Holiday Ale Festival, Portland OR

The 2014 Winter Holiday Ale Festival in downtown Portland, December 3rd-6th, is one of the funner festivals to attend for beer lovers. This year like every year we’ve gone in the past, had a number of seasonal/one-off’s/rare beers that are made especially for this event by local and west coast brewers. There is no cost for admission (as with most beer fests), the cost comes in buying the tasting glass/plastic cup, and the tokens or tickets. The standard package was $35 and included a plastic tasting mug and 12 tickets. 3 oz. tastes were normally 1 ticket, but some specialty beers were 2, 3, or even 4 per pour with 4-8 tickets for a full mug (10oz) pour. I did try a few of the more ‘expensive’ rare beers and none of them disappointed.

The festival has been downtown Portland at Pioneer Courthouse Sq. for quite a few years, and the layout of the fest has been consistent, which we all appreciated. They have an upper tasting area w/ a side bar and two main tasting areas with food vendors in between. The tents are heated, and unfortunately on Saturday afternoon, it was warm outside (about 55 degrees) which made the plastic tents really super humid. With standing room only, it was not so fun to be there which left us all feeling pretty damp when we left that evening. Food vendors this year were Bunk Sandwiches and the Urban German Grill. Food prices aren’t terribly bad, and the cheese/nut stands took tickets I think.

There were five of us in our group and we made a good run at sampling as many as we could Saturday (4+ hours). I made a solo trip Sunday (Dec. 7th, 2014) with the left over tickets and tried a few more beers, which are at the bottom of the tasting list below. Overall it was a great festival and we had a lot of really good porters, stouts, and winter style ales. However, with any festival, there are always a few misses and this year it was a number of sour beers that were not good. The Bourbon/Whisky barrel aged winter beers with profiles that ranged from vanilla and caramel to tobacco and coffee/chocolate bitters were the groups favorites.

I hope you find my reviews below helpful. The beers sampled are listed top to bottom in the order that I tried them.

Vertigo Brewing
Busted Head Red
Imperial Red Ale • ABV: 9.0% • IBUs: 107
Super hop forward on the nose and front mouth feel. Smooth and rounded sweet back end. Pine and woodsy after but you know it’s an imperial red.
Drake’s Brewing Co.
Jolly Rodger
Imperial Coffee Stout • ABV: 9.0% • IBUs: 45
Toasty nut and coffee bitters with a full body. Completely dark, 40+ SRM. Chocolate and coffee bitters on the nose. Roasted malt and coffee all the way throughout. Mid and back also have a slight caramelized sugar/fruit note with subtle flavors of black currant and dried tobacco.
Migration Brewing
Frankie Claus
Imperial Belgian Stout • ABV: 11.8% • IBUs: 60
This stout is pure refined chocolate. It has a smooth/soft approach, with cocoa bitters on the nose and that distinct Belgian yeasty note. It has the typically clove/banana of strong/Imperial Belgian and a powdery/chalky, almost milk-chocolate like cocoa nibs on the mid mouth (think Nestle quick dried mix). It finishes with a lighter dried red fruit and toasted almonds profile.
Elysian Brewing Co.
Knock on Nelson
Wood-Aged IPA • ABV: 7.1% • IBUs: 72
This IPA has a soft nose and lighter floral characters on the front. Aged in red wine barrels, it does taste like butter (Chardonnay) and have vanilla on the nose. I’m a bit torn on this one as is weird for a non-sour wine-barrel aged IPA.
Slanted Rock Brewing Co.
Cordial Tease
Spiced Winter Ale • ABV: 10.1% • IBUs: 25
Starting with a tart, chocolate and sweet nose, this dark seasonal ale completely hits the spot. The full mouth feel, decent carbonation and head bring you into a holiday fest mood with dry cocoa, dried cherries, peppermint and caramel malts. There is a sweet soft caramel and toasted back and after taste.
Stickmen Brewery & Skewery
The Twerking Elf (2013)
Northwest Sour Brown • ABV: 7.2% • IBUs: 21
This is a pretty odd beer. It has a sweet nose, red-brown color (34) SRM, frothy thinner head, and as sours go not bitter on the back. There are notes of dried fruit (cherries and plum) and the back/after taste has more tart and sour than hop bitter.
Sixpoint Brewery
Lump of Coal Porter
Robust Porter • ABV: 7.9% • IBUs: 56
This east coast porter (Brooklyn NY) has a thinner, a dark brown color. The nose is sweet with malts and molasses. The mouth feel is somewhat thinner and there was no ash or bitterness of note. The roasted toffee sweet malts did linger on the after taste.
Deluxe Brewing Co.
Dunkel the Halls
Dunkel Bock • ABV: 8.0% • IBUs: 20
This bock is one of the best beers at the festival this year. It’s a full bodied dark (38 SRM +/-) lager with decent carbonation/head, well rounded vanilla and sweet notes on the nose and front mouth feel. No IBU profile to speak of, just lots of sweeter malt and lighter spicy notes on the mid/back. The higher ABV/gravity does express itself in this one wonderfully.
Rogue Ales Brewery
BIG-ASS Barrel-Aged Caramel Porter
Imperial Porter • ABV: 7.9% • IBUs: 55
This is a strong porter, you have been warned. The alcohol is present on the nose and front mouth feel. The sweet caramel malts balance the hop profile and bitters that linger from the burnt coffee malt notes. There is a slight hint of vanilla and oak on the back as it was whisky barrel aged. This was one of the groups favorite beers of the day.
Gilgamesh Brewing Co.
Eastside Bandit
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Porter • ABV: 9.2% • IBUs: 20
Bourbon on the nose and front with hints of caramel and coco. Well balanced malt profile. Full stout body. Lingering ash on the back.
Bear Republic Brewing Co.
Prepare To Be Boarded (2012)
Barrel-Aged Spiced Stout • ABV: 8.1% • IBUs: 50 • O.G.: 20.5° • F.G.: 5.0°
Unfortuneately this was one of the less palatable beers of the festival. This super dark stout was nothing but burnt clove, cinnamon and coriander on the nose and throughout the entire mouth. The after taste was unappealing with burnt char of nutmeg and over toasted malts on the back that lingered.
Portland Brewing Co.
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cherry Stout • ABV: 10.0% • IBUs: 25
With a beautiful dark brown/black color, this was one of the first 2-ticket beers we tried at the fest and it was well worth it. The Bourbon and cherries aged with this stout made it super smooth, clean approach with slight alcohol on the nose and front mouth feel. No hop bitters present in this one at all, but slight hints of sweet cherry sour throughout. The back and after linger included a broad range of toasted malts and coffee.
Elysian Brewing Co.
Doom (2012)
Golden Treacle Pale • ABV: 7.4% • IBUs: 67
Malts: pale, Biscuit, Cara-Hell, and C-15
Hops: German Magnum, dry hopped with Citra and Nelson Sauvins
This was one of the odder beers of the festival, not really what one would consider a winter ale. It was a lighter yellow pale (6) SRM, with a strong piney and astringent nose. The front is all hops with a variety of citrus, pine, and grapefruit bitterness. The malt build has some really subtle character and didn’t balance that well with the low-carbonation it was poured with. Lingering on the back and after taste were almost apricot or raisin like notes.
Oakshire Brewing
Swiss Mrs. Alpine Alt (2013)
Milk Chocolate Sticke Alt • ABV: 7.8% • IBUs: 30
This was another of the crowd favorites, but odd in it’s own right. It doesn’t follow the German purity laws, so it’s a total hybrid of the Sticke Alt beer. There is a distinct powdered cocoa and milk nose and front flavor profile. The carbonation and head are standard for Alt beers, but the color is a bit darker with a mid-30’s SRM. It has a full bodied and lingering chalky after taste that reminded me of Swiss Miss powered hot-chocolate milk drinks from my childhood. The sweet on the mid and back mouth also had a rounded stickiness to them.
Mazama Brewing Co.
Noel Rouge
Imperial Wit • ABV: 7.7% • IBUs: 20
Sweet and fruit on nose and front mouth feel. Carbonation is high, sharp approach on the mouth feel. Bitter fruit on mid and back. Reddish clear srm as it was brewed with cranberries. Like a wine cooler.
Fearless Brewing Co.
Pumpkin Ale • ABV: 9.2% • IBUs: 26
Malts: Munich, Carmel and Biscuit
Pumpkin smooth ale. Spicy, not thick…somewhat thinner and mid-amber colored. Sharp alcohol balanced with the biscuit rounded malt build on the back mouth. Spicy lingers on the after taste. Low carbonation allowed for the aroma’s to be clearer.
Hopworks Urban Brewery
The Incredible Abominable of the Enchanted Barrel Forest
Barrel-Aged Imperial Winter Ale • ABV: 9.0% • IBUs: 100
This winter ale has a base of the Abominable, aged on Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels and has a dark color (38) SRM. The citrus and sweet notes of vanilla and spice are followed on the mid and back malted caramel malts.
Cascade Brewing
NW Style Sour Strong Ale • ABV: 12.1% • IBUs: 7
3 ticket beer – Super dry sweet and sour with lots of robust spices and dried fruit in the mouth. There are Bourbon and Rum notes which make it pleasant and warming. Rounded mid and back are balanced with roasted nuts and a swath of spices. This beer is dry on the back and has a lingering sour.
Bear Republic Brewing Co.
Do You Want To Build A Snowman?
Barrel-Aged Golden Blend • ABV: 6.8% • IBUs: 20
The barrel aged blend has a lot of citrus and dry spicy oak on the nose and front mouth. As this does have traces of Belgium, so it’s a little spunky with a soapy like residual nose and mouth feel. Perhaps it’s the tropical hop profile combined with pino barrels?
No-Li Brewhouse
Whiskey Barrel-Aged Winter Warmer
Barrel-Aged Winter Warmer • ABV: 7.5% • IBUs: 72
Hop on the front, odd nose and mid mouth feel sweet feel has something like rotted fruit or orange peels, can’t quite place it. Whisky aging is not really pronounced.
Old Town Brewing Co.
Bluth’s Original Chocolate Banana Hefeweizen
Chocolate Bavarian-Style Hefeweizen • ABV: 5.5% • IBUs: 14
Hops: Two-row, wheat, and chocolate malts
Coco on the nose. Dry Bitter choco on the front and mid. Sour on the mid and back. What little there is of weizen clove and bananas are lost in the sweet and bitter after. Mid brown color.
Coalition Brewing Co.
Big Maple
Imperial Maple Porter • ABV: 9.0% • IBUs: 40
Super caramel sweet on the nose. Slight alcohol-like astringent on the mid and back. Balanced malts and burnt caramel and cocoa mask the hop profile.
Stone Brewing Co.
Red Wine Barrel-Aged Old Guardian (2013)
Barley Wine • ABV: 10.5%
Stone’s 2011 Old Guardian Barley Wine Aged in Temecula Red Wine Barrels. Served tepid which allowed for the strong notes found in the barley wine to be expressed. Smooth finish.
Stone Brewing Co.
Fyodor’s Classic (2013)
Russian Imperial Stout • ABV: 13.9%
This stout was also served at a tepid temp. It has a full body, upfront aromas and nose provide a burnt cocoa and fruit tart appeal. The mid and back mouth are complex with lots of things going on from the coffee bitters to soft vanilla and caramel malts.
Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
Luponic Distortion
Double IPA • ABV: 8.5% • IBUs: 75
Hops: Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Amarillo, Chinook, and Simcoe hops
IPA bitter nose of grapefruit peel, citrus and sweet sugar (high gravity) approach. The front and mid speak of dry citrus and lighter pine.
Feckin Brewery
Top O’ The Feckin’ Mornin’
Imperial Espresso Milk Porter • ABV: 8.5% • IBUs: 35
Really coffee and espresso forward. Nose and whole mouth filled with roasted coffee. Lingering burnt profile. Slightly sweet from the milk sugars that were used during fermentation.
Base Camp Brewing Co.
Dunkelrauch Weizenbock
Imperial Gratzer • ABV: 8.9% • IBUs: 41
Yeast: Southern Bavarian weiss yeast;
Malts: Bavarian dark, German chocolate wheat, wheat malt smoked in-house on alder and applewood
Sweet Jesus this is one banana weizen on steroids. Mid amber color, clove and spice on the nose. Full mouth, effervescent and forward carbonation. Small bubbles in the head, malty mid and chalky sweet back with the yeast clearly being the star of the show.
Deschutes Brewery
Scarlet Flame IRA
India Red Ale • ABV: 6.0% • IBUs: 71
Hops: US Tettnanger, Crystal, Willamette, Saaz, Summer, and Northern Brewer
Matls: CaraRed malt and black barley
Sweet and toffee/caramel nose. Soft approach, amber color (30) SRM, softer mid mouth feel. Citrus is present throughout but with subtle-ness, hints of toasted bark bitters is on the back and after.
Lompoc Brewing
Revelry Red Ale (2013)
Barrel-Aged Sour Red Ale Blend (Wine) • ABV: 8.0%
Sour cherries on the nose, light red (26) SRM, smooth, real light sweetness. Carbonation is low, cherry tart works well with the Whiskey and Port barrels. No bitterness, only dry tartness and a rounded back that has a slight oak char on the after taste.
Eel River Brewing Co.
Gargantua II
Whiskey Barrel-Aged Imperial Strong Ale w/ Vanilla • ABV: 11.5% • IBUs: 80
Malts: Marris Otter malt and a blend of English and German specialty malts
This ale has distinct caramel and oats on the nose. Full head and body, lighter head, darker brown red srm, holiday spices and toffee/caramel throughout. Sweet lingering biscuit mouth feel on the back. The Jack Daniels barrels don’t really present much on this beer other than hints of vanilla and char on the mid/back mouth
Burnside Brewing Co.
Imperial Stout w/ Cranberries • ABV: 8.3% • IBUs: 53
Stout with super dark color (40+) SRM. It has light carbonation and a lighter head, the coffee and sweet fruit cranberry are pronounced on the nose and front mouth feel. It’s distinctly dry and bitter from the hops and deep malts of burnt toffee.
New Belgium Brewing Co.
Blackberry Whiskey Barrel-Aged Love
Sour Ale Blend • ABV: 8.5%
Base Beer: Oscar
Presents as a mid-orange/brown color (38) SRM with a full head. Sour and light sweet malts on the nose with hints of dried fruits and cocoa. This is a strong, bright, sour tart and chalky on the front and mid. Really sour back and after make it not approachable.
Golden Valley Brewery
Pinot Noir Barrel-Aged Tannen Boom
Barrel-Aged Belgian-Style Strong Ale • ABV: 8.2% • IBUs: 50
Full head, mid amber (32) SRM, good solid carbonation. The nose speaks to the Belgium yeast expressions and slight fruit/hop aromatic esters. Absolutely zero IBU, full mouth feel with biscuit and honey and subtle alcohol presence. The pinot profile is really subtle on the mid. With sweet and sour grape notes found in the tart.

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