It's that time of year again. The Christmas trees, office parties, homemade cookies, and... THE HOLIDAY ALE FEST! Nothing gets me in a more cheerful spirit than drinking some barrel-aged imperial stouts, peppermint-infused porters, or cranberry saisons under a giant tree with friends, family, and a few thousand festive strangers.
Due to our busy holiday schedules, Katie and I had to check out the festival on a Thursday this year. With a smaller crowd and shorter lines, we were able to try many of the 40+ beers that are being offered at the 2014 version of the festival. I think we both agree that the selection of beers is pretty great this year compared to years past, which is saying a lot. We only tried one beer last night that wasn't delicious (hint: the brewery rhymes with "Ex-Vovo") and while we liked the rest of what we had, there were 5 that stood out above the rest:
Lost Barrels of Mirror Mirror (2009) - Oak-Aged Barleywine from Deschutes
The story is that Deschutes lost some barrels of Mirror Mirror in their warehouse, only to rediscover them some years later. I'm not normally a barleywine fan but I went back to this one twice throughout the night. All the harsh, strong flavors have faded with time leaving just subtle hints of pinot noir and a sweet and sour finish that will linger long after your last sip.
Gargantua (2013) - Imperial Strong Ale Blend from Eel River Brewing Co.
Ok this is cheating because its the same wonderful beer as last year. But I don't care because its SO GOOD! Last year, some of us felt the vanilla was slightly overpowering but with a year of aging, the sweet flavors have mellowed some and the profile is a bit more balanced. This is still a beer that only works at the holiday ale fest because it's like drinking a delicious dessert. But what a delicious desert it is! (PS. Make sure to check out this year's version of the Gargantua as well for comparison's sake).
Gingersnaps - NW Style Sour Strong Ale from Cascade Brewing
Smells like gingerbread cookies, tastes like Christmas. Our group was divided on this beer but if you like sours, this was a special beer. Cascade always manages to challenge your tastebuds with new and unique beer flavors and with Gingersnaps, they don't disappoint. It's a strong red sour with lingering booziness and holiday spices.
Prestidigitation - White Chocolate Milk Stout from Oakshire Brewing
One of the challenges of being a brewer at the Holiday Ale Fest has got to be how to make a unique beer without being over the top. Oakshire finds that sweet spot with their blonde stout. It's different (it looks like a pale but tastes dark with coffee and chocolate hints) but it doesn't assault your senses with overpowering flavors.
The Incredible Abominable of the Enchanted Barrel Forest - Barrel-Aged Imperial Winter Ale from Hopworks
With big beers, it's all about balance. With their barrel-aged Abominable, Hopworks mixes vanilla and bourbon spice with slight hints of citrus and caramel creating a really tasty treat.
Note from Katie:
The photo booth is back this year!! That means I have an excuse to post one of my all-time favorite photos, which was taken at the Holiday Ale Fest a few years ago: