The Holiday Ale Festival kicked off this week! This year’s 22nd Annual event took place from November 29th, 2017-December 3rd, 2017 at the Pioneer Courthouse Square in Downtown Portland. Over 55 different beers, ciders, or meads are specialty brewed or blended for this event, making it THE Holiday beer event of the season. Other rare beers are brought in that aren’t commonly tapped in the state, and they get switched out every day in the Lounge portion of the event.
There are many fun elements to the festival, all guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Besides the traditional cinnamon roasted nuts, a self-guided beer and cheese pairing was offered – yum! A Sunday brunch wraps up the festivities every year, a ticketed event that features more specialty beer (of course!).
Continue reading to be guided through the event space, and be sure to check out my Best Beers at the end of the post. Cheers!
Main Bar & Side Bar
The largest selection of beers available at the Holiday Ale Festival 2017 are at the Main Bar downstairs, right when you get through the entrance. Centrally located tall tables help break up the space, and offer a resting place to jot notes or have a brief break before diving into another 10% winter beer treat. The Side Bar has some seating, but with how many good beers were over there this year, you won’t want to pause for very long.
The Sky Bar
Go past the restroom section towards the stairs, and you’re on your way to more excellent beer. Stop for a moment to view the Christmas Tree in all its glory before moving on to the Lounge. Here you’ll find daily rotating rare beers from various vintages. Keep walking through and the space opens up to The Sky Bar. It offers a higher concentration of heavy beers at the Holiday Ale Festival 2017, and plenty of tables to hangout at. As you can see from my photo it got a bit full up there, but there was still plenty of room to dodge in and out of beer lines.
Look & Feel
The Holiday Ale Festival 2017 has used the same logo for many years, recognizable for incorporating a variation of the Portland Stag. Besides the festival mug, program and tickets, the mark was used on entry wristbands and hand stamps.
The beer program was much less elaborate this year. It listed the standard beers you’d find and that was about it! The move towards digital was obvious, with direct calls to visit the website for most accurate tap listings. I still enjoy a paper program, as it’s easier to keep track of the beers I try by taking quick notes.
Holiday Ale Festival 2017 Best Beers
🍺 Conspiracy of Ravens by Eel River Brewing
10.5% ABV 40 IBU 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4)
With German chocolate cake in mind, this beer started its life as an imperial oatmeal/milk stout. It was then aged on high quality cocoa nibs, bourbon vanilla beans, and toasted coconut, and then blended with Eel River’s Ravens Eye Imperial Stout that was aged six months in bourbon barrels.
My Notes: Smooth chocolate and coconut flavor in this not-so-overpowering 10% imperial stout.
🍺 Caldera Pink Peppercorn, Lavendar & Chocolate Imperial Stout by Caldera Brewing
8.8% ABV 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4)
Caldera made a pink peppercorn, lavender and chocolate imperial stout. The pink peppercorns add a hint of fruitiness, complemented by the lavender and chocolate, to make a very complex, black as night imperial stout.
My Notes: Unique for sure. Wonderful aroma and a thick spiced-chocolate finish.
🍺 Gnome for the Holidays by Logsdon Farmhouse Ales
10.7% ABV 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4.25)
The brewery decided to barrel down this year’s Cheers to Belgian Beers entry. Its original Belgian Strong Dark, brewed with Imperial’s organic Gnome yeast strain, was moved to Heaven Hill bourbon barrels for eight months, with an addition of organic Belgian cocoa nibs for the last couple weeks.
My Notes: A beautiful barrel-aged Belgian, a sweet tart.
🍺 Black House Vanilla Macadamia Nut Latte by Modern Times
5.8% ABV 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4)
Modern Times took its beloved Black House oatmeal coffee stout and packed it to the gills with macadamia nuts and vanilla. The result is a decadent symphony of macadamia nut and coffee laced with luscious notes of vanilla. It’s a stunning display of liquid elegance, best enjoyed while wearing your sauciest smoking jacket.
My Notes: Deliciously smooth coffee stout.
🍺 Dark Hearted Blonde by Pelican Brewing
6.5% ABV 27 IBU 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4.5)
The brewery team collaborated with local coffee roaster Sleepy Monk Coffee to make this intriguing blonde stout, which features all the roasted coffee and chocolate aromas and flavors of a stout, but in a color you wouldn’t expect. Its unassuming light gold color packs an aromatic and flavorful punch of a much darker beer.
My Notes: I could have had 4 of these, such a pleasant coffee blonde!
(Beer Descriptions in italics are provided from the event program.)
A Personal Note
One of my favorite parts of the event are the people you see. A good amount dress up, adding to the festive vibe. I’m pretty sure someone put out an Ugly Sweater Competition bulletin this year, because there were sooo many fun ones.
I also really enjoy all the beer friends that pop up at the event. Wednesday and Thursday are typically industry days, as the largest crowds appear on Friday and Saturday. Taking a group of people is usually the best strategy for trying the most beers, but going back multiple days is also perfectly acceptable.