Winter beer season is now in full swing! I remember seeing cases of holiday beers in grocery stores way back in October, which was a bit too early for me.
I officially launched my winter beer season last weekend with two old favorites, Full Sail Wassail and Elysian Bifrost. Earlier this week, I got a mega dose of rare and limited-release yuletide beer at Portland’s Holiday Ale Festival.
Now I’m going to settle into a bunch of winter seasonals that I've never tasted. Some are available in wide release and some are available regionally. I’ve collected about 10 beers and will break up the merriment into two groups. First, I’ll start by tasting:
- Accumulation, New Belgium Brewing Co, Fort Collins, CO
- Festeroo, Hop Valley Brewing. Co., Springfield, OR
- Kris Kringle, McMenamins, Portland, OR
- Session Fest, Full Sail Brewing Co., Hood River, OR
- Slick Nick, Sebago Brewing Co., Gorham, ME
Click here and here to see some of my Winter Beer roundups from previous years. In the meantime, I have two questions for you. What characteristics make a great winter seasonal? What are your winter beer favorites?
Holiday Ale Fest '13 is on! The 18th installment of Portland's winter beer extravaganza opened today under clear skies and frigid (for Portland standards) weather. As expected, opening day crowds were light, lines were short, and the entire taplist was flowing.
For the first time, I actually stuck to my game plan and sampled everything on my tasting list. My favorites were Yule Goat (Deschutes), Cherry Diesel (Cascade), The Twerking Elf (Stickmen), and Gargantua (Eel River). Tastes and preferences differ, so I won't provide my tasting notes. Instead, be sure to check out the festival's taplist, which provides detailed descriptions for each beer.
The festival ends on Sunday, so make sure you plan a trip down to Pioneer Square to enjoy some unique winter beer!
Did you attend Holiday Ale Festival? What were your favorites?
The 2013 Holiday Ale Festival kicks off on Wednesday! I've included the full taplist which provides details and descriptions for nearly 50 beers.
If you love craft beer, HAF is the must-attend Portland beer festival, in my humble opinion. Most of the beers are one-off creations brewed exclusively for the event. If you've never attended, check out my recap of last year's HAF. For HAF hours, location, and pricing, click here.
Every year, I create my personal tasting list before I attend. However, once I set foot under the big clear tent, my plans fall by the wayside. Anyway, I'll give it another shot this year. In case you're curious, here are the 10 beers I plan to taste. I'm not saying these are the best beers, or ones you should try. They're simply the ones that most appeal to me:
- Bourbon Barrel Naughty & Nice, 2 Towns Ciderhouse
- It Makes Reindeer Fly, Burnside Brewing
- Cherry Diesel, Cascade Brewing
- Oud Freakcake, Crux Fermentation Project
- Yule Goat, Deschutes Brewery
- Kronan the Bourbarion, Hopworks Urban Brewery
- St. Dorothy's Peach Cordial Ale, Laht Neppur Brewing
- Revelry Rye Ale, Lompoc Brewing
- The Twerking Elf, Stickmen Brewery
- Spiced Unicorn Mile, Stone Brewing
Have fun creating your own tasting list! If you'd rather not plan ahead, just head down to HAF and see what happens. This event was made for sampling. Cheers to another great year of holiday ales! See you under the big tent.
10 Barrel Brewing Co
Spiced Winter Ale
It’s not eggnog, it’s beernog! This spiced winter ale is actually nothing like eggnog, but you should drink it instead. Brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, rum-soaked raisins and cocoa nibs, this is a dangerously easy-drinking winter ale.
2 Towns Ciderhouse
Bourbon Barrel Nice & Naughty
Bourbon Barrel Aged Spiced Cider
This specialty cider is fermented with dark Meadowfoam honey and aged in Bourbon barrels. Crammed full of cheerful winter spices that mingle with the wood and sweet Bourbon aromas, this cider is sure to warm up your cold, dark nights.
Alameda Brewing Co
Long Beard's Baltic Porter
Brewed just for the festival, this beer features a traditional malt base with a few modern day adjustments. An addition of cherry wood smoked malt lends a warm – almost sweet – smoke to the beer, while chocolate rye adds a nice spice, as well as another layer, to the rich, dark malt base. This beer starts big and sweet, transitions to roast and smoke with a slight alcohol burn, and finishes smooth on the palate. Tettnang hops offer a classic hop spice, while the smooth mouthfeel and nice clean finish are due to the extended lagering.
Base Camp Brewing Co
The Base Camp brewers love a big, robust barleywine, but to really let their house ale yeast shine, they created the White Squall Wheat Wine. A HUGE grain bill showcasing white wheat spreads a deep blanket of malty goodness, with layers of yeast-derived fruity esters and spicy phenols swirling through it. The White Squall has shaped up to be one of their very favorite winter brews, and they hope you'll love it as well!
Bear Republic Brewing Co
Santa’s Lost Wallet
In the course of some off-season revelry at Bear Republic, Santa lost his wallet at the bar. Upon recovery of the wallet, the team of brewers worked with the visitor from the North to craft this dark and luscious blend of ales. The base is a brandy barrel-aged Belgian brown ale that features the sweet notes of brandy, house-made candi syrup, and a touch of nutmeg; blended for balance with Bear Republic’s roasty Big Bear Black Stout and molasses-heavy Pirate Stout.
BridgePort Brewing Co
Oak-Aged Honey Porter
This is a malt-driven beer with a jet-black hue and lots of roasty flavors. The roastiness is complemented with honey, added to the kettle and in finishing. The beer is aged on American white oak to give added flavors of caramel and vanilla for a smooth finish.
Burnside Brewing Co
It Makes Reindeer Fly
Imperial Rye Ale
When the Burnside fellas got together to talk beer for the HAF, they agreed thy had to make the perfect holiday brew: it had to be big, malty and unique. They started with loads of rye and specialty malts and continued to fortify with a reindeer's favorite treats; heirloom carrots from Prairie Creek Farms in Joseph, OR, and raisins for sustained energy. So here it is, a beer so special It Makes Reindeer Fly!
Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
This barrel aged stout was brewed with chocolate and roasted malts, organic black strap molasses and dark Belgian candi sugar, then aged for five months in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels on Papua New Guinea vanilla beans and blended with cherries. Aromas of dark sweet chocolate, Bourbon, molasses and cherries present themselves up front. Dark coffee and milk chocolate intermingle with the roasted malts and dark molasses to finish with a slight Bourbon heat and a lingering sweet dark chocolate and cherry sweetness.
Coalition Brewing Co
Shenanigans Barley Wine is complex yet approachable, big and bold yet highly drinkable. Five different caramel malts provide a delightful malt sweetness and fruit notes, displaying the full range of caramel colors from 15L all the way up to 140L. Northern Brewer and Willamette make up the hop profile. Warning: At 9.8% ABV, this beer may lead to mischief, high jinks and tomfoolery.
Collaborator Hallucinator Blend
The base of this beer is Collaborator Hallucinator, brewed in the late spring of this year and aged until the fall, when it was blended with a Cascade Brewing blending beer that brings subtle Bourbon tootsie roll notes to this aged malty old ale.
Columbia River Brewing Co
This British style Imperial Porter was made with the addition of chocolate and fresh roasted coconut.
Crux Fermentation Project
Oud Bruin / Flanders Style
Brewed to the Oud Bruin style with orange and lemon zest, then aged in Makers Mark barrels where the brewers added classic holiday fruits such as cranberries, figs, dates and raisins. Paying homage to the fruitcakes granny used to make with the only difference being, you won’t want to re‐gift this one!
Spiced Brown Ale
This limited release special ale is a celebration of Deschutes' creative freedom. Aged one year in oak, the spiced brown ale underwent a secondary fermentation with brett in whiskey barrels. Dark, dried fruit, spice, licorice notes and the brett produced hints of cherry. This is a very limited release, enjoy it while you can!
Dick's Brewing Co
This recipe is a throwback to 1995, originally brewed by the late Dick Young himself on the brewery’s initial three-barrel system. The brewing staff felt that by recreating this recipe for the Holiday Ale Festival, they could celebrate with friends and family and toast to Dick’s memory. This beer is a heavily hopped ale with black and chocolate malts that give it a dark and rich flavor.
Eel River Brewing Co
Imperial Strong Ale Blend
Gargantua is first and foremost, BIG. It starts out with an Imperial strong ale that's aged on vanilla for a little holiday twist. It's then blended with Eel River's Bourbon barrel aged version of its Triple Exultation Strong Ale to bring in notes of oak and whiskey.
Elysian Brewing Co
Golden Treacle Pale
Doom is the delicious aftershock, a variation on Sextacula, the beer brewed for Elysian's 15th anniversary. It’s a giant tremor of a pale ale, brewed with pale, Biscuit, Cara-Hell and C-15 malts, with oats and additions of golden syrup and golden raisins. German Magnum hops were used to bitter, while generous amounts of prized Citra and Nelson Sauvins lend flavor and aroma through late additions and two dry-hoppings. The vintage edition was brewed in November 2012.
Firestone Walker Brewing Co
This wonderful roasty oatmeal stout has been infused with a combination of Citra, Centennial and Simcoe hops. This is a one-time only beer made just for the Holiday Ale Festival.
Fish Brewing Co
This is an ideal winter red ale to enjoy on a cold afternoon. Fish Tale’s Gingerbread Ale will remind you of grandma’s cookies during the holiday season. Well-balanced Apollo and Palisade hops combine with crystal and Munich malts. Add to that, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, and you have a Christmas ale even Santa can’t resist.
Fort George Brewery & Public House
The mythical Hogfather flies across Discworld once a year delivering presents, this year gracing all with a bold, black Imperial Porter that bears his name. Brewed at Fort George, where they believe that there is always time for another last minute and their inner child has never met its inner babysitter. At 8.15%, this beer can help you get to the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.
The Scut Farkus Affair
This is Gigantic’s tribute to its favorite Hammond, Indiana Strong Man (He had yellow eyes...yellow eyes! So help me God, YELLOW EYES!). This is a malty and hoppy red beer, brewed with Haribo gummy bears and English toffee to celebrate the season.
Barrel Aged Strong Ale
This is a Scottish influenced strong ale, aged in Burnside Bourbon barrels. Bread, caramel and roasted notes, complemented by charcoal, cinnamon and oak, lace the palate.
Golden Valley Brewery
Santa’s Smokin’ Bock
This smoked lager was inspired by the Rauchbiers of Bamberg, Germany. Santa’s Smokin’ Bock was brewed using more than 60% beechwood-smoked malt, hopped with whole flower Tettnanger and Hersbrucker hops, and lagered for five weeks. It tastes like cuddling by a toasty festooned fireplace, in a glass.
Hop Valley Brewing Co
English Style Barleywine
Simpson Golden Promise, Caralight and Bairds Carastan malts provide this beer its deep golden hue and depth of complex malt flavors. The English WGV and Willamette hops balance it out, giving it a classic English hop character. Hop Valley's first barleywine, The Wolfe is prime for winter sippin'!
Hopworks Urban Brewery
Kronan the Bourbarian
Bourbon Barrel Aged Baltic Porter
Deep like the Baltic Sea and as massive as the Swedish ship Kronan sunk in its icy waters, this Bourbon barrel-aged Baltic porter is like a buried treasure. Stowed away in a Bourbon barrel for six months, this beer now brings to the surface a frothy tan head and rich aroma combining malt notes of chocolate, caramel and dark fruit with the essence of vanilla, smoke and oak. Half of the inventory was aged on organic hand picked sour cherries from Hood River; the other half was aged on Bourbon organic vanilla bean. Made big and bold with a smooth lager finish, Kronan the Bourbarian is as rich and strong as an Austrian actor, but with more complexity.
Kells Brew Pub
Fruit Cake Ale
Imperial Brown Ale
Finally two Irish favorites in one: a pint and a cake! Irish fruit cake is one of the holiday staples of the country, with nuts and dried fruit mixed into the cake to give every bite a variety of flavors. This ale is brewed with the same idea in mind: a wide range of hops were used, some adding fruity notes and others acting as spices. The malt helps add the nutty quality and sweetness in this scrumptious brown ale. This is one fruit cake that won’t get tossed!
Lagunitas Brewing Co
High West Whiskey Barrel Aged Cappuccino Stout
Brewed with boatloads of roasted coffee in each batch for that extra Krunk, this mondo coffee stout will leave you wondering whether you're coming or going. Then the brewers decided to age it in some High West Whiskey barrels, just in case the coffee didn’t wake you up.
Laht Neppur Brewing Co
St. Dorothy's Peach Cordial Ale
St. Dorothy of Caesarea is a patron saint to both brewers and fruit orchards, making her a fitting tribute to this strong amber ale. In addition to real peaches and concentrated peach juice, a generous amount of honey, cinnamon and nutmeg have been added to spice up the holiday season. Noble Tettnanger hops add an underlying mild spiciness to round out the balance between malt, fruit and alcohol.
Lompoc Brewing Co
Revelry Red Ale
This custom blend takes Lompoc’s Big Bang Red aged in Big Bottom Whiskey barrels with 80 pounds of sour cherries for nine months, and blends it with Big Bang Red aged in Maryhill Winery Port barrels for 11 months. The resulting beer is crimson in color, malty in body with notes of cherry and oak, and finishes slightly tart.
A Munich classic made local at Mazama, this doppelbock features big, sweet toasted malt flavors upfront, with warming alcoholic cheer and a roasty, toasty finish with just a hint of Noble hops. This strong lager is just the thing for toasting the good health of your warmest friends on the coldest nights.
McMenamins John Barleycorn
Mele Kalikimaka Coconut Stout
Christmas in the Northwest might not be exactly green & bright. We may not see the sun all day or the stars at night, but we can still enjoy a little island life. Flaked coconut was added to mingle with lightly roasted chocolate malts. This stout was then aged in whiskey barrels that once held McMenamins Hogshead Whiskey. The result is a smooth, sweet stout with hints of oak and vanilla flavors that mix perfectly with the coconut. Enjoy a pint and imagine palm trees swaying in the breeze instead of the standard issue Doug Fir. Mahalo!
Belgian Dark Strong Ale
This mahogany colored strong ale features a deep, layered body of chocolate, honey and caramel malts coupled with choice Northwest hops. Big Sipper is fermented with relatively neutral Belgian yeast that creates a restrained ester and phenolic profile, allowing the malt and hops to shine bright like the big dipper in the winter night.
Imperial Milk Stout
This roasty black ale was brewed with unfermented lactose to give the flavor profile a rich creaminess. It was then aged on Kahlua soaked Oregon oak; Kahlua is a liquor made with Arabica coffee beans that impacts the roasted malt and coffee flavors with a mild sweetness that blends well with the silkiness imparted by the lactose.
New Belgium Brewing Co
Barrel Aged Cascara Quad
Barrel Aged Quad
This is a dark, strong and surprisingly delicate ale made with dates and coffee cherries. Channeling the Trappist tradition, it’s brewed with an ethereal malt bill and spiced with the fruit of the coffee bean (cascara). The aroma brings dates, cherries and pipe tobacco right to the nose and builds layers with hints of spice and fruity Belgian yeast. Once on the palate, Cascara Quad starts swinging clove, fig and molasses. Each sip offers sweet warmth, deep complexity and fleeting dryness.
Ninkasi Brewing Co
Belgian-Style Single Ale
Think Session Tripel: This beer features all of the flavor, finesse, smoothness and subtle clove esters of a Belgian style tripel, at a drinkable lower alcohol level.
Oakshire Brewing Co
Swiss Mrs. Alpine Alt
Milk Chocolate Sticke Alt
Swiss Mrs. is a Sticke Alt, a darker and strong variation of a traditional German Altbier. This version was mashed with toasted marshmallows – of course – and has a small addition of lactose and cocoa nibs in the kettle and bright tank for a full flavored and indulgent finish.
Old Town Brewing Co
Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum
Rum Barrel Aged Old Ale
This old ale is fit for a king, so in his honor, the poor boys at Old Town lay before you the finest gifts of dark caramel, toffee, and raisin malt flavors. Dark rum and oak notes from the barrel aging keep time and drum up the layered character of this ale. If you’re a poor boy too, sing along: Come, they told me, Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum.
Roast malts, crystal malts and a copious amount of wheat were used to make this dark wheat beer fermented with Andechs Weizen yeast. Malt aromas blend nicely with banana and clove aromas and flavors.
PINTS Urban Brewing Co
Brewed especially for the Holiday Ale Festival, this Weizendoppelbock won’t leave you rolled up in a ball with a big smile on your face until spring arrives. Then again, maybe it will… Brewed with all German malts, hops and yeast, the wheat malt provides the basis for the beer (and great head retention), while Pilsner, Munich and dark caramel malts make up the rest of the rich, malty and sweet profile. German Magnum hops contribute to the sense of spiciness alongside the phenolic clove note from the authentic Bavarian Hefeweizen strain, which also imparts the classic banana fruitiness to the brew.
Rock Bottom Brewery
You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out Kid
Just shut up, put on the bunny suit, and have another helles.
Rogue Ales & Spirits
Big Ass Rye Strong Ale
Big Ass Strong Rye is a big, American ale dedicated to Rogue's Dream rye, grown on its farm in Independence, OR. The generous amount of rye gives this beer a thick body. It was subtly spiced and then aged 60 days in a Rogue Big Ass white oak barrel to round out the Meridian and Rogue Liberty hops and Rogue roasted chocolate malt.
Seven Brides Brewing
Blonde in a Bottle
Belgian Golden Strong
Fermented with Belgian strong ale yeast, this beer pleases with mild Belgian notes and a golden straw hue. What lies beneath is the conditioning tank addition of fresh ginger. The spicy nature of this root will greet the palate as one taste slides into another. Ginger always wanted to be a blonde, and this winter, she went for it!
Slanted Rock Brewing Co
Panty Hose Porter
Imperial Baltic Vanilla Porter
While brewing one afternoon, the brewers realized there were no grain bags available…improvisation being the mother of invention, a fresh pair of panty hose were the savior to the flavor and gave the brew a signature touch. Panty Hose Porter features a distinctive aroma of caramelized sugars and chocolate-like characters of roasted malt and dark sugars. Using Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean in the process added a rich, dark and creamy flavor. A very low hop aroma with still a hint of floral sweet hop complements the flavors without overpowering the chocolate goodness.
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers
Chocolate Milk Stout
This black as night chocolate milk stout was brewed and dry-hopped with TCHO cocoa nibs.
Stickmen Brewery & Skewery
The Twerking Elf
Northwest Sour Brown
Experimental and debuting at the Holiday Ale Festival, this beer will get your cheeks moving with nicely puckering notes of dark cherry, dried fruit and sour plum, along with malt backing from Vienna, Pilsner and seven other specialty malts. Be careful where you shake it!
Stone Brewing Co
Spiced Unicorn Milk
Chai Milk Stout
This luscious, smooth and subtly sweet stout is flavored with chai spices that add amazing flavors and complexity. Originally brewed on Stone's 20-gallon pilot system, the brewers liked it so much, they spent a day at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens Liberty Station, brewing it specifically for the Holiday Ale Fest. It is brewed with seven different grains and Columbus and Chinook hops. Lactose is added to add extra body and sweetness, while a blend of six spices, including cinnamon and cardamom, and black tea were added to provide the chai flavor.
Barrel Aged Polar Blast
Barrel Aged Vanilla Porter
This is a bigger, bolder version of Vertigo’s Arctic Blast Vanilla Porter, blended with dark chocolate liqueur and aged in seven-year-old Big Bottom Whiskey straight Bourbon white oak barrels. This beer brings a strong chocolate and caramel malt presence that is balanced with mild charred oak and Bourbon notes with a hint of vanilla from both the Madagascar beans and the white oak barrels.
Viking Braggot Co
Winter Squash Porter
Winter Squash Porter is truly a winter braggot. The combination of a strong malt profile and turnip honey provides the backbone to highlight the winter squash flavor. This unique taste is achieved by the brewers hand carving and roasting 150 pounds of winter squash to be added to the mash. Chinook, Cascade and Willamette hops, as well as herbal and spice additions, provide a unique taste and aroma.
West Highland Brewing
Highland Spiced Ale
Spiced with cinnamon, ginger, vanilla and maple, this ale nicely complements any holiday dessert. Using harvest apples to round out the flavor, the brewers crafted this 8% ABV ale to warm your soul as you gather with friends and family through the winter holiday season.
Widmer Brothers Brewing
Biere de Noel
Biere de Garde
Biere de Noel is Widmer Brothers' take on the Biere de Garde style, brewed with caramelized raisins and brown sugar to celebrate the holidays. This unique winter warmer offers a caramel and toasted malt backbone with notes of port, dried fruit and a slightly sweet finish making for a great holiday brew.