It was a festive crowd at Wednesday's opening day of the 2014 Holiday Ale Festival. As usual, there were a lot of beer geeks in attendance, sucking up the beers and yakking about the good, the bad and the ugly. Just another day in beer paradise, you know.
I actually managed to sample 20 or so beers during the six or so hours I was there, including most from my own hit list. I was fortunate to hang out with folks who were tasting different beers, which allowed me to taste more beers than would have been possible on my own. For those coming down in ensuing days, that's a great approach. These are big beers, mostly.
Before I get to my beer picks, I want to briefly mention a couple of issues.
First, there are quite a few double and triple ticket beers at this event. And the signage doesn't always clearly identify them. Organizers dropped the ball on this. Hopefully, it will be fixed by the weekend, when things get crazy.
Second, why does this festival continue to use the pin-up girl motif for branding and promotion? I really don't get it and I'm not alone. I didn't hear much discussion of this during my visit, but several beer people I know said they found it offensive and wouldn't attend the event. When will this festival move on? Inquiring minds wonder.
Of the beers on my hit list from the other day, there were a couple of "must try" favorites and a few duds. This is always the case at the HAF, I suspect because many of these beers were made specifically for this event. One-off beers are hit and miss. You knew that.
The pick of the litter from my list was 13 Virtues Barrel-Aged Max Stout, which features a well-balanced combination of barrel notes and malty complexity. This beer comes in at 10.5 percent, but is smooth as glass. It was pouring in the Skybar. Don't miss it.
Some people were surprised by McMenamin's entry, Lord of Misrule, a rum barrel-aged stout. The surprise is getting old. The fact is, these guys have bumped up their game. It's the consequence of being based in Oregon, where there are so many great beers. McMenamin's brewers have always had latitude to create interesting beers. Today, they have more freedom when it comes to spending what it takes to create those beers. Lord of Misrule features a nice blend of cocoa, coffee and a very mellow presence of habanero peppers in the finish. Great stuff.
Hopworks seems to always have a decent entry here. Kronan the Barbarian was popular last year. This year's beer, The Incredible Abominable of the Enchanted Barrel Forest, is a revved-up version of their winter seasonal, Abominable Winter Ale. The Incredible packs serious barrel character, which is more or less balanced on a malty background with a vaguely hoppy finish. Very nice, indeed.
When you reach the point where you must cleanse your pallet due to (perhaps) too many barrel-aged beverages, look no further than Firestone Walker's Luponic Distortion. Hopheads will be pleased with the citrus notes courtesy of Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Amarillo, Chinook and Simcoe hops.
If you want to see what others are thinking, Jeff Alworth is usually reliable. So are Sanjay and Kris. And there's always The New School. You can also follow posts listed at the upper left column here.
One thing to keep in mind as you go about your tasting at this event is that most of these beers are too cold when they hit your mug. Let them warm up a bit. That's what allows big beers to reveal their true character. This isn't the Oregon Brewers Festival. The beer in your mug will need a few minutes to warm up.
If you get bored with the beer or don't have anyone to hang out with, stop by Brian Yaeger's table (near the Small Bar) and buy a copy of his new book, Oregon Breweries. He'll even autograph it! Brian was there selling books and chatting with beer fans on Wednesday and will be back today and Sunday. He may join Jon Abernathy, who will be there Friday afternoon selling and signing his new book on Central Oregon beer. Even if you don't want a book, stop and say hello.