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FEB/MAR 2005 | REGIONAL | PACIFIC NW

Holiday Ale Fest In Portland
By Tom Dalldorf

Portland, Oregon – Beervana, to some – is a great beer town. No further evidence is needed than the annual Holiday Ale Festival held in December outdoors (!) at the Pioneer Courthouse Square, smack-dab in the middle of the bustling downtown shopping district.

Thousands brave Portland's predictable cold and dampness to gather under tents (the gathering can become intense as well) and raise cups (no glass allowed) of some of the finest winter warmers, holiday ales, Belgian styles and barley wines available.

This year's edition was the best yet, with an extraordinary lineup of great beers: old ales from Alameda and Alaskan; winter warmers from BridgePort, Collaborator (Widmer), Deschutes, Dick's, Golden Valley, Hazel Dell, MacTarnahan's and Redhook; strong ales from Cascade Lakes, Full Sail, Lagunitas, Laurelwood and Pelican Pub; and Belgian and Belgian-style offerings from Chimay, Bosteels (Tripel Karmeliet), New Belgium, Rock Bottom and Walking Man!

The "buzz" beers (not that kind of buzz beer; the way-talked-about kind, silly) included Widmer Halo Imperial IPA, Tuck's Gluteus Maximus barley wine, and Caldera's chocolate coffee stout.

Old Lompoc might get the hoppiest beer award for its Imperial IPA, while Fearless and Raccoon Lodge squared off on the Scotch/Scottish category. Rich, roasty stouts were covered by Pike, Rogue and Wolaver's Organic, and Bill's Tavern had a unique orange blossom honey-infused ale with cranberries and cedar! Still hankerin' for the pumpkin spice? Mia & Pia's had a wonderful pumpkin ale, made with fresh hops, no less. Several people told me they went back for seconds of the classic Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale — still hoppy after all these years. Meanwhile, Mountain Meadows Meadery offered a spice nectar and cranberry mead that was a honey, so to speak.

Because of the location, public transportation was a breeze. The MAX stop was literally at the event, and buses ran by regularly, taking beery explorers to Portland's many beer locations with no hassle. Higgins restaurant was within walking distance and offered superb food and a spectacular beer list. Higgins has about seven draught beers, and all are significant. The Gouden Carolus Noël was superb on draught (and was served in the proper glass, naturally).

The fairly new streetcar runs out to the trendy Pearl District, where BridgePort Brewery and Pub is located. The first time I visited, it was a foreboding warehouse area with railroad tracks down the middle of the sometimes-paved roads, which provided quite a challenge to the new visitor. Hearing that BridgePort was going to close for 10 months for renovations, I made a special pilgrimage to visit the former rope factory in all its rough-hewn wood and brick glory.

The plans for the renovation are ambitious, thus requiring the long closure. A second story will be added for public access, and a skylight will allow sunlight to fill the vast space. Many traditionalists have voiced concerns about changing the original look and feel of the place, but assurances have been made that the upgrade will be in keeping with the historical nature of the building, and the outdoor loading dock patio will remain.

"Touch not a leaf on that vine-covered wall," they say. And a special historical consideration is the massive antique urinals in the men's room, which entice "special tours" by the ladies at odd times of the day. The urinals will remain, and an additional one will be added from storage. There is hope for the future.

Meanwhile, a short ride across the Hawthorne Street Bridge will get you to BridgePort Ale House, where I had breakfast before the next day's assault on the Holiday Ale Fest. The brunch menu is extensive, with tempting offerings like Smoked Salmon Hash and Crab Cakes Benedict. "The Woodcutter" is an apple pork sausage omelet with leeks and Gruyere cheese. Mmmm. Get there before 10:00 a.m. and the Hair of the Dog (no relation to the beer), consisting of two eggs, sausage or bacon, toast and a pint of your choice, is only five dollars (eight bucks after 10:00 a.m.). Talk about motivating menu items.

All of BridgePort's beers are available in various sizes, but most appealing to me was the cask selection: BridgePort IPA, Ebenezer from the wood, and Old Knucklehead barley wine all poured from firkin! Great breakfast drinks. And the wood-aged Ebenezer was phenomenal!

My final few hours back at the fest were spent revisiting some of my favorite beers, including several retastings of the Widmer Halo! The gathering is a who's who of the Northwest beer-geek community, and much beery camaraderie was in evidence.
Make plans for a winter wonderland of beer at the next annual Portland Holiday Ale Fest, to be held December 2–4, 2005. I'll see you there!

Tom Dalldorf is publisher and editor of the Celebrator Beer News.

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