Festival Review: Portland’s 2010 Holiday Ale Festival

December 23, 2010

This is the second year in which I have attended Portland’s Holiday Ale Festival. It is usually held the first Wednesday through Sunday of December at Pioneer Courthouse Square. They set up large tents with some heating, so you are mostly protected from the elements, though there are some colder spots.

Admission was initially $25, which got us each a plastic mug and 10 tickets. One ticket is good for a 4 oz tasting of beer, and additional tickets could be purchased for $1 each. As long as you kept your mug and the wrist band they put on you, you could reenter the festival other days.

This is my husband’s favorite festival of the year, mostly because he likes porters and stouts, which are usually considered winter beers. Also, he is really into sour beers, which seem to be on the rise in Portland, and there were several at the festival.

Me and my anti-hop low IBU tastes stuck to just a few beers. Here are my tasting notes in order of which I tasted them:

  1. I started with the Gilgamesh Cranberry Saison, AVB 5%, IBU 15. I described it as a wheatish beer, and that I probably could finish a bottle of this by myself. However, I found it was not dynamic at all, and that I only detected the cranberry in the middle of the taste.
  2. Next, I had a Bonyard Femme Fatale, which is a sour beer fermented with raspberries and cranberries. ABV 6.5% and an IBU of 10.  My husband said it started out with cranberry but finished raspberry. All I tasted was strong roasted malt at the end.
  3. I followed that up with a New Belgium Transatlantic Kriek. It was a tad sour, but I still haven’t really found a kriek that I like, and I love cherries.
  4. Then I started moving into some unual beers, and tasting them in order from lowest IBU to highest. Buckman Village Brewery had a Ginger Beer with 5% ABV and 36 IBU. I said that it was a bit hoppy, but it was probably closer to what I thought the Cranberry Saison should have been like. Honestly, I’m not sure I could drink a whole bottle by myself, but I would enjoy it more compared to the Saison. The ginger was faint, but it tasted like real fresh ginger instead of syrup.
  5. The next beer that I tried was because of a review from Beervana, which was the Columbia River Paddler’s Porter. It comes in at 8.4% ABV and an IBU of 46. The description of this read that there is seven malts, two hops, chocolate nibs, and Madagascar vanilla beans in it. I got the chocolate, which was more a dark style and kind of gave it a coffee note to it, and I definitely got the roasted malt notes. However, vanilla is kind of a subtile flavor, and I couldn’t detect that with all the other heavy flavors going on. I could totally see what Beervana mean by being unbeer like. I gave most of my sample to my husband, mostly because of the hops.
  6. The last beer I had selected to try I knew I wouldn’t like but I wanted to know what it tasted like. It was Fort George North of the Forth Strong Ale. I couldn’t drink it because it has an IBU of 80. The description says, “With more than 40 pounds of spruce tips, 60 pounds of cranberries, and a two-pound candy cane to an 8.5 barrel batch, this unique brew embraces some of the classic elements of the holidays.” Looking at that, I knew instantly that two pounds of candy canes compared to 40 lbs of spruce tips and 60 pounds of cranberries would not really be noticeable. Thing is, I’ve had a Douglas fur eaux de vie before from Clear Creek Distillery, and they always make you taste it last because evergreens have an oil in it that coats your tongue and kind of makes tasting other things difficult. I can tell you, the first taste of this beer was much different than the second taste because of this factor, but I wasn’t able to capture it. It was a dynamic beer, but I couldn’t taste the cranberry, and I did actually pick up the candy cane in the back of the throat, like a cough drop.

After that, I had a little agave mead from Mountain Meadow Meadery to use up our last tickets and to kind of end on something I would like. I also had myself a full mug of water from the sinks at the festival before exiting.

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2 Responses to “Festival Review: Portland’s 2010 Holiday Ale Festival”


  1. […] Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, OR Package: $25 for admission, plastic mug, and 10 tokens Extra Tokens: $1 Tastings: varies Kid friendly: no Review […]


  2. […] 16th Annual Holiday Ale Festival held at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, OR. This was the third time I had attended. We got there shortly after noon, and left the crowded tent at 3pm. It was strange to walk outside […]


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