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/// HOLIDAY ALE FESTIVAL 2016
 
Holiday Ale Festival 2016
Portland Hosts 20th Annual Holiday Ale Festival
Portland, Ore., is a great beer city! This we know. And among its many beery blessings is the annual Holiday Ale Festival, bringing seasonal suds to Pioneer Square in the downtown city center. The 20th annual event was held December 2–6, 2015, with generous hours that ran from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Public transit via the MAX and other forms of light rail and buses assured responsible enjoyment of the multitude of inspired specialty beers on offer.

A beer event outdoors in Portland in December? Why, yes. The entire square is tented, and the tops are clear plastic, allowing attendees to enjoy the Christmas lights and giant tree in the middle of the square along with the lights of the city’s buildings at night. Spectacular! The heat lamps, friendly crowd and high-octane beers also help to keep things toasty warm.

Additional levels and serving booths have been added, and the beer selection continues to amaze.
The footprint of the fest has remained about the same over the years, confined to the historic Pioneer Square, but additional levels and serving booths have been added. And the beer selection continues to amaze. Curated by longtime Portland beer entrepreneur Preston Weesner, all of the beers are juried and selected for uniqueness and quality. Plus, an ever-changing selection of “cellar treasures” are tapped throughout the run of the five-day fest. Those in the know download the convenient app to see what’s on offer at any given time.

Attendance broke 14,000, helping to raise $20,000 for the Children’s Cancer Association through the on-site coat check, raffle, root beer garden and poster sales.

Some 50 beers, ciders, meads and braggots were featured in the main lineup, all of which were made or blended specifically for the event. A bonus was the vintage beer offerings seldom seen on tap in the region. With a pocket full of tickets, I attempted (and succeeded) in tasting all the beers. (I was a block from my hotel, okay?) I also shared sips with some traveling beer enthusiasts I’ve known for years, including Celebrator writer Don Scheidt, who was also pulling a shift or two at the Rare Beer booth.

I have several top picks from the festival’s lineup. Cuvée du Santa, a sour brown from Bear Republic Brewing in Cloverdale, Calif., was simply amazing! At 8.5% abv, the Duchesse has a suitor. Other beers that impressed included Brett Trois the Great aka the Inebriated Phrunken Elf imperial stout with “Bruxellensis” Trois from Awesome Ales, Silverton, Ore.; Zin Barrel Aged Drakonic imperial stout from Drake’s Brewing, San Leandro, Calif.; Gargantua III imperial barrel-aged strong ale from Eel River Brewing, Fortuna, Calif.; Imperial Smoked Walker’s Reserve smoked porter from Firestone Walker Brewing, Paso Robles, Calif.; Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stout from Klamath Basin Brewing, Klamath Falls, Ore.; Sister Skookum Saison (8.5%) from Sasquatch Brewing, Portland, Ore.; and Wittier Moron imperial black witbier (WTF?) from Stone Brewing, Escondido, Calif.

From the VIP Rare Beer booth, the Firestone Walker 2010 Anniversary XIV was simply stunning. Anchor’s Old Foghorn 2008 had depth and complexity that only extensive aging can provide a well-made beer. Deschutes Mirror Mirror 2014 did a malty pas de deux on my tongue. There were many other memorable beer moments, but space limits their inclusion.

An ever-changing selection of “cellar treasures” are tapped throughout the run of the five-day fest. Those in the know download the convenient app to see what’s on offer at any given time.
The festival featured 46 special tappings of rare beers throughout all five days of the event, including a four-year vertical of The Abyss by Deschutes Brewery. Meet the Brewer events were held at various times during the fest, featuring Bear Republic’s Peter Kruger, Firestone Walker’s Keenan Delehanty and Stone Brewing’s “Dr. Bill” Sysak, adding additional glamor and pizazz to the proceedings.

The festival replaced its traditional opaque mugs with Govino tasting glasses made from a flexible, clear, BPA-free polymer that properly showcased the great beers being offered.

I enjoyed the VIP ticket option, which included designated beer lines with little or no waiting, exclusive VIP-only vintage beers, and aged cheeses to pair with the beers. VIP badges were punched as attendees tried the special beers and cheeses. As I was at the fest for only one night, I managed only two visits to Higgins, my favorite Portland restaurant. Charlie Vance runs the back-bar at the Bistro with the same charm and efficiency established by the late Warren Steenson. The beer selection and the quality of the food remain singularly spectacular. The restaurant is conveniently located about five blocks south of Pioneer Square, and I needed the exercise.

As I sadly left the event for my return flight from PDX, I simply jumped on the MAX (better buy a ticket first) and for less than three dollars was whisked (shaken and stirred) to the airport in about 45 minutes. Yet another reason to love Portland.

Hint: The Holiday Ale Festival will be old enough to drink this year and will run from November 30 to December 4, 2016; the festival always starts the Wednesday following Thanksgiving. Don’t miss it.
 

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