It’s that time again, the time of year when all of Portland’s beer geeks get an early Christmas present in the form of 45+ seasonal and special vintage beers. Portland’s Holiday Ale Festival kicked off mid-day yesterday in Pioneer Square and upon entering what felt like a big-top circus tent devoted to all things dark, frothy and wonderful, I discovered I was not alone in stopping by to sample some of the NW’s finest ales at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Maybe it’s the huge unemployment rate in this city, maybe it’s the huge flavor’s cultivated by the skilled brewers who pull the big, oak aged guns out of the cellars every December, regardless of the reasons for the huge mid-week, mid-day crowds, the offerings of this renowned festival are not to be missed and in the past some of the finest vintages have run dry early, so blow off lunch today or tomorrow so as not to miss a sip.
The festival runs through Sunday, Dec. 6th with new limited edition kegs tapped twice daily. Check out the beer lists, or sign up for Twitter and Facebook feeds for release notes for the weekend.
Here’s a list of the beers I sampled on Wednesday (descriptions from the festival program, my recollections italicized):
Bear Republic, Barrel-aged Baba Yaga
Imperial Stout [Stout] • ABV: 11.5% • IBUs: 110
Old Baba Yaga was the witch who guarded the fountain of life and death, and held dominion over a wintery forest landscape. This beer is brewed to both celebrate winter’s bony fingers and represent some of the power of Baby Yaga’s fountain. The black depths of this Russian Imperial Stout, aged in French Oak Cabernet barrels, hold coffee, licorice and bittersweet chocolate flavor. Cloverdale, CA
This guy was vicious. I knew what I was getting myself into as I love imperial stouts, but this one would have been a good taster rather than the full pour that I tried to stomach for my last glass before heading home. Reminded me of Old Rasputin (North Coast) or the mighty Dark Lord (Three Floyd’s).
Bridgeport Brewing Company, Barrel-Aged Ebenezer
Barrel-Aged Winter Warmer [Scottish Ale] • ABV: 6.3% • IBUs: 27
Taste what happens when BridgePort puts its Ebenezer Ale into American oak bourbon barrels for a year. An already smooth, malty and delicious ale mellows into a luscious holiday treat. Hints of vanilla mix and mingle with sweet caramel and toffee, while English Golding hops add a light spice. BourbonEzer is dark as a winter evening but friendly and inviting in the holiday spirit. Portland, OR.
A bit too much bourbon flavor for me. I did enjoy a few other oak aged ales, so it’s not the oak that puts me off, but I’ve always been more of an Irish whiskey or scotch drinker myself, so perhaps the bourbon suggests the stomach pangs of youth, when cheap bourbon abounded.
Cascade Brewing Company, Drie Zwarte Pieten “Sang Noir 2009”
Barrel-Aged Sour Ale [Sour Ale] • ABV: 10.2% • IBUs: 5
“Sang Noir” is complex dance with the barrels at Cascade Brewing. The 2009 version is a big, full-bodied double Flanders style red ale with distinct barrel notes. This double red comes from a blend of several barrel aged beers, with portions of the beer aging in Heaven Hills and Maker’s Mark Whiskey barrels, Pinot Noir Barrels, and Double red aged on 100 pounds of Bing Cherries. Some Bourbonic Plague and Blond Quad aged in Minnesota oak was added to bring some sweet high notes. And a straight sour pie blend was added to taste to bring the sourness to the front. A little bigger than last years version and available only at the Holiday Ale Festival. Portland, OR.
This is only the second “sour ale” I’ve ever had and I really enjoyed Roots Brewing’s Sour Brown despite the protestations of my nose. This one was beyond my sour tolerances, like a hearty brown ale with bitters.
Widmer/Collaborator, Sled Crasher
Winter Warmer [Strong Ale] • ABV: 6.8% • IBUs: 42
Collaborator Sled Crasher is a rich-tasting, strong winter warmer whose fairly high bitterness is well-masked by a fruity, full-bodied caramel malt flavor and a touch of bittersweet chocolate in the background. It’s a big beer, but not so big that you can’t enjoy a couple of pints. It’ll definitely warm the cockles of you heart, and whatever other cockles that need to be warmed. Portland, OR.
Solid strong ale, one of my favorites, truly love the warming effects of a good bold strong ale chilled in a snow bank and savored after a day on the mountain. Though I’m still waiting to try the Super Snow Cap from Pyramid.
Eel River Brewing, Spiced Baltic Porter
Spiced Baltic Porter [Baltic Porter] • ABV: 8.0% • IBUs: 43
Eel River Brewing Co’s Spiced Baltic Porter is a California Common yeast fermented, cinnamon and vanilla spiced porter designed especially for the Holiday Ale Festival. Brewed with 100% organic hops and barley, its rich caramel and chocolate notes and subtle spices make this beer a very pleasurable winter warmer.
Being a huge fan of Alaskan Brewing Company’s limited Baltic Porter, I just had to give this one a taste, and the cinnamon and vanilla washed over me like the memory of the finest of beers drank beside the finest of woodstoves on a cold winter night.
Hopworks Urban Brewery, Kronan the Barbarian
Baltic Porter [Baltic Porter] • ABV: 8.3% • IBUs: 25
Deep like the Baltic Sea and as massive as the Swedish ship Kronan sunk in its icy waters, our Baltic Porter greets you with a frothy tan head and rich malty aroma with notes of chocolate, caramel, dark fruit and toasted marshmallow. As its garnet color mesmerizes, the rich flavors engulf the senses. Made with bottom fermenting lager yeast, Kronan the Barbarian is as rich and strong as an Austrian actor but with more depth.
I tasted this one first, before I read the program, didn’t realize it was a Baltic Porter, thought it had strong chocolate malt notes, but the marshmallow sweetness was a bit on the high end and I believe the lager yeast contributed to a bit of a German Alt-esque flavor.
Pelican Pub & Brewery, Bad Santa
Black IPA [IPA] • ABV: 7.0% • IBUs: 70
This mysterious dark elixir is filled with complex malt flavors and aromas with toasted malt and roast character blending seamlessly to the alluring herbal hop aroma that comes from copious amounts of Fuggle hops. Bad Santa doesn’t care if you’ve been naughty or nice, he wants this beer on your list.
Pacific City, OR.
Lost in the dark malty abyss of samples, know I drank it but can’t really recall the specifics.