what to drink at the 2011 Holiday Ale Fest

3 Dec

There are over 40 beers at the Holiday Ale Fest this year, so if you are heading down to the Ale Fest this weekend, it might help to have some recommendations on what to try and what to skip. After three days at the Fest, I still haven’t even tried every beer. So, if you are only able to make it for a day or two, you definitely need to head there with a plan and some guidance on some of the best the Fest has to offer.

Here was my ranking system:
(5) Favorite: I could sip on this all day long and I would go out of my way to find this beer at a bar or bottle shop.
(4) Great: I would take a full mug of this and I’d like to find this beer available year round.
(3) Enjoyable: I would order this one at a pub and it would be nice to find it outside of the Ale Fest.
(2) Eh: I wouldn’t pick this beer to drink but I would probably drink it if it was served at a party.
(1) Ick: Something in this beer is off putting and just finishing my 4 oz taste was a bit of a challenge

Beers to try:
Firestone Walker’s Velvet Merkin (5) – the only regular tap to score a 5. prevalent caramel, chocolate, and coffee flavors with a nice roast that balances this beer from being sweet. there’s been a long line, so if you get some, you might as well get a full glass. you’ll want it.

Cascade’s Sang Noir (4) – crisp, fruity finish; oak adds subtle complexity

Eel River’s Imperial Climax Classic (4) – caramel malt well-balanced by the hops

Laht Neppur’s Laughing Boy Stout (4) – rich, roasty stout that is very smooth

MacTarnahan’s Barrel Aged Ink Blot Baltic Porter (4) – strong caramel and vanilla, slightly sweet (but not syrupy) with a toastiness to balance it out

New Belgium’s Lips of Faith, Kick (4) – don’t be swayed by the name; slightly sour, light and fruity, and crisp like a cider. it isn’t sweet and the pumpkin only gives this beer a slightly fuller body which is really nice for this style of beer.

Bear Republic’s Old Saint Chongo (4) – immediate chocolate notes; roast balances the fruity, banana finish; complex and well-balanced

Lompoc’s Cherry Christmas (4) – beautiful color, dry and crisp, slight sour cherry. not too fruity, still tastes like beer. Merlot oak barrels add a subtle, nice complexity.

If any of these limited releases make a second appearance, get a glass!
Lompoc’s 2010 Bourbon Barrel Aged 8 Malty Nights (5) – well-balanced, rich chocolate and rye
2009 JIM by Hair of the Dog (5) – extremely complex and well-balanced malt and hop (if you prefer a super sweet barleywine, go with the 2008 JIM)
2008 Oskar Blues Ten Fiddy (5) – rich, chocolatey, super smooth
Cascade’s 2009 Sang Noir (4) – fruitier than the current year, also more complex and wine like

Last call:
If you make it through my favorites, and all those that have caught your eye, and you are looking for your next plan of action, try some of these. They are solid, well-made beers that are true to their description and should warm you on this cold winter day.

  • Bison’s Barry White’s Voice in a Barrel (could be a 4, but I was hoping for more based on the name)
  • Collaborator’s Hallucinator
  • Deschute’s Super Jubel
  • Elysian’s Bye Bye Frost
  • Burnside’s Barrel Aged Permafrost
  • Fearless’ Mjolnir Imperial IPA
  • HUB’s Kentucky Christmas (not quite as outstanding as last year’s version)
  • Lagunitas’ 2010 Olde Gnarly Wine
  • Laurelwood’s Bonaparte’s Retreat
  • McMenamin’s Red Nose Rye
  • Rusty Truck’s Belsnickle’s Strong Ale
  • Coalition’s Lost Glove
  • Bridgeport’s Old Knucklehead Barley Wine (a little less sweet than other years)
  • Double Mountain’s Chimney Stout

Beers to skip:
Ft. George’s Kentucky Girl (1) – sour didn’t go well with the extremely strong coffee

Oakshire’s Nutcracker (2) – a little too much spice and finishes slightly stringent, however I was undecided for a while, so if spice is your thing, try it

Columbia River’s Drunken Elf Stout (1) – don’t get the creamy oatmeal; strong, too bitter of coffee almost like the filter is in it; however, I heard others were fans of this beer

Common’s Little Brother (1) – fruit was too strong without enough hop to balance it, however description was pretty true so if this is your style, go for it

Breakside’s Cranberry Bier de Table (2) – sour fruit is too subtle to the lager notes; also, quite thin

Rogue’s Creamery 75th Imperial Brown (2) – thin, slight butter yeast finish, not strong enough for a Winter Warmer

Stone’s Ruination DDH (2) – the overwhelming hop is a bit too pine-y for me in this beer; go with Fearless’ Mjolnir instead

Vertigo’s Left, Nut Brown Ale (2) – nothing special here, your typical brown ale

Natian’s HOLLA-Day Ale (1) – the smell was off putting, the butterscotch was the strongest flavor from the list they gave; I didn’t find this as complex as I had hoped, and instead found it was cut off by the sharp, piney hop

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