For the fourth year in a row, the Holiday Ale Festival—a tradition that for years drew beer fans to downtown Portland from across the metro area and the country—has been canceled.
Longtime organizer Preston Weesner tells WW that the decision to postpone again was not made lightly. The festival, which takes nearly a whole year to plan, is typically held over the course of four days in Pioneer Courthouse Square under a clear tent so that drinkers can stare up at the decorated Christmas tree set up in the city’s Living Room every year. The festival is appealing not just because of the cheery venue and opportunity to get buzzed while dressed in an ugly holiday sweater or as Santa; as it evolved, it became known as the place to sample unique one-off winter concoctions.
“We worked until the last possible minute trying to find a way to do the event somehow, some way,” Weezer says. “We looked at a stripped-down version, even with limited days and or hours.”
A post on social media added a little more context about the current collective mood toward the city’s core: “If people are hesitant to visit downtown and park or walk after dark to attend the event, that makes it tough to invest the time and funds and hope it turns out for the best.”
Last year, an announcement about the cancellation went up quietly on the festival’s website. It was unclear whether the reason to skip another year at that point was driven by continued concerns about COVID or simply trying to pull off a large-scale event that had been dormant for years during a disruptive time for the hospitality industry.
It’s also been a tough period for beer events in general. For instance, the Oregon Brewers Festival called it quits in 2023, citing higher costs, lower attendance and extreme weather (the revived 2022 event saw triple-digit temperatures). In a surprise turn of events, OBF announced it had partnered with the Portland Rose Festival for a tap takeover inside CityFair, the annual Waterfront Park carnival. It ended up being a sad semblance of the original with a feeble beer list that didn’t appear to be carefully curated by anybody, even though founder Art Larrance himself was advertised as the one who would be handpicking kegs.
It’s unclear whether OBF will make another Rose Festival appearance, but the Holiday Ale Festival is determined to continue on as it was. Weesner says he and other organizers plan to reserve Pioneer Courthouse Square in 2024.
“The event has always been a labor of love that took a lot of effort and time to produce, run and put away and we look forward to producing the event next year for all the beer fans,” he added.
If you’re making a wish list for Santa, tell him the only gift you want is for the Holiday Ale Fest to return to the heart of the city in 2024 in all of its former glory.
If you happen to see ads for another beer celebration in the same place, just note that it is not related to Holiday Ale Fest. The Portland Holiday Brew Fest will be hosted by Northwest independent event promoter True West, which last year introduced a summer concert series to the square and an Oktoberfest in late September.