2015 Holiday Ale Festival Review & Recommendations


It’s that time of year everyone looks forward to, decorating the christmas tree with lights and ornaments, eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate by the fire, trying big boozy winter warmers for the first time at the Holiday Ale Festival. Except this year Old St. Nick has raised the rent on our asses and wants a bigger cut. This has sent entrance package prices soaring to a record $35. They even eliminated any press passes or previews leaving a number of other local writers boycotting the fest. However  because I love you, I ponied up the big bucks to be there on opening day at 11am and as I write this am ruminating on the first days delights and missteps.

Not much has changed this year as far as the layout and lines. Your still greeted by the smell of roasting cinnamon and honey nuts with vintage beers tapped on the mid upper mezzanine. The fest pin-up girl on the brochures is more tacky than ever. Everything is still one ticket a pour except for those vintage beers which included a great five years of Deschutes Abyss and some other stuff that may be a bit past it’s prime. They did upgrade the sterile frosted plastic mug to an equally sterile but now pleasingly crystal clear plastic cup. The other good news is that the crowd did seem to be more subdued and take longer to get full, but maybe that was just my imagination. You still have until this Sunday December 6th to make it downtown to Pioneer Courthouse Square for the Holiday Ale Festival


Naturally I couldn’t try all the beers in the 6 or so hours I was at the festival but I probably made it through 2/3 of them and these were the highlights.

Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider: Winter Abbey Spice (plum version)

The website says this is the regular seasonal Winter Abbey Spice cider from Portland’s Reverend Nat’s Hard Cidery but I know it was a special fruited version pouring at the fest. This is far and away the best winter spiced cider I have had and it’s served hot a’la a hot mulled apple cider or Cascades Glueh Kriek. I think serving the cider hot makes all the spices much more palatable than they are in a cold cider but that’s just conjecture on my part. Refreshingly hot is what I called it, and a great change of pace from the rest of the offerings.

Rogue Ales: Rye Whiskey Barrel-Aged Double Chocolate Stout

Bittersweet chocolate syrup, sweet and full bodied but not cloying. A touch of rye spice and bourbon and wood on the finish adds a lot of complexity but the chocolate and the malts are forward. Delicious Imperial Stout dessert-y sipper.

Feckin Irish Brewing: Top O’ The Feckin Morning

This Oregon City brewery has really dialed in this coffee beer which they have rolled out for multiple festivals. This is a bourbon barrel-aged version rather than the regular coffee porter with vanilla beans. The Boubon barrels from Eastside Distilling I assume are white dog, meaning I don’t think they add much bourbon spice or oak but a bit more booziness. It doesn’t matter, its perfectly balanced smooth nutty coffee, its absent of the acidicness or metallic quality that sometimes comes from adding coffee and it’s not too toasty or bitter either. Perhaps its the vanilla bean that helps smooth it out but I bet it’s just as much a credit to the choice of coffee used. Simply one of the best coffee beers ever.

Burnside Brewing Co. crew

Burnside Brewing Co. crew

Eel River: Gargantua III

Eel River beers at the HAF are getting to be just about as sure of a good bet as there is. For three years running they have had one of the best decadent beers, just what most HAF fest goers are looking for. This one is a 12.3% Abv Strong ale aged in bourbon barrels with Madagascar vanilla beans and figs. It’s as rich and dessert-y as you might imagine.

Bear Republic: Cuvee du Santa

A big turnaround for the Healdsburg, California brewery, last year they had the absolute worst offering and this year one of the best. Cuvee du Santa is basically a well aged malty, balsamic and winey Flanders Red/Brown style ale. Lots of oak and some oxidation hints to this beers age. It took me a couple sips to warm up to it, and that’s literally what it needs, to warm up a bit and then it becomes a pleasant tart sipper.

2 Towns Cider: Nice & Naughty: Bourbon and Candied Ginger Edition

I am a fan of the underrated Corvallis cider and their Nice & Naughty is liable to really creep up on you, it’s nice light and tart for being 11% abv and this candied ginger edition aged in bourbon barrels just seemed to accentuate the tart juiciness and hide the booze even better.

Nectar Creek: Triple Brett

Not sure if I have ever had a wild fermented and sour Mead before but Nectar Creek has done it. Not a beer but fermented alcoholic honey, otherwise known as Mead, this is a mix of three brett fermented meads that are tart/lightly sour floral and fruity. You almost wouldn’t think it was Mead at all but for the creamy whiff of it in the nose.

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com


  • Steve Armbrust
    Steve Armbrust
    Fri Dec 4, 2015 12:24 AM

    Gargantu;a III is awesome. It was the best of everything we sampled. Had three pours of it.

    • SnobRitch
      Sat Dec 5, 2015 4:37 PM

      It must have been too expensive for Santa too, as he was a no show.