Holiday Ale Festival 2014 is coming!

This week from Wednesday to Sunday December 3 – 7 2014 is one of my favorite beer festivals, the Holiday Ale Festival. As in previous years, it takes place under heated tents at Pioneer Courthouse Square, with a view of the gigantic sparkling Christmas tree through the clear tent that will keep you dry no matter what the weather. With the Max line literally stopping only yards away and plenty of hotels nearby in the downtown area, you may choose to make it a whole “day away from home staycation”. I think the best time to visit, if you can, is during the daytime rather in the evening since that is the more popular and obvious time. The festival hours are 11 AM – 10 PM everyday but Sunday when the festival ends at 5 PM.

Photo of the setup of the Holiday Ale Festival in Pioneer Courthouse Square, photo by Timothy Horn Christmas Tree in Pioneer Courthouse Square, 2013
Photo Credit: First photo by Timothy Horn, second photo is mine

Under the tents are some tables and seating, gas heaters, port a potties, as well as a couple food vendors (this year featuring Bunk Sandwiches and Urban German Grill) so along with your 2014 admission mug and tokens, you have everything you need in one place, just bring money and friends! As long as you bring your wristband and mug back, you can get re-admitted any of the festival days, so also feel free to pace yourself and stretch out your visit to many.

Example goodness from Bunk Sandwiches, here are their samples of Cubano sandwiches Example goodness from Bunk Sandwiches, here are their samples of Cubano sandwiches
Example goodness from Bunk Sandwiches

Example goodness from Urban German Grill Example goodness from Urban German Grill
Example goodness from Urban German Grill

Make sure to check in your coat and any bags you may have (feel free to maybe get a little Christmas shopping in beforehand and then finish up at the Holiday Ale Fest!) because all proceeds from the bag and coat check at the Holiday Ale Fest, as well as the raffle located at the Coat Check (you don’t need to be present to win) and the root beer garden all benefit the Children’s Cancer Association. This worthy cause, CCA, works to impact the care and quality of life of children with cancer and other serious illnesses immediately by delivering resources, friendship, and helping quality of life today.

Besides the donation to the Children’s Cancer Association, what makes this particular beer festival unique to others is its focus on lots of dark beers and also aged beers. I love tasting the notes of chocolates, roast, coffee, toffee, molasses, caramels, nuts, etc. that you can often detect in dark beers. Some beers additionally are being brewed or aged with extra ingredients such as cranberries, cherry puree, maple syrup, habanero peppers, even pumpkin pie spice and there is a lot of flavor going on to add to the holiday spirit all around you. It seems the colder weather is season for these kind of flavors and thus “holiday ales”.
Holiday Ale Festival, photo courtesy Timothy Horn
Photo Credit: Timothy Horn

Add to that that most of these beers are also barrel aged, which means that as part of the process they sit in barrels and absorb the flavors of the barrels and some of the characteristic flavors of the previous liquid occupant of those barrels- and some of the options include wine barrels, whiskey barrels, rum barrels and more. You will get additional flavors of wood, vanilla, dark fruits, perhaps some sourness or heat or extra spice and possibly more from this treatment. If you are thinking that sounds a lot like getting the complexity of aromas and flavors like a wine or port you are exactly right.

Not only that, but the guidelines for this festival are that all the beers available at the event were made specifically for the event, blended specifically for the event, or a vintage beer – in other words the beer has not been released prior to the Holiday Ale Festival. So the beers of the festival are, in some cases, sometimes previews of beers that are coming but in most cases, one off special beers from the past or just made for the event!

Holiday Ale Festival 2014 logo
You only have until Wednesday to buy your tickets online and be able to use a card to pay. Admission at the door is CASH ONLY. Admission is $35 including the reusable plastic mug and 12 beer tickets. Remember you can exit and return using that mug as often as you’d like over the four days of the festival, and additional beer tickets are $1 each. If you buy your admission ahead of time, you also get 2 additional tickets and can use an expediated entry line.

One beer ticket is almost all cases will get you a 4 ounce sample pour. You can get a full mug pour for 4 tickets. There are some beers which may cost more tickets because they are more limited in quantity or are special taps (such as all the Limited Release Beers). You must be 21 and older to attend the event

I have taken a look at the beer list and wanted to point out a few highlighted beers I am excited to try when I attend Wednesday (I am working a half day and then enjoying the rest – see earlier comment about staycation, and this is a too conveniently located beercation to turn down!). My list here are only from the Standard Release Beers and not the Limited Release beers that you need to come at the right release time to enjoy. But, if you do come to the festival, make sure to see what Limited Release beers may be tapping during your visit!

This isn’t even my full list- just a snapshot of to help you see the kind of beers and to give you an idea of what the Holiday Ale Festival offers. I haven’t had these beers yet but the descriptions sound interesting to me…

  • 13 Virtues Brewingis presenting their Barrel-Aged MAX Stout which is a barrel aged Imperial Stout that has been aged in both Eastside Distillery and Bull Run Distillery Whiskey barrels for three to four months, giving off oak and vanilla notes and textured layers of deep, dark secrets. Succumb to temptation…
  • I wrote about this previously when reviewing Kell’s Brew Pub, but the Kells Brew Pub MIC Stout AKA Boom Roaster, a collaboration between homebrewer Natalie Baldwin and Kells head brewer Dave Fleming. It is an Imperial Coffee Milk Stout uses Sidamo coffee from Ristretto Roasters and was the People’s Choice and Judge’s Choice winner of the Willamette Week Beer Pro/Am, see if it’s a winner for you!
  • Republic Brewing Co. is bringing the cutely named Do You Want To Build A Snowman?, a Barrel-Aged Golden Blend using four different barrels from the cellar, including Cuvee de Bubba, Pinot Noir re-fermented Kolsch, Tequila Barrel Aged El Oso Lager and Demolition Derby barrels. Yeah, that’s all. Huge fruity notes of pineapple, strawberries and grapes snuggle up to spicy oak, tropical hop notes and a slight pleasing tartness
    Holiday Ale Festival photo, by Timothy Horn
    Photo Credit: Timothy Horn
  • Cascade Brewing is offering a beer they are calling Gingersnaps which is a NW Style Sour Strong Ale that is a blend of Red, Spiced Red and Spiced Quads aged in Bourbon and rum barrels for up to two years on spices including ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, and figs. Chocolate and rum hold down the low end while Bourbon and spice hit the high notes on the palate. The finish is a crescendo of raisins, dates, chocolate and ginger with a lingering boozy warmth. Sounds like sour yum to me.
  • Coalition Brewing is bringing supposedly their Loving Cup Male Porter’s big brother to the festival, an Imperial Maple Porter beer named Big Maple. This big brother beer is a blend of malts including Patagonia caramel 15 malt that adds a malty sweetness, while two different chocolate malts provide layers of roast and chocolate notes. Vermont grade A maple is added to the boil, bringing a subtle sweetness and maple aromatics. A whisper of smoke balances this winter treat. Enjoy this one-off beer while you can!
  • Ex Novo Brewing Co. did a collaboration with Moonstruck Chocolates to create a beer called Moonstriker, a Baltic Porter with Mexican Chocolate.
  • Fort George Brewery has created Santa’s Dinner Jacket, a Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Red Ale that has been aging in Bull Run Distillery barrels. Sipped slowly and allowed to warm, this beer tells a story of time spent in the barrel infusing this heftily hopped ale with notes of port, sherry, caramel and toffee.
    Holiday Ale Festival picture, photo by Timothy Horn
    Photo Credit: Timothy Horn
  • It’s not always just about dark beers. How about a saison? Specifically, Gigantic Brewing has created Red Ryder BB Gun, a Saison with Cranberries that promises to be a balance of sweet and sour and spicy and tart.
  • Consider comparing the cranberries in that to Burnside Brewing Co. presenting Jingleberry, an Imperial Stout with Cranberries. Yes, that’s right. An imperial stout aged on fresh cranberries that features hints of cocoa and toffee.
  • It’s not always about the whiskey and bourbon barrels of course, like with the Lompoc Brewing Pinot Noir Barrel-Aged Cheval de Trait Belge, named in honor of Belgian work horses – one of the strongest breeds, this dark Belgian Style Strong Ale has been aging in Maryhill Winery Pinot Noir barrels for six months. It has a malty body and strong oak character, finishing dry with hints of chocolate and tobacco.
  • Or, how about the McMenamins Edgefield rum barrel aged Imperial Mexican Mocha Stout called Lord of Misrule brewed with cacao nibs, kilned coffee malt and habanero peppers, then aged in rum barrels post-fermentation for another taste of what barrel aging can produce?
    Holiday Ale Festival, photo by Timothy Horn
    Photo Credit: Timothy Horn
  • There are several chocolate flavors going on in various beer entrants to the festival, but what about White Chocolate Milk Stout? Yep, Oakshire Brewing is bringing one called Prestidigitation that is a beer Blonde in color, yet full-bodied and mildly sweet. This milk stout uses coffee, cocoa nibs and star anise to produce the flavors and aromas of a milk stout with the color of a pale ale.
  • I plan to do a face-off between two chocolate banana beers that are on deck for the Holiday Ale Festival- one from Old Town Brewing Co called Bluth’s Original Chocolate Banana Hefeweizen and described as a Chocolate Bavarian-Style Hefeweizen that is , straight from the description, basically a frozen banana with double the chocolate, nuts and two sticks. Brewed to Pop-Pop’s original (stolen) recipe to be a “cold banana in delicious brown treat.” Two-row, wheat and chocolate malts co-mingle with Mt. Hood hops and cocoa nibs. “There’s always money in the banana stand! No touching!”.
  • The previous beer then will be compared against Stickman Brewery‘s Big Black Banana, a Dunkelweizen for which the Stickmen brewers took their bananas foster beer (Bananas On Fire!) and dunked it in chocolate for the holidays. The Weihenstephan Weizen yeast provides banana and spice, the caramel comes from a good dose of Crystal 120 and Special B malts, and the chocolate from cocoa nibs and chocolate malt.
  • Chocolate and banana? Check. And how about Chocolate and Cherries? Check, thanks to Portland Brewing Co. bringing a Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Cherry Stout brewed just for the 2014 Holiday Ale Festival. This brew boasts a huge malty backbone from seven different malts, a Northwest hop profile, and notes of roasted coffee balanced by delicious cherry flavors from an Oregon-grown sweet cherry puree.

Holiday Ale Festival, photo by Timothy Horn
Photo Credit: Timothy Horn

I hope this list has not been too overwhelming. Does anything stand out to you? Are you planning to attend or recommend the Holiday Ale Festival?



  1. WOW! Only Portland has this many beer festivals… this one sounds like a ridiculously good time and to be able to enter again anytime within the 4 days makes the price of the ticket TOTALLY worth it. Looks so fun!

  2. Yet another year I won’t be able to attend this. I haven’t been since 2010!!! Argh…

  3. One year the kids will be old enough that we can take off for the night and go to this!

  4. I love how Portland finds things to do outside even when it’s cold out. Sounds fun!

  5. I can’t believe it’s already time for another Holiday Ale Fest! That Santa Dinner’s Jacket from Fort George sounds interesting. You always do the best festival previews – I love them!

  6. ooh, i really need to attend this this year!
    ladies in navy

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