Holiday Ale Festival '11: A Few Days at the Fest

If you haven't yet visited Holiday Ale Festival, you still have time. It ends today, December 4, at 5pm. If you like beer, this is your chance to sample over 40 exclusive and one-of-kind beers, most made especially for HAF.  For an overview of the most common styles, check out Beervana's stats.

I attended on Friday and Saturday. As usual, the view of the Holiday Tree (or Christmas Tree, if you're less politically correct) from the main tent was stunning. Check out the short video clip below for a glimpse.

I previously posted the full beer list with detailed descriptions, as well as some recommended tasting flights.  Here's the rundown of the beers I tasted each day, in the order I tasted them. I won't provide full tasting notes (which tend not to exist by the end of a HAF session), but just some quick thoughts about each. As with mileage, opinions will vary.

  • Cranberry Biere de Table, Breakside Brewery:  Not enough cranberry flavor for me. I would have liked more. My wife enjoyed it though.
  • Sang Noir '11, Cascade Brewing:  I expected I would love this before I tasted it. I did. Loads of sour cherry with more oak than bourbon. Only a $1 taste. What a deal.
  • Provisions, Upright Brewing:  Quite a complex beer with a lot of going on. I love barrel-aged and brett beer, but I wasn't crazy about this one, and couldn't place my finger on why. I had plans to taste it again on Saturday, but the long lines in the evening got the best of me.
  • Barrel Aged Ink Blot Baltic Porter:  Smooth with just the right amount of whiskey flavor from the Jack Daniels barrels. Very nice!
  • The Little One, Ninkasi Brewing: Made from the 2nd runnings from Critical Hit Barleywine, the grassy hop flavor was a bit too much for me.
  • Bye Bye Frost, Elysian Brewing:  Nicely balanced, with a hoppy finish. The alcohol was well concealed in this 10.6% ABV monster.
  • Bonaparte's Retreat, Laurelwood Brewing:  Nice nutty aroma and a very easy drinker, despite the 8.2% ABV. I poured this at my volunteer shift Saturday afternoon and met Brewmaster Vasilios Gletsos. He told me this is an amped up version of Vinter Varmer with the addition of chestnuts in the mash. One of the people I served came back twice for more.
  • Nutcracker, Oakshire Brewing: The ginger and cinnamon gave this porter a unique twist, without being overdone. Deft touch by Brewmaster Matt Van Wyk.
  • Barry White's Voice in a Barrel, Bison Brewing:  This aptly named beer is smooth and silky! This beer was a hit based on its near non-stop serving line early Saturday afternoon. Shortly after tasting (and tweeting) about this beer, I bumped into Bison Brewmaster Daniel Del Grande. This is his brewery's first year at HAF. I hope it will be the first of many.
  • Bourbon Barrel Aged Velvet Merkin, Firestone Walker: There's been a lot of hype about this beer. Every bit of it is deserved! Another amazing beer from the folks in Paso Robles, CA.
  • Tartare, Bear Republic:  This Berliner Weisse was a special evening tapping. Nice and tart (more sour, really) it was a great palate cleanser and a wonderful end to my session.

  • Drunken Elf Stout, Columbia River Brewing:  Plenty of coffee aroma and flavor on top of  a velvetly smooth canvas. Very nice!
  • Little Brother, The Commons Brewery:  Dark amber in color with a spicy clove aroma and a mild malty sweetness. One of the few Belgians I tasted at the fest, it stood out for me--in a good way.
  • Laughing Boy Stout, Laht Neppur Brewing:  This chewy Imperial Stout had flavors of coffee, chocolate, and vanilla. 
  • Kentucky Christmas, Hopworks Urban Brewery:  Probably the best aroma of all the beers I tasted, it has an incredible nose of citrus and piney hops!
  • Cherry Christmas, Lompoc Brewing:  I tasted this at the brewery's Holiday Preview, loved it, and had to have another taste. I'm glad I did.
  • Left, Nut Brown Ale, Vertigo Brewing:  This beer had a great nutty aroma and flavor, but I don't think it had any nuts in it. I'll have to ask Mike Haines about that. Very smooth.
  • Old Saint Chongo, Bear Republic Brewing:  It promised chocolate banana and delivered--well done!
  • Sang Noir '11, Cascade Brewing:  By this point, I didn't want to stand in the lines any longer, so I used my last three tickets on one of my favorites.

So another excellent year for Holiday Ale Festival is (nearly) in the books. Thanks to the festival organizers, volunteers, and brewers for making this the beer geek's beer fest! Can't wait for next year. For more tasting notes, check out It's Pub Night and

On a final note, I didn't meet Noelle this year. Rumour is she over-indulged on 2005 Samiclaus on Wednesday and was unable to return. I did see Eve, though. She was still wearing the same not-so-sensible shoes... 

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The world would be a happier place if more people dressed like this.


  1. Hi Sanjay, the base malt, Golden Promise gives our Left, Nut Brown that nutty and earthy aroma/flavor that you get. I enjoyed your post and it was another amazing Holiday Ale Festival.

  2. Thanks for chiming in Mike. I'm amazed at the range of flavors that can be created by different combinations of malt. Will we see this again next winter? Congrats on another great beer! 

  3. Probably not. Like to send new beers to this fest. The organizers appreciate it and frankly it is fun to brew something new. Cheers!


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