Last week, unbeknownst to the lay drinker, a weird and scary social experiment was set-up in downtown Portland. For five straight days Pioneer Square courtyard was hermetically sealed under a large plastic dome. Stringent entry and exit protocols were put in place so only a select few were allowed inside. This bio-dome was self-sustaining with all the basic necessities.
The rest of the population was left to observe from the outside bandying about their best guesses as to what lay within. Why, they asked, was this dome erected, who built it, and who or what resides in its’ temperature controlled walls?
As one of the chosen few selected to enter into this artificial world let me reveal what exactly went down under the dome…
It was beer fest silly.
Starting last Wednesday Portland Oregon was once again home to Holiday Ale Festival the annual celebration of the real reason for the season, winter beer. For five ale-filled days and nights you could wander in and out of the beer-o-sphere sampling breweries seasonal offerings, rare casks, vertical tastings (hello six years of The Abyss anyone?) and even live beer blendings.
This is my second year attending Holiday Ale Fest and, like last year, there are many well thought-out parts to this event. In and out privileges, long hours, the festival runs over several days, rotating casks, VIP lines, maps on the taster mugs, a mobile site to guide patrons (unless you are a Canadian with a stupid Canadian cell phone provider), a beer brunch on Sunday, a root beer garden, and, most importantly, lots of interesting winter beers.
At the same time there are a few drawbacks to this festival, Friday and Saturday nights get a little hectic, the line-ups and the crowds hanging-out tend to blend together into one big jumble of people, without the mobile site your map tells you very little because you do not know which beers are pouring where and there is only one rinse station in the farthest corner by the exit.
Overall though this festival is well-organized and well-executed.
With admission you are given ten tokens; the majority of beers are just one token with the rare casks and blendings/tastings being two or more tokens. This means hubby and I started out with a respectable twenty tokens plus two bonus added for purchasing a ticket online (nice touch!).
Turning to our trusty beer guide we set out to take-on the rare beers first in case they sold-out and then to work our way through anything that peaked our interest (this can be dangerous strategy when almost all the winter beers sound wondrous on paper).
The flip side of this equation is that too many winter beers can be a bad thing. Generally, winter beers are heavy, dark, rich and strong so a few can go a long way. Some of the beers I really enjoyed tended to be those that bucked the traditional winter style and brought something a little lighter to the table.
Some of our favourites this year included in no particular order:
Cascade Brewing Creamsicle, a Belgian meets blonde meets barrel aging with vanilla, orange and spices. This one was offered on its’ own or as a 6 token blend with the Crooked Stave Cranberry Saison.
2 Towns Ciderhouse Bourbon Barrel Nice & Naughty Barrel Aged spiced cider. A crisp and tart alternative to the onslaught of the winter beers at the festival but at the same time a strong warming drink.
Stone Brewing Co. Spiced Unicorn Milk Chai Milk Stout a smooth and sweet stout that has a nice complement of Indian spices.
New Belgium Brewing Co. Paradebloem Another lighter (in colour and body) beer that brings some tartness to the table making it stand out from the rest of the festival line-up.
Deschutes Brewery Virgin Sacrifice Imperial Stout with Cherries. We all know Deschutes knows how to do imperial stout so this one was a kind of a gimme. Nonetheless cherries add a nice touch of tart/sweet to a full bodied coffee and roasted grain forward stout.
Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers for another great holiday ale festival and see you again next year!