Holiday Ale Fest 2009

Ah, Holiday Ale Fest, how we love thee… I suppose it’s fitting that I’m the BS blogger who ended up writing this review, since I’m probably the one with the strongest predilection towards big, and often dark, beers. As a lover of stouts, porters, barleywines, and the venerable “winter warmers,” I look forward to freezing my ass and warming my belly in Portland’s living room every December.

Before I get to the beers though, a warning: most of these beers are strong. Some of them are very strong. Please make responsible transportation arrangements (it shouldn’t be hard, given the fest’s location at the confluence of all four MAX lines) and go easy. Also, drink at least a pint of water when you get home. My head is none to happy with me this morning, but these are the things I do for you, our loyal readers. On to the beers…

[Sorry, forgot my camera. Imagine a slightly blurry picture of a bunch of people standing around in a huge white tent, drinking beer from small plastic mugs.]

Jim ’07 – Hair of the Dog For those who don’t know, Jim is an annual collaboration between HotD brewer Alan Sprints and Ale Fest organizer/host Preston Weesner. It is a blend of several HotD beers (Adam, Fred, Doggie Claws, and Blue Dot) as well as a few others. The ’07 variety featured Adam (an “old ale”) prominently but you can also easily taste the sweet spiciness of the Doggie Claws and the floral hoppiness of the Blue Dot, all perfectly balanced. This is my favorite of the Jims, and one of my favorite beers ever. If you’ve never had this beer, you really must try it. What? It’s all gone? ALL of it? In the whole world?!?! Oh, well, nevermind then.

[picture of dark beer in a small plastic mug]

Jim ’09 – HotD Sorry about the ’07 tease. On the upside, there should be plenty of Jim ’09. While Adam was in the forefront in ’07, ’09 is all about the Blue Dot and Doggie Claws. Well, not ALL about those two. Much as those added key flavors to Jim 07, now Adam and Fred provide the hints of chocolate, toffee and other notes that make this year’s Jim equally well-rounded, if totally different. Getting to see what treat Alan and Preston have concocted each year has come to be a highlight of the Holiday Ale Fest.

Barrel-aged Baba Yaga – Bear Republic Don’t let the 110 IBUs fool you, this is actually not an especially bitter or hoppy beer. The sweetness and alcohol combine to balance out the bitterness and you’re left with a smooth, sweet, smoky, maltiness that lingers nicely in your mouth.

Wassail Holiday Blend – Full Sail Usually Wassail is not one of my favorites of the local winter ales, but here they’ve combined it 65/35 with some of their bourbon barrel aged porter. To taste it, you’d think that ratio is reversed. The malt and bourbon flavors of porter actually end up coming through strongest, and the hoppy notes of the Wassail end up as pleasant accents. It does end up a bit thinner than many of the beers here, but that can actually be a bit refreshing, given how full-bodied and heavy things can get.

North III – Fort George I’m normally not a big tripel drinker either, but this was a very different tripel. They’ve added a ton of maple syrup and sugar plums to give the beer a great sweet maply flavor. It’s possible that if you ARE a big tripel fan, you’ll find this a horrible bastardization, but I loved the way the fruit and spiciness balance out the hops. This was one of my favorite beers.

[picture of slightly less dark beer in a small plastic mug]

Sang Noir – Cascade If you like sour beers, you’re going to love Sang Noir. If you don’t, stay far away because this is one of the sourest sours I’ve had. It’s also fairly dark and has some nice oaky notes from the barrel-aging. It reminded me in some ways of Russian River’s Consecration (those who know me will know that this comparison is one of the highest compliments I can pay a beer), though most of the flavors are a little more in-your-face. Another really great beer.

Spiced Baltic Porter – Eel River The name really says most of what you need to know about this beer. It’s really just what you’d expect, a rich, full-bodied porter (though definitely a bit less coffee-tasting than many) with some hefty flavors of cinnamon and vanilla. Not too much though. This was also one of the better beers I tried.

Oaked St. Nick – Block 15 I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t actually familiar with Block 15 before several folks recommended this beer (there, I gave them a little linky to make up for the oversight). Anyway, apparently they’re doing some really nice things down there in Corvallis because this is a really solid beer. It has a great dried-fruit flavor with plenty of spiciness, and also just a touch of floral hoppiness. A really nicely balanced beer.

If it sounds like I was really impressed with the vast majority of beers I tried, that’s no accident. There were way more triples and home runs this year than I remember in the past (a baseball metaphor for Dave). Not to say I didn’t find a couple strikeouts. I didn’t care for the chocolate huckleberry stout from Laughing Dog. Some of you are probably shaking your head, wondering why I even thought that would be a good idea. Well, I do believe it could be done, and be good, but this wasn’t it. There was just a bit too much bitter coffee-ness that didn’t mesh with the berry sweetness. Or, at least it didn’t work for me. YMMV. I also wasn’t a big fan of the Son of Santa from Southern Oregon. It had some nice spiciness, but overall I found it a bit thin and not especially well-balanced.

I’ll also throw in a word or two about two beers that were only available yesterday, but unlike the incomparable Jim ’07 (yes, I’m still an asshole) you might be able to find them elsewhere. Braggot from New Old Lompoc is, well, a braggot, which is to say it’s beer mead. Or mead beer. Or something like that. Anyway, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from such a strange beast, though I guess I should’ve known. It tasted like mead mixed with beer. Duh. It also worked a lot better than I expected. Give it a try if you happen to see it around, just for the uniqueness if nothing else. Also, I got to try some Scaldis Noel ’07 which had aged REALLY nicely; a very complex mix of fruity flavors, spiciness, malts and floral notes. It really made me wish there were a few more beers that had been given a few years to mellow and mature.

Well, that brings us to the end of my Holiday Ale Fest wrap-up. One last note for those who made it all the way to the end, do try and warm the beers up a bit with your hands before you drink them. Preston says he turned the coolers up to 44 degrees (from the OBF standard 34), but it’s still damn chilly out, particularly at night, so hold that beer close and warm it a bit to get it to ideal sipping temperature for beers like these (which, contrary to what the American macro-beer industry tells you, is not actually a tenth of a degree above freezing).

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not promote the wonderful little book that allowed me to take notes on these beers to share with all of you. Yes, I tried out the 33 Beers beer sketchbook, and I must say it pretty much rocked. I took much better notes than I ever have at previous beerfests. So, go order some online at or pick them up wherever fine beer is sold (well, at least a few places in Portland where fine beer is sold, specifically Saraveza, Bailey’s Taproom, and Belmont Station).

Nate’s Favorite Places in Portland to Have a Pint

1: The Horse Brass. If you can handle the smoke and the rest of the authentic British pub atmosphere, this is by far the best place in town to get a pint (make that a 20oz imperial pint). Many years after helping kick-start a nascent micro-brewing revolution, this is still the place to go for the best selection of local brews, imports, and tasty traditional pub fare. Four steel-tip dart boards and video crack can help you pass the time.

2: The Green Dragon. New kid on the block Green Dragon has only been open for a few months, but has already carved out a nice niche for itself. Arguments in favor include: no smoking, a selection of unusual beers that you won’t find elsewhere (don’t come here if you’re attached to your old standbys—unless you spend an inordinate amount of time following beer, you’re virtually guaranteed to see mostly unfamiliar options), and a unique menu that veers far from traditional also hits the mark (I highly recommend the Tuscan chicken bread salad, though once the chicken was a bit overcooked). Pinball is the featured entertainment here.

3 (tie): The New Old Lompoc and The Hedge House. These two places really aren’t all that alike, but the things to love about them are. Both have large covered and heated patios. The beer selection includes many great Lompoc brews as well as a few guest taps. The menus are different, but both feature well-executed slightly upscale pub food. There’s no smoking indoors at the Hedge House, but it’s allowed on the patio.

4: The Moon and Six Pence. Here’s another bar that tries for the Anglophile crowd. It doesn’t hit on every note, but that’s not really a big deal to most of us. They do the British pub food well, and while their tap selection isn’t nearly as comprehensive as the Horse Brass’s or as unique as Green Dragon’s you’re likely to have several good options on any given night. Three steel-tip dart boards are hung for your pointy-object-throwing pleasure.

5: Produce Row. Taps here skew strongly to the local end of things. They also have a lovely outdoor seating area. Frequent live music is great if it’s an act you’re into and annoying if it’s not. Food is also solid, especially anything that comes with the delicious beer-battered fries which will harden your arteries in seconds but are worth the pain. One pool table beckons from the back room.

There are a few other places that are worth a brief mention, despite the fact you can’t even get a draught pint in two of them.

π-rem. π-rem is a great little underground gallery, lounge, and performance space. It has an excellent list of imported bottled beer and wine. There’s no food available, so eat before you show up. Also check the calendar for interesting avant garde electronic music acts.

The Blue Monk. Blue Monk has a respectable selection of taps but the real standout is an impressively extensive list of bottled beer. The food has been good whenever I’ve visited, but I’ve heard tales that it can be inconsistent.

The Pied Cow. Yes, a coffee shop makes this list for two reasons. First, in the summer and fall, the Pied Cow has one of the best outdoor seating areas in town. The side lawn has numerous benches and tables nestled amongst the trees and shrubs with lighting provided by tiki torches and hanging strings of Christmas lights. Second, they have a surprisingly sizable list of bottled beer, many of which are hard to find elsewhere. Food consists of well-made coffee-shop fare like sandwiches, cheese plates, and various desserts.

Belmont Station. It may not even be on Belmont any more (it’s now a few blocks north on Stark), but this is still by far the best place to by bottled beer in town, and the new(ish) location has a small cafe where you can enjoy one of a few taps, or pick a bottle out or the cooler and enjoy it on the spot. I haven’t sampled the food, so I can’t speak to its quality.

Note: There are several deserving places in town which failed to make this list simply because they are not convenient for your humble author. You’ll notice that the vast majority of this list is located in SouthEast, which is unsurprising considering that’s where I live. So, no disrespect intended to Amnesia, Concordia, and all the other great places in other parts of town.

[x-posted at]

Late night snackin’

You know the drill. It’s late, you’ve been drinking, and you’re hungry. Even if you had sober transportation you really don’t want to make a “run for the border,” what with the accompanying “run for the toilet,” to follow. You could order pizza, but who wants to wait an hour? Oh, and speaking of pizza, who ate the last Totino’s, dammit?!?!

Inspired partially by a recent late night visit to Maiden in the Mist where Dave ordered a trio of delicious sliders, and partially by the utterly disgusting frozen White Castle mini-burgers you can find at the local supermarket, I decided to make my own frozen buffalo sliders.

Step One: Make a bunch of little buns.

Slider 1

Step Two: Grill up a bunch of little buffalo patties.

Slider 2

Step Three: Saute onions.

Slider 3

Step Four: Slice cheese (I used Tillamook’s Smoked Black Pepper White Cheddar Cheese)

Slider 4

Step Five: Assemble cooled ingredients.

Slider 5

Step Six: Individually wrap (or in pairs), bag, and freeze.

Slider 6

Step Seven: Go out, drink too much, take a cab home, reheat a couple sliders, and enjoy with one last beer before passing out.

Update: Be sure to make your patties very thin, or they will not thaw and heat to edible temperature before the bun becomes obscenely hot and chewy when microwaved.

The Confluence of Politics and Beer

Sam Adams sucks.

If you’re a serious beer-drinker not from Portland, this statement may seem about as obvious as “the Pope is Catholic,” or “bacon is delicious.” There are surely a few die-hard believers out there who think some of Boston Beer Company Inc‘s lesser known beers are worthy, but until one of them hooks me up with a bottle of Millenium or Utopias to try for myself, I will remain skeptical. However, if you reside in Portland, that statement is likely to get you into a heated political debate. This is because most Portlanders are much more likely to know of Sam Adams the city commissioner and mayoral candidate than they are to actually consume Sam Adams beer. And Portlanders are generally just as opinionated about their politics as they are about their beer.

So, you’re running for Mayor of Portland and happen to have the same name as a Founding Father of the United States, statesman, and brewer, Samuel Adams. Normally, this would not be an issue, except the statesman’s name has already been appropriated by a huge, publicly traded corporation. In this case, you get a letter from said corporation that states that Boston Beer Company owns the trademarks to Sam Adams and Samuel Adams (your name), and demands that you turn over the web addresses and Sam Adams (the still-living one) responded, “They say they’ve been using this trademark since 1984. I’ve been using it since 1963.”

As noted in the Oregonian, Boston Beer Company Inc has made a magnanimous offer:

Bornemann said she’s willing to discuss Adams’ use of the Web sites “probably for the length of the time the election is being held.”

Oh, how generous. You mean they’ll let him use his own name?!?! There’s a boycott being organized, but since hopefully no one around here drinks that piss to begin with, I doubt it will accomplish much (not that modern boycotts really do). However, on the off chance it ever occurred to you to consume a bottle (or pint) of this swill, please don’t; not only because protection of “intellectual property” has gotten wildly out of control (though clearly it has), but rather because no one should do that to their taste buds.

Oh, and my opening referred to Sam Adams the beer, not Sam Adams the man (either current or historical). I actually rather like Sam.

Nate Currie
BS Brewing Political Correspondent

(h/t BlueOregon)