The FBI invested a lot of time and money convincing a 19-year-old kid he could wreak firey havoc upon a crowd of thousands at Pioneer Courthouse Square. They could have saved the cash and taken him to the Holiday Ale Festival
, where thousands of Portlanders get bombed every year at no cost to the federal government whatsoever. They would have to have made him a fake ID, though—the Fest is 21+ only—and that probably contravenes some statute or other.
Anyway, the fest kicked off today with no major explosions and a hefty roster of even heftier brews, many of them available only, or nearly only, at the Festival. If you go, which I recommend you do despite the $25 entry fee (pro-tip: the square will be deserted during the Civil War game this Saturday), spend your tokens on those beers that you won't find at your local, and save the coffee porters for last. Here are my favorites of the beers I tasted this year:
Cascade Brewing Company - Sang Noir
: A sour double red ale, aged for over a year in pinot noir and whiskey barrels, then blended with some crazy amount of Bing cherries. I don't normally care for fruit in my ale, but this is a nicely tart beer, with little overt floral or fruity character, like a cherry kir. It's shockingly light for its 9.5 percent ABV.
Natian Brewery - Old Grogham Winter IPA
: The only IPA at the Festival, from probably the smallest brewery represented. I didn't like Natian's contribution to the Oregon Brewers Fest
at all, but this rich, caramel-hued brew has forced me to reconsider my opinion of the two-person brewery. A great, piney-sweet nose gives way flavors of sweetened condensed milk and vanilla (lent by the addition of rum-soaked oak spears during fermentation).
Gilgamesh Brewing - Cranberry Saison
: Another tiny brewery brings another relatively subtle fruit beer. At 5 percent ABV, this bright, quaffable Belgian-style is the lightest beer at the Festival. The cranberries make themselves known primarily with really high tannins, but the fruit comes through at the finish.
Lompoc Brewery - Franc'ly Brewdolph
: The brewery's 2009 winter Belgian red, aged for 13 months in Cabernet Franc barrels, then blended with this year's batch. It's sweet and malty, with a nice, rich, grainy texture, like sweetbread. I don't taste much in the way of oak or wine, but this one's worth trying just for the lovely long finish.
Block 15 Restaurant & Brewery - Figgy Pudding, Olde Stock
: A mind-blowing beer from the two-year-old Corvallis outfit, brewed with molasses, matured in brandy barrels with figs and spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. It's hot (at 11 percent ABV) and heavy, packing a huge wallop of figs and spice and sweet grain that gets better and better as it warms. It would be better if you could sip it from a snifter while reclining by the fireplace with a hound at your feet, but it's still pretty good slurped from a plastic cup while standing in the cold with a bunch of tipsy strangers.
Columbia River Brewing Company - Paddler's Porter
: A Baltic porter spiked with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans, this submission from the new tenants of the Laurelwood Pizza space smells like chocolate milk and tasted like a caramel truffle. A beer you'll still like after 25 tastes.
Vertigo Brewing - La Niña Coffee Porter
: A breakfast beer, sure, with an overwhelming espresso odor, but leagues better than most of its kin. Take it camping. Drink it at dawn as you watch the mists part over Trillium Lake.
Coalition Brewing - Lost Glove
: Just your everyday strong ale executed flawlessly, all pine and funk and citrus.
Seven Brides Brewing - Weezin-ator
: This is one weird-ass brew, a Doppelbock that reminds me of nothing so much as Korean corn tea. With flavors of toasted oats, coffee and burnt corn, it's like munching a handful of roasted barley. It gets better as it warms, so let it.
Migration Brewery - Nor'Easter
: A hefty (10 percent ABV) Belgian strong ale brewed with maple syrup, because that's the kind of lunatic idea the Holiday Ale Fest inspires. It's got a definite syrupy, fructose flavor that's not unpleasant, though I imagine one could achieve a similar effect more cheaply by using corn syrup and maple flavoring. Mostly I get wood and crisp air from this one, like a weekend in a mountain cabin.
Bear Republic Brewing Company - Ebeweesner Scrooge
: The pursuit of novelty inevitably winds up with something like this smoked sour ale, which combines too much smoke and too much lacobacillic acid and mostly tastes like someone left a rauchbier sitting in the sun for a year. It's unpleasant. Taste it if you're jonesing for something strange, but don't say I didn't warn you.
: Pioneer Courthouse Square, 701 SW 6th Ave., . 2-10 pm Wednesday, 11 am-10 pm Thursday-Saturday, 11 am-5 pm Sunday, Dec. 1-5. Belgian Beer Brunch 11 am-1 pm Sunday, Dec. 5, $45. $25 at the door includes mug and 10 tasting tokens. Additional tokens $1 each. 21+.