Portland’s Holiday Ale Fest brings together so much of what I love about the season. It’s festive; heated tents are set up in the shadow of a massive lighted tree, and Santa hats and ugly sweaters are everywhere inside. It’s merry; friends and family come together to drink good beer, eat tasty food, and enjoy one another’s company. And it features a top-flight selection of seasonal ales that are more or less unavailable anywhere else.
So after Steven and I attended for the first time last year, I knew we would find our way back. Once again, the Holiday Ale Fest warmed my heart — or maybe that was the bourbon-aged beer — and put me in the holiday spirit. Here’s a look at some of the beers I tried at the festival.
Rusty Truck Brewing Cherry Chocoholic Baltic Porter: The full body and chocolaty taste were the first things I noticed, all but erasing the sweetness of the cherries from the initial rush. But the cherries dominated the aftertaste, creating a nice balance.
Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Wild Merkin: The volunteers pouring my beer resisted giving me a full glass, asking if I knew what a Merkin was. (Don’t look it up.) It wasn’t like I was drunk — this was my first full beer of the festival — but they gave me a full pour only with a skeptically arched eyebrow. I tried my best not to think about the origin of the word, because Firestone Walker’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Velvet Merkin was the highlight of my 2011 festival. Its followup was a departure from most winter ales, blending a mix of sourness with a lighter body.
Kells Brewpub Mexican Mocha Porter: Those in my crew who tried this porter came to the same conclusion: Spicy! The chocolate taste hit the tongue like any good porter, but everything that came after overwhelmed my palate. Cold-brewed coffee and spicy peppers went into the brew, but the peppers provided the only lingering flavors. I’m glad I tried it, but I wouldn’t order it again.
Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. Brrrbon Vanilla – Cask Strength: I’m rarely compelled to buy Widmer’s bottled brews at the store, but I’m continually impressed with their festival selections. The Brrrbon Vanilla was no exception, offering strong vanilla notes underscored by a mild bitterness. The bourbon flavors left a smoky aftertaste and warmed the chest like any good bourbon should.
We tried a few more beers and took a group photo in which I may or may not have worn a turkey on my head. About that time, I called it a night and headed home. I didn’t try as many beers as I would have liked, but I could have said the same thing after spending two days at the festival. Oh well; there’s always next year.