Despite driving rain, gusting wind, and a UO/OSU Civil War game, the Holiday Ale Festival witnessed record-setting attendance at the 12th annual event. The Northwest’s most prestigious winter beer festival brought in more than 17,000 beer lovers, an increase of 10% over 2006. The festival took place Nov. 29 through Dec. 2 at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland.
The Holiday Ale Festival presented more than 40 robust winter craft beers on draught, the majority of which were created specifically for the event. These winter warmers were all designed to ward off the chill of winter and warm both the palate and soul. Complex in aroma and flavor, these beers were rich in color, big in body, and high in alcohol.
The People’s Choice winner, which was determined by the beer that went through the most kegs, was Jim II, a blend of oak-aged Hair of the Dog beers based on a recipe created by homebrewer Preston Weesner. Jim II, which was only available at the festival, sold 12 kegs. Ironically, the People’s Choice runner up with 11 kegs sold was Collaborator Hallucinator Olde Ale, another beer based on a recipe by homebrewers, in this case Gary Corbin and Michael Rasmussen.
A visible trend at this year’s event was barrel-aged beers: five breweries served barrel-aged beers, with flavors hailing from oak, Bourbon, and wine barrels. Blended beers were also on tap: Jim II, BJ’s On Comet, Deschutes Brewery’s Oak Aged Jubelale, and Cascade Brewing’s Barrel Select Baltic Porter were each created from two or more existing beers.
Festival attendees stayed warm and dry under a large clear-topped tent that covered the venue while allowing for views of the city lights. Gas heaters created a cozy ambiance under the boughs of the city’s Christmas tree.
In addition to beer tasting, the Holiday Ale Festival also featured on-site food from Rogue Ales, beer merchandise, complimentary Crater Lake Sodas for designated drivers, mead sampling, and seasonal background music.
The roots of brewing special winter and holiday beers trace back to the mythologies of Greece and Rome. The pagan celebrations of the winter solstice marked the return of light to the world, and triumphant ale was brewed to mark the occasion. In the Middle Ages, monasteries encouraged the brewing of special beers for special occasions, particularly Christmas. Holiday brewing traditions traveled to the United States with early immigrants, but they died out during Prohibition. It wasn’t until Anchor Brewing Co. came out with "Our Special Ale" in 1975 that the old holiday beer style made its contemporary comeback.
Next year’s Holiday Ale Festival will take place Dec. 4-7, 2008. For more information about the Holiday Ale Festival, visit www.holidayale.com or call 503-252-9899.