Holiday Ale Festival…big #beer takes the stage in Portland, OR

When my wife and I moved out to Portland, OR, we were fortunate enough to live there in the fall and winter.  I’ll give that statement a moment to sink in a bit, because the PacNW is not the kind of place most people look to winter in.  However, being there in the winter allowed us a lot of fun experiences, one of which was the Holiday Ale Festival.  For those who live in the PDX, a beer festival could occur on any weekend, and really not seem like that big of a deal.  Portland has enough breweries, pubs, etc that you could fall down anywhere in the city and land yourself in a beer joint.  However, from the short time we were living there, we definitely got the vibe that the Holiday Ale Festival was a distinct favorite of most of the “Beer Folks” in the area.  Since the HAF is taking place this weekend, I thought it fitting to reminisce in the memories of one of our favorite events in the world of craft beer.

We experienced the HAF in 2009.  The festival has multiple nights, and tickets are sold to each session.  On a cold December night, we ventured into downtown Portland, and made our way to a blockade of tents in that were brightly lit and surprisingly crowded.  We would find out shortly why there were so many flocking to this locale.  The tents were heated, and the space within would prove to test your agility skills, especially after a few of the heavyweight Barleywines and Stouts.  As people are following their maps of beers/brewers, snaking their way through the crowd to find the bathrooms, or making their way outside for fresh air, it gets a little tricky moving about.  At times, it feels like you are navigating a hero through a first-person shooter game, attempting to balance both remaining upright yourself, while not spilling any of the delicious brew you just waited 15 minutes in line for.  A true event.

The samples are served up in the festive mugs you are given when you arrive.  With your admission, you also get a pack of tickets.  Tasters are poured per ticket, with the special releases and bigger beers warranting 2 tickets.  This provides incentive to pour through the map/beer list, plan your strategy, and prioritize your roaming.  Fortunately, my wife and I do enjoy most styles, so finding beers we wanted to try that were pouring close to one another turned out to be fairly easy.  We attempted to make the normally approved progression of styles, going from lighter Reds into the darker Stouts and Barleywines, but that quickly went out the window when we spotted ever-growing lines for certain beers.  At that point, it became time to re-prioritize the list, put the brews in order of which ones we thought of as “have to haves,” and start traversing the masses as soon as we scored the beer we were waiting for.  It sounds rushed, but it wasn’t really.  It worked out very well, because most of the beers were extremely strong, both in flavors and alcohol content, so as you stood in line for the next tasting, you had plenty of time to enjoy your current brew and do a bit of people watching.  The people there were amazingly friendly, both on the serving side of the table, and throughout the crowd.  What else could happen when you combine the holidays and beer in a place like Portland?  This is a festival that my wife and I have discussed attending again often.  Of course, it is much more difficult now that we are located in New England, but planning is occurring, nonetheless.  For those of you within the region, you would be remiss to not attend at one point or another.  Amazing time, with exposure to some amazing brewers, and the opportunity to try some of the specialty concoctions made for this time of year alone.  This festival should be on any beerlover’s “to-do” list.  My hopes are to bring to light some of the incredible events that people may not be aware of.  This was the first one that I wrote about, because this was definitely a favorite.  Again, if you are able to go, enjoy it!  Drink educated, my friends!


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