While eggnog and hot toddies are commonly associated with the holidays, it’s no surprise that in the beer mecca of the Pacific Northwest, craft ales are the drink of choice: specifically, big, bold ales designed to fend off the cold chill of a long winter night. The Holiday Ale Festival annually gathers together more than 40 of these winter warmers for a joyous five-day celebration.
The 14th annual Holiday Ale Festival will take place Dec. 2 through 6 at Pioneer Courthouse Square, located at 701 SW Sixth Ave. on the MAX Light Rail line. Hours for the event are 2 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
To taste beer, the purchase of a $20 entry package is required, which includes a 2009 souvenir mug and 10 beer tickets. A full mug of beer costs four tickets; a four-ounce taste costs one. (A few limited release and specialty beers require two tickets for a taste.) Additional beer tickets can be purchased for $1 apiece. Previous year’s mugs will not be filled. Free re-admission is allowed all days with a wristband and the current year’s mug. The event is for ages 21 and over.
Despite being held outdoors during one of the coldest months of the year, more than 17,000 festival attendees stay warm and dry under clear-topped tents that cover the venue. Gas heaters create a cozy ambiance beneath the boughs of the region’s largest decorated Christmas tree. In addition to beer tasting, the festival also features on-site food, event merchandise, complimentary root beer for designated drivers, mead sampling, a coat check and seasonal background music.
The beers featured are rich, robust and full of complex flavors – they range from IPAs, Belgians and Barleywines to Winter Warmers, Scotch Ales and Stouts. Most have been created specifically for the event, or are vintage or specialty kegs: these beers are difficult to find, which has earned the Holiday Ale Festival its reputation as the premier winter beer tasting venue on the West Coast.
Returning to the event is the sixth annual Belgian Beer Brunch, taking place on Dec. 6 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the upper level of Pioneer Courthouse Square. The auxiliary event features European pastries, cured meats and artisanal cheeses to accompany an assortment of exclusive Belgian winter beers not available at the festival itself. Tickets cost $45 and are available at www.holidayale.com.
Brewing special seasonal beers predates modern history and has its origin in the pagan celebrations of winter solstice. Designed to fend off the cold of a long winter night, winter beers are traditionally complex in aroma and flavor, big in body, and high in alcohol. Thanks to an extra dose of malt, these beers are rich and bold, with chocolate, caramel or coffee flavors; others benefit from the addition of extra hops, herbs, spices and fruit.
For more information, visit www.holidayale.com or call 503-252-9899.