Holiday Ale Fest '11: Three Tasting Flights

The 16th Annual Holiday Ale Festival opens in just two days! If you've perused the beer list, you've seen that lineup is unique. Most beers are one-offs created especially for the HAF. This incredible selection presents a problem (a high quality problem, though). Which of the many beers should you taste? Given the huge selection and the fairly high ABV% per serving, you'll need to make some decisions.

Some folks like to sample a wide variety of styles, while others like to sample beers within a given style. I usually preview the beer list, seek out a few favorite styles and then move on to new styles and unusual concoctions. There's no right answer. Taste whatever you like! However, to optimize your experience, I humbly offer three suggestions:

  1. Hold the wickedly hopped (high IBU) beers for the end of your tasting session. An Imperial IPA can wreak utter havoc on your palate.
  2. Save the highest ABV% brews for last. A few poorly timed barleywine samples will affect your taste buds and/or other faculties.  
  3. Water is a good thing. Drink plenty of it! I try to drink at least 4 ounces after every sample. Staying hydrated = more sampling. Food's also good—eat some.

If you'd still like tasting suggestions, I've compiled three tasting flights for your sampling pleasure. There's no science behind my selection method. These are simply the beers I'd like to taste. I noticed that 12 (29%) of this year's regular lineup beers are barrel-aged, so I gaven them their own flight. If you've never tasted a barrel-aged beer, don't miss this opportunity to sample a few!

OK, here's the rundown:

Flight #1:  Holiday Beer Explorer.  You want a sampling of different beer varieties. Nothing too crazy.

Why should you taste it
Sang Noir
Cascade Brewing
Barrel Aged Sour Ale
You need to try a sour, so start with one of the best.
Fruit Cake
Buckman Botanical Brewery
Herb/Spice Beer
Fruit cake in a beer!?!  Say no more.
Left, Nut Brown Ale
Vertigo Brewing
American Brown Ale
A malty, nutty beer made with six pounds of honey per barrel.
The Nutcracker
Oakshire Brewing
Gingerbread Imperial Porter
You've got to try a spiced beer.   Gingerbread!
Red Nose Rye
McMenamins High Street Brewery & Café
Imperial Rye Ale
Brewers seem to be using rye more often. It provides a nice spicy and tangy flavor
Papa Noel's Moonlight Reserve
Alameda Brewing Co
Olde Ale
Brewed in the English Olde Ale style.
Little Brother
The Commons Brewery
Belgian Dark Strong Ale
This is your obligatory Belgian and it's bourbon barrel aged. 
Rock Bottom Brewery
Traditional Mild Barley Wine
I've never heard of a "mild" Barley Wine.  Live and learn.
Stone Ruination IPA DDH w/ Apollo Hops and American Oak Chips Added
Stone Brewing Co
Imperial IPA
Prepare to destroy your taste buds with hops.  Normally this would be last. But the next beer has mint…
Peppermint Paddy Porter
Widmer Brothers Brewing Co
Chocolate and Peppermint Porter
One of two chocolate-mint beers at the fest.  At this point, does it really matter?

Flight #2:  Craft Beer Geek.  You only drink the unusual one-off stuff. This festival is made for you!

Why should you taste it
Cranberry Biere de Table
Breakside Brewery
Belgian-Style session beer w/Oregon cranberries
Start with the lowest ABV at the fest. Farmhouse Ale with Cranberries. Ben Edmunds won't steer you wrong.
Cherry Christmas
Lompoc Brewing Co
Sour Cherry Ale
Port & Merlot. Blend of four beers (w/ wild yeasts). More tart than sour. I tasted a pre-carbonated version of it.
The Little One
Ninkasi Brewing Co
Traditional Small Beer- Second Runnings
Made from the second runnings from Critical Hit.  Ninkasi created two beers from one!
Upright Brewing
Biere de Garde
Aged in Oak and the only Brett beer at the festival.
Bonaparte's Retreat
Laurelwood Brewing Co
Corsican Christmas ale
Made with chestnuts.  No open fires allowed at Pioneer Courthouse Square!
Kentucky Girl Stout
Fort George Brewery & Public House
Bourbon Barrel Aged Coffee Stout
Stout with coffee and bourbon.
Drunken Elf Stout
Columbia River Brewing Co
Imperial Oatmeal Stout
Another coffee stout, this one with oatmeal.
Old Saint Chongo
Bear Republic Brewing Co
Winter Chocolate Wheat Ale
Chocolate banana! No bananas were harmed during the making of this beer. The yeast provides the flavor.
Natian Brewery
Specialty/Strong Ale
Made with the kitchen-sink of holiday flavors.
Super Jubel
Deschutes Brewery
Winter Ale
An amped up version of Jubelale.
Chocolate Mint Stout '11
Gilgamesh Brewing
American Stout
The other chocolate mint beer at the festival.  You can figure out why it's last.

Flight #3:  Barrel Madness.  All of these have slumbered in a wooden barrel for some time. Hope you like Bourbon…
Barrel Type & Random Stuff
Cherry Christmas
Lompoc Brewing Co
Sour Cherry Ale
Port & Merlot. Blend of four beers (w/ wild yeasts). More tart than sour. I tasted a pre-carbonated version of it.
Upright Brewing
Biere de Garde
Oak. Blend of two beers  aged for a year with Brettanomyces.
Sang Noir
Cascade Brewing
Barrel Aged Sour Ale
Pinot Noir & Bourbon. DO NOT miss a chance to taste this for a buck or two.
Barry White’s Voice in a Barrel
Bison Brewing Co
Dry Foreign-Style Stout
Barrel Aged Ink Blot Baltic Porter
MacTarnahan's Brewing Co
Barrel Aged Baltic Porter
Whiskey (Jack Daniels).  The only Baltic Porter at the festival.
Little Brother
The Commons Brewery
Belgian Dark Strong Ale
Bourbon (Heaven Hill).
Laughing Boy Stout
Laht Neppur Brewing Co
Russian Imperial Stout
100% Bourbon Barrel Aged Velvet Merkin
Firestone Walker Brewing Co
Oatmeal Stout
Bourbon (Heaven Hill).  Firestone Walker = must try.
Kentucky Girl Stout
Fort George Brewery & Public House
Bourbon Barrel Aged Coffee Stout
Bourbon (Makers Mark). Infused with coffee.
Old Knucklehead Barley Wine
BridgePort Brewing Co
Barley Wine Style Ale
Barrel Aged Permafrost
Burnside Brewing Co
Winter Strong Ale
Whiskey (Big Bottom).
Kentucky Christmas
Hopworks Urban Brewery
Strong Ale
Bourbon (Buffalo Trace).  The barrel aged version of Abominale. Very popular and rightfully so.

You can download a free PDF copy of the three tasting flights (including ABV and IBU details) and take it with you to the festival. There's even space for your tasting notes! 

Have a great time at the festival! What are you most looking forwards to tasting? Do you have any beer festival suggestions?

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  1. With regard to the Drunken Elf stout as "Another coffee stout, this one with oatmeal." You forgot it's Kona coffee and Belgian Chocolate.

  2. And for the life of me I'm not sure why I'm coming up as unknown. I only comment because I've been lucky enough to taste a a few times during fermentation an know about the chocolate. Can't wait to try most of these. It's going to take a toll.


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