2012 Holiday Ale Fest Tasting Notes

30 Nov

20121130-134405.jpg In case you are at the Holiday Ale Fest and just not sure whether you want a taste or a full glass, whether it just sounds too exotic but maybe amazing, or whether you are down to your last ticket and need to know how to spend it wisely…here are our tasting notes to help you decide. Remember, beer preferences and palettes vary. I may hate something you love. But hopefully these at least give you a bit of a description that will help you determine if it falls in your hate column or your love column. My final recommendation, however, would be: be adventurous.

Sat, Dec 1, 5PM UPDATE –


Rogue’s 15,000: Nutty, roasty malts.  Not sure what else to say about this beer.  Medium bodied, not overly done or complex, just nice solid roasted malts with coffee and nut flavors.  Good, very drinkable and enjoyable.

Rusty Truck’s Cherry Chocolate Baltic Porter: This one stands by what it is selling, loads of chocolate accompanies lightly toasted malt.  And at the back of your tongue you get a dose of cherry.  The problem is they used sweet cherries.  My recommendation is to use sour cherries next time.  Right now it falls a little flat, too much chocolate-cherry, less beer like.  I will give props for not being too sweet though.

Widmer Bros.  Brrrbon Vanilla: All maple, brown sugar and vanilla nose.  Tasted like bourbon barrel aged brown shugga.  Sweet brown sugar taste, with strong vanilla, bourbon notes and a light oaky dry finish accompanied by balancing citrus and spicy hops.

Fort George’s Three Wiseman: From one vanilla to another.  Big bourbon vanilla nose.  But the rum barrel with sugar cane sweetness are dominat on the palate.  Finish of tequila flavor after the sip.  Almost like the aftermath of a tequila shot. Interesting and well executed beer. Lots of subtleties making this keeping this from being overwhelming, instead complex and enjoyable.

Columbia River’s Stumbler’s Chocolate Cherry Stout: Roasted nuts and pie cherries.  Subtle flavors: toasted malts with chocolate characteristics and a hint of cherry with a tiny bit of sour at the finish.  Nothing is overpowering.  Medium bodied, one of the lighter stouts at the Fest.  Happy, too many cherries go overboard, become sweet or syrupy, but not this one. It’s nice and light, yet complex.  The more I drank it, the better it got.

Deschutes’ Imperial Smoke Porter: Dark chocolate brown malt with a light smokiness.  There is a sweet chocolate quality to the malt that keeps it balanced.  The smoke, which can easily overpower a beer, may be a tad too smokey for me, but it isn’t too dry so the lingering smoke is accompanied by a roasted malt as well.

Lucky Lab’s Milk and Cookies: A nice sound, traditional milk stout. Creamy and smooth with a light roast.  Balanced with chocolate and biscuit flavors.  Good, not amazing.

Oakshire’s Very Ill Tempered Gnome: Caramel, biscuit, nutty coffee nose.   Burnt biscuit flavor with a light, not overpowering sweetness.  Initially quite spicy hop, finishes with chicory coffee malt flavor.

Crux fermentation project Snow Cave (Winter Warmer): nutty, caramelized sugar with a slight hint of pear in the background.  Medium bodied, reddish brown, slightly cloudy.  Sweetness is balanced by a slightly peppery/spicy hop finish.  Not my normal style, somewhat Belgian-like, but moderate.  I like it.  Although nothing like my favorite winter warmer from Laurelwood.

Limited Releases

Hair of the Dog’s 2009 JIM: Sweet brown sugar and resinous hop nose.  A beauty. I have waited a year for this and it was worth it.  Rich carmel, brown sugar malt balanced with a strong resinous hop to finish as big as it starts balancing out the sweetness.  Big but refined.  Amazing, the hops are still this beautiful after three years.  Thank you Alan Sprints for such a fine Christmas gift.

New Belgium’s  Transatlantic Kriek: Raspberry and cherry, crisp nose, beautiful berry color.  Clean crisp, earthy cherry flavor.  Complex, not thin even though crisp and light.  Enjoyable.

Firestone Walker’s Rufus: Cloudy red-brown color.  Dark fruit, berry and alcohol notes on the nose with bourbon, vanilla, and oak.  Sweet and malty, fruity.  For as barrelly as it is, it is very drinkable and not overly oaky or dry.  Mostly vanilla notes from the barrel.

As my tickets ran out and the list of beers I hadn’t tried dwindled under single digits, I decided to wrap things up for the Fest this year. At 4pm on Friday it was busier than at 7pm the night before and it was getting a little more hectic than peaceful. Plus, we had a celebration to make it to still that night. So, in the spirit of this year’s Fest, I finished with The JIM 2009. The festival was amazing as usual, but we all remarked that the beer on a whole was quite good. Last year we were a tad disappointed – many beers were just too much or too crazy. The creativity was still there this year but it was more refined and on almost every occasion, the brewer nailed it. Even when a beer wasn’t my favorite kind of beer, I felt it was well  executed or true to style / what they were going for, so I could still appreciate it. I’m only 363 days away from the next Holiday Ale Fest. Until then…drink and be merry!

Happy Alefest to all. And to all a good night.

Sat, Dec 1, 11AM UPDATE – 


New Belgium’s Frambozen: Strawberry syrup colored – there is a light brown tint to the ruby shade of this beer. Fruity raspberry nose, light, and slightly dry. Light effervescence. Tart – neither sweet nor sour. Despite its light body and fresh berry taste, it has complex flavors and doesn’t lose its beerness.

Ninkasi’s Ancient Ale-ians: The aroma is all caramel and toast with just a hint of spice. Amber in color with a moderate mouthfeel. Quite hoppy, citrus and floral with some dryness and a slight spice finish. Nice toasted malt, somewhat chocolatey, accompanies the hop, but it’s the bitterness that really lingers. At 60 IBUs this one seems to out hop the 80 IBU beers that I had yesterday. Any northwest beer drinker should appreciate this one.

Dogfish Head’s Raison D’être: Nice creamy, thick head with small bubbles. Amber brown color. Sweet, fruity, and lightly floral nose. I taste caramel, toast, raisin, and an earthy vegetal quality. And the hop bitterness keeps the sweetness of this beer in check. Incredibly complex. It has a good, hefty mouthfeel without being too thick. Nicely balanced. I don’t know if I’d want to drink it all the time, but it’s one of the best made beers at the festival.

Migration’s Feel the Rath: Spicy nose – smells like a Belgian with orange zest, cinnamon and cloves. Kind of smells like my kitchen come Christmas week. I really like the citrus and strong spice flavors but it’s just too sweet like Belgian candy. I’m giving this a high score because I think it is really true to style, and well-balanced, just not my favorite.

Kell’s Mexican Mocha Porter: Smells like a porter with rich roast and biscuit malts. No spices to speak of on the nose. Typical roast upfront, but it definitely brings heat in the back from the chiles. Once it finishes the heat definitely lingers. I only wish there was more chocolate malts to give it more of a mole flavor, which also might make the flavors blend together more rather than having a two-tone beer. I also thought it was a tad thin, again a little more heft on the malt could really balance and complement this beer. My critiques seem like criticism, but they are more constructive. I really like this beer. I just think it could be just that much better.

Bear Republic’s Prepare to be Boarded: Huge hit of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and a touch of orange, maybe a touch of molasses? It smells like my gingerbread cookies! It poured a rich dark brown color. Wow! Too much spice and hits of sour. Again, like my cookies, but spicier and sour instead of sweet. Too much ginger and too much cloves. Lots of big reactions for me, but not the good kind.

The Common’s Boysen: Dark berry, almost wine like flavor supported by a solid dark chocolate roast. Excellent! Great balance, no detection of the alcohol. I really enjoyed this one.

Terminal Gravity’s 2008 Festivale: Caramel, vanilla, and slight boozy aroma. Caramel and biscuit malt followed by a somewhat earthy, woody hop. Dry finish. Maybe the hops aren’t aging well. It’s not bad but it isn’t smooth either. I’m a fan of Festivale so this was slightly disappointing.

Eel River’s Noel Barrel Aged Blend: Kinda smells and tastes like carrot cake. A little sweet, spice, and a tad of earthy fruitness from the barrel. There’s also enough sweet malt so all three facets meld together pretty well giving you a nice solid beer. Maybe too much spice for every day but it’s not offensive – good for the Holiday Ale Fest.

Gigantic’s Old Man Gower’s Holiday Tipple: Smells like a really spicy pumpkin ale. A little too much spice, slightly fruity, but not enough body or hop to balance it out. Michael had this on day one and really enjoyed it. We actually wondered if I was poured the right beer. This is what his initial notes say: pleasantly floral, lightly sweet, noticeable hop. Full-bodied, rich, initially a bit sweet with a nice mellow hop finish. A northwest winter warmer.

MacTarnahan’s Figgy Pudding: Bold fig fruit aroma, dark malts, and a hint of chocolate. My main thought was it was too thin on the palette, it doesn’t live up to the nose. I wanted it to be richer. Not bad, but not great. Chocolate, a little toffee, a lot of dark fruit just not enough body.

Stone’s Suitable for Cave Aging: A lot of vanilla and bourbon on the nose. Sweet, molasses, vanilla, hint of chocolate. Rich chocolate porter with lots of vanilla and heat from the alcohol. This could use to sit a year or two. Not super strong but just enough to disappoint compared to all the other great things happening with this beer.

Golden Valley’s Black Panther: Medium to heavy bodied, rich and slightly syrupy in thickness, but not sweet. Roast coffee, rich dark malts, and a light barrel flavor at the finish that takes on more of the vanilla characteristics than the oak or the dryness. The oak is just a hint, giving this stout complexity more than anything. Great beer.

Limited Releases

2009 Kona Black Sands Porter: Rich chocolate and coffee aromas, slightly sweet. It tastes like strong coffee roast. Medium bodied, a little thinner than I expected. No sweetness compared to what I smelled. The roast espresso is very strong and I think the body is a little too thin for that bold roast flavor. I really liked it but it’s just not great.

Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche: Bright peach aroma. Equally bright on the palate. Really true peach, noticeable Brett, very tart, sour with a dry, crisp finish. Clean and light on the palate without being thin. I don’t always like sours, and this one is very sour but not overpowering. It has a beautiful aroma, fruitiness, and color. Maybe more reminiscent of summertime, but extremely tasty.

2009 Cascade Sang Noir: Sweet and tart cherry nose with rich tannins. The barrel aging is even more prevalent this year, both Pinot and whiskey barrels. You get the oak and slight vanilla, but I think the Pinot barrels are stronger adding more berry flavors and tannins. This has a very big bodied wine flavor. Earthy and rich with some tart dryness.  It is very complex. I feel I should have more to say, but there’s almost so much there, it’s hard to say anything.

2009 Deschutes Lost Mirror Mirror: Extremely sweet smelling. Fruit, bread, and brown sugar. Overwhelmingly sweet and yet you still notice the high ABV. There’s also some bready yeast flavors. I think this beer could settle even more. This isn’t my cup of tea and although it’s decently balanced and not horrible, and a ton of people loved it. It has really good flavors I just don’t think it’s totally balanced and aged to its fullest.


Cascade’s Diesel #2 is still my favorite after both days. A rich, sweet chocolate aroma. Sweet, chocolate malt followed by coffee roast, malt, and a slight bitterness. There is barely a hint of the 11% ABV toward the end. Very well balanced, I’d like to see this vintage return in 2013 or 2014 to see how it ages. But it’s excellent as it is and should not be missed.

Santa’s Lil’ Black Homo: I actually started the beer Fest with the best named beer as I did last year. Seriously, tee hee, I just want one of my very own to put in my pocket. Perfect for shopping and parties. The world would be a brighter place if we each had one. As for this beer, you should have that too, but see if you can get some from a full, freshly poured pitcher. Fresh it had a heavenly nose showing off citrus hops but as it sat they seemed more subtle and the all spice became more apparent. It was deep brown with a creamy head! A balanced combo of dark malt and hops followed by a hefty, but nice dose of spice, then a bitter finale. This was a good example of highlighting spice without losing the essence of the beer (good body, roasted malts, and hops). Based on what I have heard from others I wonder if the spice is stronger in other batches or if their pours sat longer and the spice came out more.

Vertigo’s Bob Barley’s Dreaded Holiday Ale: from best to worst name of the Fest, but I thought I’d compare the two CDAs this year back-to-back. It’s hard to tell in the cloudy plastic mug, but it appears to be slightly thinner and lighter brown. There is also only a light hop noticeable on the nose. Malty, nutty, like a richer brown, but then it finishes with bitter, slightly spicy hops. But it is the bitterness and roasted dark malts that linger. Well done. Neither have the hop level of my favorite CDA but both are nice for the holiday season.

Burnside’s White Out Grain and fruit sweet candy on the nose, it poured a cloudy, golden amber color. I didn’t particularly like the smell. Maybe slightly musty. It’s very malty in its taste and alcoholic, and then the best part hits, it is slightly bitter with spicy hops that also add some dryness to the tongue. The IBUs definitely come out to play. The same fruity/ vegetal quality is in the sweetness which is slightly off putting to me. I also don’t think the flavors all meld together. Not horrible but not all that enjoyable either.

Breakside ‘s India Passion Elixir Now there’s some hop! Incredible nose that is resinous and citrusy. I was surprised by the floral pop on the tongue and the strong malt that balances the hop perfectly. The hop is definitely strong but it isn’t overpowering in it’s bitterness. Does not feel dry. The lingering taste of malt and hops is perfect. Almost better than the initial swig. The honey adds sweetness upfront that is floral and fruity. Not sure I love that part, but it is still an outstanding, well-executed beer.

2011 Full Sail’s Black Gold I have this one aging in my beer cellar. As I wait for the 4PM vertical tasting of the Abyss in the brewer’s lounge, I figured I might as well try it. Not that you have to twist my arm. This beer is right up my alley. Stout, bourbon casked, chocolate, caramel… ’nuff said. Smelled like maple syrup, chocolate, roast coffee, and vanilla from the Bourbon barrel. Wow! Tons of alcohol. The 11.4% ABV is noticeable. Not sure I will be opening my bottle anytime soon. I just drank a full glass at 11% ABV that was super smooth so 11.4% shouldn’t taste all that strong. Maybe it’s the smoothness of the Diesel, but this one is much warmer with the sharpness from alcohol. Despite that, they have very similar flavor profiles. Strong bourbon, finishes dry with plenty of vanilla from the bourbon, and accompanied by a rich dark malt. I have a feeling in a couple years this one’s going to be amazing.

Firestone Walker’s Wild Merkin Sour nose you can definitely detect the Brett yeast with a strong dose of dried fruit. This is remarkably not tart on the tongue. There is a lot of raisin and dried date flavors with roasted malt and vanilla-like flavors. The Brett makes it brighter and fruitier, and it finishes drier than the regular Merkin. Lighter mouth feel than the regular stout and from what I remember. Kind of reminds me of the original Franc’ly Brewdolph from Lompoc but with more raisin than cherry fruit flavors. I was really surprised at how much I liked this given my love for the regular Merkin and what the sour could have done.

Opening day there was also a surprise vertical tasting of the Abyss from Deshutes. In Preston’s words, “this is what makes this festival so great!”

2007 Abyss Dark malt, sweet with dried fruit. Rich burnt coffee, dry with a light sweetness and an alcoholic finish. My cheeks went red right away. Very alcoholic without being overly hot. This is a treat.

2008 Abyss Rich coffee, chocolate, and light anise with a very smooth taste. It’s rich with black licorice and very roasty malts. For a non-licorice person, I love this! So, if you are hesitant for that reason, don’t be. There’s no fruit, no sweetness, very dark and roasty, and very dry, but not sharp or alcoholic. Pretty heavy bodied with strong coffee flavors. This was my favorite in the vertical tasting.

2009 Abyss Not as big on the nose. Slightly sweet, softer chocolate and coffee. Still a rich coffee and chocolate taste with a dryness and light licorice on the backend. Pretty smooth but slightly less so and more noticeable alcohol then earlier versions. Not bad, probably only noticed these difference since I was drinking them back to back. Still thick, still rich, but malts are much sharper and pronounced maybe burnt even. I just want 08 back! I think this is served too cold. It became much richer with more chocolate-coffee and less boozey once it warmed up.

2010 Abyss Molasses, rich dark malts, sweet. Dry finish but alcohol was subdued compared to the 2007. Clearly the same beer, but overall a more balanced beer and just more drinkable. This is Michael’s favorite of the vertical tasting.

Limited Release Beers

2008 Oskar Blues Tenfiddy Rich, roasted coffee, boozy, and dark chocolate aroma. Less chocolate than the Diesel. Slight sheen and creamy appearance, jet black in color. I think it is sweeter this year. Syrupy with really big body. ABV is definitely not lost. I don’t remember that last year but that could just be memory. Nice rich, dark sweetness that keeps it enjoyable. Really good and perfect for rainy winter days. But I think I enjoyed it more last year. Is it past it’s prime? Is it because my expectations are so high now? Or is it because I just tasted the Diesel from cascade? Both are excellent beers, I just think the Diesel was more balanced.

North Coast’s 2008 Old Stock Ale Brown sugar and a bit musty on the nose. This might be a Fest thing, but it is more carbonated than the other beers that I’ve had here so far. It’s rich, sweet, smooth and balanced. No noticeable alcohol, so not sure if it is a winter warmer, but have a few pints and I am guessing you’ll be nice and warm. Miranda noticed hints of pear and apple. Nice crisp finish to even out the sweetness. Good beer.


One Response to “2012 Holiday Ale Fest Tasting Notes”

  1. grotusque December 5, 2012 at 12:42 PM #

    That is some pretty damn impressive recounting. Well done.

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