Festival Preview: OR: 11/28-12/2 Holiday Ale Fest returns to “PDX” Pioneer Courthouse Square

image from Holiday Ale Fest 2008 courtesy Portlandbeer.org It's almost December and you know what that means, Holiday beer festivals. More importantly this means the Holiday Ale Fest held in Portland.

Held every year in Pioneer Courthouse Square (not affiliated with Pioneer Square in Seattle) the Holiday Ale Fest is a unique opportunity to drink outside while freezing your butt off. Technically that last bit isn't true if one is willing to stand elbow to elbow with your fellow drinker.

Held in the heart of downtown Portland, the Holiday Ale Festival keeps attendees warm and dry under a large clear top tent allowing for views of the city lights. Gas heaters create a cozy ambience under the boughs of one of the region's largest decorated Christmas trees.

Either way this writer wanted to remind you that if you haven't planned the trip to downtown PDX, you better hurry! As of today both types of tickets are still on sale for both VIP & General Admission.

Hey! What's the difference between VIP & General Admission. The short version is limited edition access and line cutting. The long version? Here's some quick copy-paste laziness from the website.

General Admission Details

Advance General Admission Tickets include a festival mug, 12 beer tickets and expedited entry all five days with wristband and current year's mug.

VIP Admission Details

Advance VIP Tickets include a festival mug, 28 beer tickets, express entry all five days with wristband and current year's mug, a bottle of water and access to VIP beer lines, including Special Tappings.

After reading the details for admission it should be simple. Right? Honestly there isn't a right or wrong answer if you consider why you are going.

If you are going to relax after a long week then the General Admission might be right for you, especially when you consider that you will get expedited entry and 12 tickets to use up.

On the other hand if you are taking the week off and need an excuse to get out of your pajamas then the VIP might be for you. Perks included expedited admission, a bottle of water and priority access to beer lines. Additionally you will be entitled to participate limited edition tastings.

Either choice gets you in the door and that is priority number one.

The next thing we need to address is transportation. I know, I know, you want to see the beer list but let's be honest you aren’t drinking yet. So, how to get there?

Looking at the map we can see that Portland's MAX (Light rail) Blue and Red lines stop right at the Square. On the other hand you can take one of the buses around the area. More importantly you would want to catch the 1, 8, 9, 12, 15, 17, 19, 94, 51; as these all are within 2 blocks of the square. Where you start is completely up to you but if you are new to the area, here is a quick link to Portland's Trimet website as well as links to both Pioneer Courthouse Square MAX stations.

On the other hand if you are more keen on riding in a yellow cab (or one of the other many colored cabs) then you might consider ...

  • (503) 227-1234 Broadway Taxi
  • (800) 707-5242 Portland Taxi Cab Company
  • (503) 234-1414 Green Cab & Green Shuttle

... just to name a few.

For the out-of-towner you might consider calling these hotels, featured near the Square.

Wow, if you got this far I want to say thanks for taking the time to read ALL THAT! But this is really what the majority of you are looking for, the beer!

Standard Release Beers

The Standard Release Beers are those for which we anticipate having available all festival long (while supplies last of course, as they do occassionally run out). We have over 40 of these select beers available at the festival. Beer locations will be updated both here and on the mobile site as the beers are tapped.

10 Barrel Frosty's Revenge
Belgian Ale • ABV: 7.0% • IBUs: 40 • O.G.: 17.3° • F.G.: 4.1°

The malt bill of this Belgian Christmas beer is based around a milk stout, with notes of molasses, toasted bread and raisins. The hops deliver hints of pine and bubblegum. Contributing to the main character is the Belgian Abbey yeast with its essence of candied fruit. Taking this over the top, the brewers also wove in caramelized dates and raisins, cinnamon sticks, cocoa nibs in the boil, and then conditioned it on raisins and figs.

Alameda Papa Noel's Special Reserve (2011)
Olde Ale • ABV: 8.2% • IBUs: 30 • O.G.: 20.2° • F.G.: 4.5°

This beer is brewed in the style of a big, malty English Olde Ale. Hopped with Styrian Goldings in the kettle and fermenter, this ale has a distinct English character. Post fermentation, this beer was aged on Whiskey soaked French white oak spires, lending some tannins and dryness to the huge amount of Crystal malt employed in the grist. You may find hints of toffee, raisins, chocolate or caramel in this dark copper brew.

Avery Old Jubilation Ale
Olde Ale • ABV: 8.3% • IBUs: 45 • O.G.: 18.5°

This winter strong ale has a gorgeous mahogany hue, a hint of hazelnuts, and a finish reminiscent of mocha and toffee. No spices, just a perfect blend of five specialty malts.

Bayern Eisbock
German Ale • ABV: 13.0% • IBUs: 34 • O.G.: 18.2° • F.G.: 3.9°

This beer started out as Bayern's award winning Doppelbock, and over a course of nine months of a freezing process, it ended up as an Eisbock. The freezing process involves lowering the temperature of the beer in the aging tank to a point that the remaining water in the beer freezes. Several transfers from tank to tank to extract all the ice resulted in a very smooth, higher alcohol beer.

Bear Republic Prepare To Be Boarded
Stout • ABV: 8.1% • IBUs: 50 • O.G.: 20.5° • F.G.: 5.0°

This barrel aged stout is rich with the flavors of molasses and spices of the East Indies and the Caribbean, the same spices that enriched the coffers of empires (and pirates) during the 17th and 18th centuries. Including allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and mace, this true "pirate stout" is as black as coal and will put you in the right holiday spirit. Avast, matey, and a ho ho ho!

Bison Organic Cocoa Bretta
Stout • ABV: 7.0% • IBUs: 26 • O.G.: 15.5° • F.G.: 3.0°

Cocoa-Bretta is an organic collaboration cheer that combines Bison's award winning Chocolate Stout and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales' Bretta. This stout beer was brewed with cocoa, multiple yeasts, finished with strains of Brettanoymces, and then keg conditioned with pear juice.

Breakside Breakside India Passion Elixir
Red Ale • ABV: 8.7% • IBUs: 80 • O.G.: 21.0° • F.G.: 4.0°

Breakside's Jacob Leonard collaborated with Lompoc Brewing's Bryan Keilty to brew this strong, hoppy red ale. On the grist side, the brewers included flaked rye and dark wheat. For hops, they turned to Willamette and Centennial. And to finish, they rounded the beer out with a bit of honey for more body. Enjoy this winter hop bomb!

BridgePort Oak-Aged Old Knucklehead
Barley Wine • ABV: 9.2% • IBUs: 50 • O.G.: 22.0° • F.G.: 6.0°

Generous amounts of NW pale, caramel and chocolate malts were blended with English Goldings kettle hops and Willamette Valley Cascade and Chinook Hopjack hops. It was brewed in small batches, fermented, and then aged on American white oak. The oak aging imparted caramel and vanilla flavors to complement the bold and smooth malt flavors and unique hop character of this true NW ale.

Burnside White Out
Winter Ale • ABV: 9.3% • IBUs: 80 • O.G.: 22.0° • F.G.: 4.0°

Burnside wanted to create a unique strong winter warmer that featured a malty body, yet was light in color with a distinct hop presence. Enjoy the deceiving light color, yet remarkably well balanced malt and hop of this beer.

Cascade Diesel #2
Stout • ABV: 11.0% • IBUs: 20

This beer was brewed with chocolate and roasted malts, black strap molasses and dark Belgian candi sugar, then aged for nine months in Heaven Hill rye whiskey barrels on Bourbon vanilla beans and Black Mission Figs. You'll first notice aromas of dark sweet chocolate, coffee, Bourbon and molasses with hints of vanilla, followed by dark coffee and milk chocolate with a slight Bourbon heat and a lingering sweet dark chocolate flavor.

Coalition The Lost Glove
Strong Ale • ABV: 8.4% • IBUs: 60 • O.G.: 20.0° • F.G.: 3.8°

Both English and American base malts give this beer its hefty ABV, while British brown malt and Chilean caramel malt lend it color and sweetness. Five different hops give a complex but approachable hop profile to balance out the malty sweetness. A high alpha hop varietal, Nugget, is used for bittering. Tettnanger and Cascade round out the middle, while a blend of the three make up the hop back.

Collaborator Hallucinator
Olde Ale • ABV: 9.7% • IBUs: 40 • O.G.: 17.0° • F.G.: 3.0°

While there is some hop presence, this beer is malt driven, with a flavor profile dominated by sweet grains. This barrel-aged ale, made in conjunction with the Festival, will keep you warm through long nights, cold winds and persistent rain. It's an ale that perfectly fits the next few months in Portland.

Columbia River Stumblers Chocolate Cherry Stout
Stout • ABV: 8.0% • IBUs: 58 • O.G.: 19.1° • F.G.: 4.8°

The Columbia River brewers took their double award-winning Stumblers Stout and winterized it, giving it a higher ABV plus the addition of cocoa nibs and Oregon tart cherries.

Crux Fermentation Project Snow Cave
Winter Ale • ABV: 11.0% • IBUs: 20 • O.G.: 20.0° • F.G.: 3.0°

Style guidelines... what guidelines? Snow Cave gives a nod to all winter beer styles. Starting with a heavy dose of wheat malt and ending with a touch of chocolate, this high gravity interpretation of a winter warmer will keep you cozy in the harshest of winters.

Deschutes Imperial Smoked Porter
Porter • ABV: 10.0% • IBUs: 50

This strong porter features a solid smoke presence, a rich malt character and a smooth, rounded mouthfeel. Additions of dark muscovado sugar, oats and wheat contribute to its complexity.

Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre
Belgian Ale • ABV: 8.0% • IBUs: 25

This deep mahogany Belgian style brown ale was brewed with beet sugar, raisins and Belgian style yeast, resulting in a beer that's as complex as a fine red wine.

Eel River Noel Barrel-Aged Blend
Blend • ABV: 8.4% • IBUs: 50 • O.G.: 18.8° • F.G.: 3.8°

This Imperial red ale was brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, then blended with Eel River's Triple Exultation, which had been aged in Bourbon barrels for six months.

Firestone Walker Wild Merkin
Blend • ABV: 8.5%

A collaboration with the Holiday Ale Festival, this Barrelworks project is a blend of one-year-old Heaven Hill Bourbon barrel-aged Velvet Merkin that was blended with a touch of a young Gueuze from Firestone's sour program. The result is a lighter, brighter, but still barrel-forward Merkin for your sipping pleasure.

Fort George The Three Wisemen
Other • ABV: 9.9% • O.G.: 23.2° • F.G.: 5.0°

The Three Wisemen honor the holiday tradition of gifting: in this case, gifting your liver an Imperial oatmeal stout that has been lovingly conditioned in Bourbon, Tequila and Rum barrels, then brought back together to form a wonderfully warming, cunningly complex and graciously gratifying Yuletide elixir.

Full Sail Black Gold (2011)
Stout • ABV: 11.4% • IBUs: 35 • O.G.: 23.6° • F.G.: 3.3°

Initially brewed in February 2010, a portion of the batch was reserved and aged for almost a year in 18-year-old Bourbon casks from Kentucky. This extended aging presents hints of vanilla and allows the stout to pick up the flavors of the wood, Bourbon and oak. It has a strong roasted malt character and a full body. Chocolate and caramel nuances blend with the hops for a smooth finish.

Gigantic Old Man Gower's Holiday Tipple
Winter Ale • ABV: 7.1% • IBUs: 40 • O.G.: 18.0° • F.G.: 4.0°

The recipe for this malty, caramel holiday beer was passed down to the brewer by Old Man Gower. According to the brewer, "It was Christmas Eve in the drunk tank. An old man said to me, 'Won't see another one.' And then we sang a song, The Rare Old Mountain Dew. I turned my face away, and he told me about this brew."

Gilgamesh Blitz 'N' Prancer
Belgian Ale • ABV: 9.0% • IBUs: 6 • O.G.: 20.8° • F.G.: 3.5°

This spiced Belgian-style ale was brewed in the spirit of holiday breads. Dark roasted malts and large quantities of molasses make a robust and slightly sweet body. Light hopping and spicing from vanilla, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg create a festive finish.

Golden Valley Black Panther
Stout • ABV: 9.5% • IBUs: 55 • O.G.: 23.0°

Using neighboring Panther Creek Cellars French oak barrels - which have had two to three vintages of Panther Creek Pinot aged in them - took the claws off the sharper edges of this big boy. Roasted malt character melds into oaky vanilla vinous notes to create a luscious beer experience.

Kells Mexican Mocha Porter
Porter • ABV: 5.2% • IBUs: 22 • O.G.: 12.5° • F.G.: 2.5°

Delicious chocolate porter meets warming spices, cold brewed coffee and spicy peppers. There is no better way to warm up this winter!

Lagunitas Olde Gnarly Wine (2010)
Barley Wine • ABV: 10.6% • IBUs: 69 • O.G.: 24.0°

Making a Mondo Ultra Mega Super Premium barley wine is a little like having a kid. The first part is fun and messy, it takes a while to ferment, and then a little longer to mature. It is expensive and takes of a lot of space. You worry about how it'll grow up and whether or not you'll still be friends. Eventually, it stays out all night and comes home with its skirt on backwards. You know how it is...

Lompoc Francl'y Brewdolph (2011)
Belgian Ale • ABV: 7.6% • O.G.: 17.5° • F.G.: 3.0°

This Belgian style red ale was brewed in October 2011 with the Belgian Ardennes yeast strain, then aged for a year in Cabernet Franc barrels. The resulting beer has a malty and creamy body.

Lucky Labrador Milk and Cookies
Stout • ABV: 6.4% • IBUs: 20 • O.G.: 15.5° • F.G.: 3.2°

A treat for Santa or yourself, this smooth milk stout was brewed with chocolate black and roast malts for a nutty flavor that's complemented by the addition of rum soaked raisins.

MacTarnahan's Figgy Pudding
Fruit Beer • ABV: 7.1% • IBUs: 34 • O.G.: 16.5° • F.G.: 4.2°

The brewers filled brandy and Bourbon barrels with a wheat beer brewed with fig concentrate. They then added fig puree to the barrels to kick up the fruitiness another notch. After six months, those barrels were blended with year-old barrel aged porter and a touch of fresh Imperial Stout. Layers of fruit, brandy, caramel, cocoa and coffee make this an ideal beverage to enjoy on a cold winter's night.

McMenamins (Concordia Ales) Blenshee Blizzard
Scotch Ale • ABV: 8.5% • IBUs: 7 • O.G.: 19.4° • F.G.: 3.9°

Ward off the winter cold with the warming malty cheer of this strong Scotch Ale. Very lightly hopped with a hint of smokiness from the peat smoked malt, this big beer is designed to showcase the wonders of the grain. The deep reddish hue and high alcohol content is like a cozy hearth fire.

Migration Feel the Rath
Belgian Ale • ABV: 10.5% • IBUs: 26 • O.G.: 25.0° • F.G.: 5.0°

This beer is golden in color with a smooth and complex mouthfeel. Brewed using Trappist yeast plus late additions of fresh ginger and Minneola orange zest, this beer delivers a smooth wave of citrus on the nose while providing spicy earth qualities on the palate. Feel the Rath exemplifies what monks have created for hundreds of years in Belgian tradition, coupled with a Migration twist for which traditionalists can be proud.

New Belgium Frambozen
Belgian Ale • ABV: 6.5% • IBUs: 16 • O.G.: 16.0° • F.G.: 2.8°

This beer begins with the aroma of fresh red raspberries, followed by the ripe seductiveness of a fruity brown ale with depth and delicate malt notes. It is deep ruby in color, with flavors just as rich. Every year, New Belgium sends a delegate to the Pacific Northwest to oversee the process of turning freshly picked berries into a pure juice to be added in fermentation.

Ninkasi Ancient Ale-iens
CDA • ABV: 6.9% • IBUs: 60 • O.G.: 17.0° • F.G.: 4.5°

Honoring of the end of the Mayan calendar and celebrating the last beer festival of modern civilization, this beer is deep mahogany hued and has a clean, toasted malt profile that finishes with a bright citrus and floral hop presence. The addition of chocolate nibs from Theo Chocolates in Seattle and Guatemalan coffee from Water Avenue Coffee in Portland imparts a rich flavor with perceived bitterness from the hops, chocolate and coffee.

Oakshire Very Ill Tempered Gnome
Strong Ale • ABV: 9.0% • IBUs: 80 • O.G.: 19.8° • F.G.: 4.0°

Oakshire took its Ill Tempered Gnome and turned it up to 11! Well, 9% at least. With more malt, more hops and more flavorful goodness, you'll want to seek out this rare and limited Imperial winter ale. VITG has a complex malt profile of caramel, light fruit and toasty nuts and is backed up by a warming alcohol presence and a bold citrus hop blast.

Rock Bottom Wenceslas
Pilsner • ABV: 6.2% • IBUs: 45 • O.G.: 13.8° • F.G.: 2.0°

King Wenceslas is not only the patron saint of Czech brewers, he is also the subject of perhaps the most beloved Christmas carol of all time. But if you look up the newly re-discovered lyrics, you'll find that good King Wenceslas looked down (on the Feast of Stephen), saw a poor man gathering wood, and ordered his page to take the man a jug of a strong, pale lager. Thus was born the traditional Bohemian Christmas Pilsner.

Rogue Ales Brew 15,000
Belgian Ale • ABV: 6.5% • IBUs: 44 • O.G.: 16.0° • F.G.: 4.5°

A very limited, strong, dark ale, it is John Maier's 15,000th brew, and Rogue originally brewed just 1,515 bottles, all of which were autographed by the Master Brewer himself. The brew pours a frothy, dark beige head which gives it a beautiful appearance. You may taste a lingering fruity ester from the Belgian yeast. It's got a smoky, roasty flavor, and a slight edge of mint.

Rusty Truck Cherry Chocoholic Baltic Porter
Porter • ABV: 7.2% • IBUs: 38 • O.G.: 17.5° • F.G.: 4.0°

This classic Baltic-style porter was brewed with black hulless barley, dark caramel malt, honey malt and a touch of smoked malt, and then aged on 90lbs of hand-pressed Willamette Valley cherries per 10-barrel batch. Flavored with natural chocolate, expect big chocolate and cocoa aroma and flavor, balanced by a sweet cherry flavor and finish. It's dark as night, full-bodied and hopped enough to balance the rich malt and chocolate-cherry profile.

Seven Brides Lil's Brandy Barrel Pil
Pilsner • ABV: 8.0% • IBUs: 40

When Willamette Valley Vineyards vinifera barrels arrived, the brewers at Seven Brides added Lil's Pils to age specifically for the Holiday Ale Festival. This delicate style of beer picked up flavors of oak and Pinot Noir, and will leave your taste buds with a subtle heat of brandy.

Speakeasy Spiced Payback Porter
Porter • ABV: 7.5% • IBUs: 38 • O.G.: 17.5° • F.G.: 4.0°

Speakeasy opted for a twist on its perennial favorite, Payback Porter. The brewers took inspiration from the traditional Masala Chai tea, brewing the dark porter with a combination of vanilla bean, ginger, cardamom, clove and black pepper.

Stone Suitable For Cave Aging (2011)
Porter • ABV: 9.0% • IBUs: 53

Stone's Imperial porter, a tribute to Danny Williams, pours an opaque dark brown with aromas of dark roasted malt, cocoa, vanilla, Bourbon and wood. The taste is much the same, with a woody finish and a Bourbon kick with each sip. The smoke comes out as the beer opens up, but it's never too strong.

Terminal Gravity Festivale (2008)
Winter Ale • ABV: 8.6% • IBUs: 78 • O.G.: 18.1° • F.G.: 2.8°

Festivale (pronounced, festive-ale) is one of Terminal Gravity's most popular beers, annually available from late October through Christmas. 2008 was a particularly tasty year, with a lower terminal gravity and higher ABV than most years. The brewers held back several kegs with the Holiday Ale Festival in mind. It has aged very well, and is now a hoppy, dark copper, strong ale - the perfect pint in which to get lost.

The Commons Boysen
Belgian Ale • ABV: 10.5% • IBUs: 25 • O.G.: 21.6° • F.G.: 3.6°

Boysen is a dark, strong, malt forward Belgian ale with dark fruits added during maturation. Chocolate notes create a foundation for the boysenberries and yeast esters to ride on.

Vertigo Bob Barley's Dreaded Holiday Ale
CDA • ABV: 7.7% • IBUs: 65 • O.G.: 17.3° • F.G.: 2.8°

De-husked German malts that have been cold-mashed produces this dark beer without the astringent flavor that can often accompany darker malts. 2-Row base malt, Crystal 120°L, wheat and Caramel Vienne are used to add complexity to this holiday ale. Generous amounts of Magnum and Amarillo hops provide balanced bitterness and hop aroma. When you taste this beer, you will want to shout "Ya Mon!"

Walking Man Santa's Little Black Homo
CDA • ABV: 6.8% • IBUs: 60 • O.G.: 15.0° • F.G.: 2.0°

This spiced CDA is Big Black Homo's jolly little brother. It was brewed with jovial caramel and black malts to provide a jubilant malty character that mirthfully mingles with Summit and Centennial hops. A festive whack of cinnamon sticks were thrown into the kettle, and freshly cracked allspice berries were added during fermentation to further cheer this merry mutha up! Jingle THAT Santa!

Widmer Brothers Brrrbon Vanilla - Cask Strength
IPA • ABV: 10.5% • IBUs: 78 • O.G.: 20.0° • F.G.: 2.8°

Rich oak and vanilla aromas dominate this Imperial Red IPA with hints of dark chocolate and caramel. The Bourbon flavors accentuate the subtle sweetness from the vanilla, giving this beer a deep complexity and balance. An earthy fullness makes this beer the perfect winter warmer.

I can't tell you where I will start but there are ALOT of rare beers in this list. Oddly enough there isn't any Washington (outside of Walking Man) or Idaho beers in the list. Then again if we know anything about beer festivals in Portland it's invitation only.

Wow! Ok that's a really f'in big list of beers.

Instead of making you read the limited edition list we will instead break it into a part two.

See you on the other side ...

About the photo’s author
"Matt Wiater is a photographer covering the Portland beer scene for portlandbeer.org."