Anyone who follows me in some capacity on the interwebs has undoubtedly gotten wind of my love-hate relationship with the enigmatic city of Portland and its esoteric residents.
Although I still think Portland is even weirder than it promotes itself to be, I have found a very soft spot in my heart for its extraordinary food & beverage culture. In fact, Portland has become one of my favorite cities to visit. I love its public transport system, its dedication to sustainability and localism, its liberal politics, its remarkable art and music scene, and I’ve even become an advocate of the CDA (Cascadian Dark Ale).
But the best part about Portland, by far, is its beer scene. Portland has one of the most passionate, collaborative, supportive and innovative beer cultures in the world (note: I said one of the most, not the most). It has the highest number of breweries & brewpubs per capita in the United States (55 according to the Oregon Brewers Guild). Portland also boasts over 50 beer festivals a year, which equates to just about one every week (I’m sure one of my blogging friends will step in and correct me on that number). And we aren’t just talking about any old beer fest, we are talking about creatively themed festivals with some of the most interesting, innovative and rare beers in the world. One such fest is the Holiday Ale Fest, which kicks off today.
Being still newish to the West Coast craft beer scene, especially the one in Portland, I only just got wind of the Holiday Ale Fest 2 months ago. This marks the 16th year that this 5-day winter beer fest has been celebrated. It takes place under a large tent equipped with heat lamps in Pioneer Courthouse Square, where one of the city’s largest Christmas trees can be found. More than 50 winter ales are being poured this year. But not any old holiday beer is allowed to be poured at the fest. The organizers of the fest have extremely strict requirements — any beer poured must either be of a rare vintage or it must be brewed exclusively for the Holiday Ale Fest.
And what does that mean? It means that the Holiday Fest boasts quite possibly the largest rare beer fest in the world, considering most people will not be able to find any of the beers before or after the fest is over.
Naturally, it also means that this is one of the biggest attractions for the biggest of beer geeks, and one of the most coveted fest entries for craft breweries. Which is why you all know I couldn’t resist 1. getting one of our beers from Bison Brewing into the fest and 2. witnessing the action in person. Unfortunately, we arrive Friday and will only be spending two days at the fest — but two days are better than no days, right?
Soooooo let’s get to the nitty gritty, shall we? The list of beers is a bit intimidating, and I fear being able to tackle the whole thing. So I’ve narrowed it down to the 5 beers that I am most interested in seeking out:
1. Cherry Christmas, Lompoc Brewing: Cherry Christmas is a blend of four different beers: Golden Ale fermented in stainless steel with sour cherries; Golden Ale fermented in Port barrels with sour cherries; Brown Ale inoculated with a lambic blend yeast ale aged in Merlot barrels for four years; and a two-year old Gueze.
2. Cranberry Biere de Table, Breakside Brewery: This petit saison is crafted with a French farmhouse yeast strain. A substantial amount of Munich malt in the grist bill maintains the body. The beer was fermented directly on Oregon-grown cranberries, which impart color, tartness and fruity aromatics to the beer. A hint of additional winter spice gives the beer extra complexity.
3. Sang Noir, Cascade Barrel House: This NW-style sour ale is a blend of red and double red beers that were aged in Pinot Noir and Bourbon barrels for 12-24 months. Look for sharp dark cherry and slight Bourbon notes in the nose and the first sip, where tart cherries and oak will soon take over and take you on a wine-like journey ending with a dry, tart fruit finish.
4. The Nutcracker, Oakshire Brewing: The Nutcracker is a rich imperial porter with notes of aromatic ginger and cinnamon, perfect sustenance for those chilly damp holiday nights.
5. 100% Barrel-aged Velvet Merlin, Firestone Walker: This small batch traditional oatmeal stout is brewed with 15% oats, 31% Maris Otter malt and a portion of roasted barley and hopped with US-grown Fuggles. The combination produces a smooth and creamy mouthfeel, accompanied by a mild bitterness and a roasted caramel finish. This batch was aged on 100% Bourbon barrels, most from Heaven Hill.
Oh, and naturally, I highly recommend anyone attending the fest to track down a sample of Barry White’s Voice in a Barrel from Bison Brewing: This is the first time in its 23-year history that Bison Brewing has aged its Chocolate Stout (often referred to as “Barry White’s Voice in a Bottle”) in Bourbon barrels. Bison aged the beer for eight months in second use Four Roses Bourbon barrels. The result is a delicately balanced, medium-bodied ale boasting notes of toasted oak, vanilla, dark chocolate and espresso with hints of molasses and caramel. <– The only reason it was on my must find list is because I work for the brewery and have already enjoyed lots of it… tough life, I know.
If you are in the Portland area this Friday and Saturday and want to grab a beer, definitely give me a shout out!