A Cup of Cheer: Portland’s 2012 Holiday Ale Festival

When I was a child, my parents and teachers always used to tell me that taking satisfaction in your work was often the best reward of all. And while I suppose that’s true a good deal of the time, where the hipster blogging scene is concerned, I think most bloggers are probably harboring hopes of either A) becoming famous or B) making money/scoring free shit. PretentiousPDX is no exception to this rule. While I’m not juggling appearances on Ellen or getting invites to the next iPhone unveiling, at least not yet (Hey, Tim Cook – hint, hint) – our humble website is making some inroads on the fame & free swag front, and I’m very grateful for that.

As I mentioned in My Perfect Playlist, Round 2, the prize for my most recent foray into on-air playlists was a pair of passes to 2012 Holiday Ale Festival in downtown Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, courtesy of Gustav and the fine folks at KNRK – 94.7 FM* – which is pretty damn rad.

(*One of my friends pointed out to me that technically, both of the prizes I’ve received from KNRK were given to me personally, not to PretentiousPDX – but I wouldn’t be out there trying to get my name on the radio if it weren’t for this blog, so I think it still counts.)

Did I start a blog to get free shit? Absolutely.

Did I start a blog to get free shit? Absolutely.

Having been thusly blessed by the local radio gods, I decided that free tickets to the Ale Festival would be a good opportunity to gather more material for my blog (and, ya know, drink some beer) – so my friend Lucy and I headed downtown last night to get our beer tastin’ on.

Portland’s Holiday Ale Festival was started in 1995 and takes place every December in Pioneer Courthouse Square. When you first arrive on-site, it’s actually a pretty impressive spectacle – the entire square has been transformed from its usual digs – as an, uh, public square and part-time venue for crazy street preachers – into a living, breathing city of beer, with dozens of ales to sample.

Admission to the Festival costs $30, which gets you a wristband, plastic festival mug and ten beer tasting tickets (each taster is about 4 ounces, so you’re getting roughly three beers out of the deal). If you can remember to hang onto your mug and wristband, readmission to the festival is free if you want to go multiple days, and additional tickets cost only a buck.

Once you’re in, the entire festival is tented (a welcome amenity, given Portland’s weather this time of year) and they manage to keep it pretty cozy under the big top – if you bring a jacket, you might want to consider taking advantage of the $2 coat check. The Festival has about 40 beers on tap, most of which have some sort of holiday flavor to them. Porters, chocolate stouts, dark ales and Belgian beers are all in ready abundance. One category that’s notably lacking, however, is the perennial Stumptown favorite, the IPA- so if you’re someone who judges their beer solely on hoppy goodness, you may want to look elsewhere. The day we went, they were pouring only one true Red Ale, and that was tapped out fairly early in the evening. All of the usual beer festival amenities (food carts, merch, porta potties, etc) can also be found onsite.

Why do these pinups look Asian? Beats me.

Why do these pinups look Asian? Beats me.

As with all Festivals, there are some great beers on tap and some really crappy ones, too. Since beer preferences are a very subjective thing, I won’t bother going into too much detail about the selections, but two that stood out were Coalition Brewing’s “The Lost Glove” strong ale and the “Collaborator Hallucinator” olde ale. If you go, I recommend checking out as many of the small breweries as you can – I love our local juggernaut breweries, but the lines for places like Deschutes and Bridgeport are always hella long, and I’d rather spend my time checking out beers that aren’t stocked at the local 7-Eleven.

Bottom Line: While 30 bones is a lot of money for a beer festival, they do have a good selection of beers and pretty decent venue. If you go, dress in layers and be prepared to be around A LOT OF PEOPLE. We went on a Thursday night, thinking it’d be pretty dead, and it was still packed. And as always, make sure you drink responsibly – they have $5 Designated Driver tickets available, which is a nice alternative to leaving your DD in the car with the windows cracked.

2012 Holiday Ale Festival (holidayale.com)
Continues Friday, 30 November through Sunday, 2 December. $30 Admission.
Pioneer Courthouse Square – Downtown Portland

2 thoughts on “A Cup of Cheer: Portland’s 2012 Holiday Ale Festival

  1. Thanks for the write up, glad you enjoyed it. Wanted to point out that the Holiday Ale Festival did not begin in 2009. The first festival was held in 1995 and called the Winter Ale Festival. It returned in 1996, then took a one-year hiatus in 1997. In 1998, it was resurrected as the Holiday Ale Festival. Cheers!

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