The annual Holiday Ale Fest in downtown’s Pioneer Square is truly the cream of the beer festival crop. More than 50 unique, one-off brews from the best breweries in the Northwest and throughout the country fill the taps under a massive heated tent, the perfect setting for sipping big, bold winter ales. You won’t find these beers anywhere else, and so it’s tempting to try them all and declare a favorite or three.
There’s just one problem: beer festivals are a hard place to gauge how good a beer actually is. There’s the whole “rapidly losing possession of your faculties” thing that come with drinking, of course, but there’s another issue as well: what makes for a memorable sip at festival does not always make for a beer you’d want to drink very much of.
This is actually just fine; the people wasting their tickets on full mugs aren’t really doing it right anyway, unless they’re real high-rollers and are planning on getting completely obliterated. Diversity is more important than quantity here. After all, the whole point of a beer festival is to try lots of beers you otherwise wouldn’t and to avoid being the guy who pukes all over a security guard.
So with that noble end in mind, here are some beers you should definitely be sure to get a taste of at this year’s Holiday Ale Fest.
10 Barrel Brewing Company, Beernog (7.5% ABV)
This beer is nothing like eggnog, because you could drink more than one of them in a sitting without triggering adult-onset lactose intolerance. It does have all the usual eggnog spices, to be fair, but the real secret weapons are the cocoa nibs, which lend wonderful bitter, dry chocolate notes at the end.
Lagunitas Brewing Company, High West Whiskey Barrel Aged Cappuccino Stout (12.5% ABV)
This beer is absurd. Like the name would suggest, it’s a barrel-aged version of Lagunitas’ excellent cappuccino stout (sadly not being brewed this year), taking what’s already an incredibly full flavored beer and adding even more depth. This is basically the beer version of those booze-filled chocolates. It’s awesome.
Elysian Brewing Company, Doom (7.4% ABV)
They call this a “Golden Treacle Pale,” whatever that means, but it’s really just a fantastic NW-style IPA. And after one too many taster mugs of high-gravity barleywines and barrel-aged what-have-yous, a good IPA is very welcome. They should brew this year-round.
Crux Fermentation Project, Oud Freakcake (10.5% ABV)
This was the most aggressive beer I tried; it’s aggressively fruity, aggressively sour, aggressively barrel-aged. Brewed in the style of a Flanders Oud Bruin, but with a more pronounced booziness from time in Makers Mark barrels, this beer is ballsy enough to be worth the two tickets.
Lompoc Brewing Company, Revelry Red Ale (8% ABV)
The tartness of this beer was remarkably refreshing after so many sweet, malty flavors from other breweries. It’s a blend of two versions of Lompoc’s Big Band Red, one aged in whiskey barrels with sour cherries and the other aged in port barrels; the cherries come through first, but there’s plenty of port in the finish.
Stone Brewing Company, Spiced Unicorn Milk (7.5 % ABV)
Milk stouts contain lactose, a sugar that is unfermentable by beer yeast and therefore adds a pronounced body and sweetness to the brew that can be pretty heavy. Stone went and added chai spices and black tea to theirs, making for a very intense drink given its place on the (relatively) low end of the ABV spectrum at this festival. If you like chai, though, you’ll love it. If this is anything like what Professor Quirrell got to drink, it might explain why he let some other dude’s face onto the back of his head.
Hop Valley Brewing Company, The Wolfe (9.2% ABV)
This is the lightest, easiest drinking barleywine I’ve ever had. Granted, that’s not saying a whole lot, but there’s something to be said for being able to drink a whole pint of this traditionally high-gravity, full-bodied style if you wanted to. If you’re full of beer but still would like to get rapidly drunker, this is a solid bet.