions attempt to get the banana character from bavarian yeast rather than actual banana and this one is far better than the Stickmen version though light on banana. Old Town’s beer has a super pleasant cocoa nib character that reminds me of hot chocolate with the banana well in the background.
Rogue Ales Brewery:BIG-ASS Barrel-Aged Caramel Porter
This beer tastes just like it sounds. ABV: 7.9% • IBUs: 55
Bear Republic: 2012 Prepare To Be Boarded
I know nothing about this beer except that it was on tap along the main lineup downtstairs and was 2 tickets a pour. I also know that this was one of the all-time worst things I have ever tasted, Bear Republic’s Prepare To Be Boarded tasted like a christmas tree ate a bowl of potpourri and then puked it up. Not for the faint of heart but I might recommend it to your right wing friend who is protesting the war on christmas. This beer proves Christmas is flourishing and s sickening.
Holiday Ale Fest 2014
Pioneer Courthouse Square
701 SW Sixth Ave
Portland, Oregon 97204
$35 entry for a Mug and 12 tickets