Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2011 Holiday Ale Fest: Good Beer Requires Good Strategy

OK, maybe not a recap. Still important stuff.

I can tell you all about the awesome beer that I drank at the 2011 Holiday Ale Fest (there was plenty). I can tell you all about the meh beer that I drank at the 2011 Holiday Ale Fest (there was more than expected). I can tell you all about the awful beer that I drank at the 2011 Holiday Ale Fest (surprisingly little considering the wacky spices and experimental stuff present). But I won’t. Why? Because everyone else already has. I will say that it was a great way to kick off the Holidays, full of Christmastime smells, sights, and Santas.

What I think will be of real use to the craft beer drinker is a little strategy talk. I talked to a bunch of seasoned beer festival-goers, read reviews and blog entries from previous years, and used a bit of common sense before hitting the fest this year. What most people tend to perceive as one of Portland’s biggest beersterf*cks can actually be an enjoyable, casual, enriching experience for the true beer lover if done right. Read on and bookmark this for your 2012 usage.

Timing is everything. If you wait until John and Jane Doe get out of work on Friday night and wander over to the fest with their drinkin’ shoes on, you’ll be ass-to-ass with some of the most annoying, repulsive fair-weather beer drinkers in town. Are you hearing group chants or screams? If so, you’re at the fest at the wrong time. Wednesday at opening and Thursday at opening are your best bets for easy table-claiming and an overall relaxed experience. The area between the stairs and the upstairs Sky Bar was full of group tables and maintained a relatively low-key, warm climate. Make note of beers you want to try before going, and do so between opening and the afternoon special tappings. Around the time of the tappings, the fest starts to fill up. Finish your day with the rare beers and get on the bus home right as the heshers and beer bongers arrive with their pretzel necklaces.

Get the most out of your experience. As you may know, I’m not a fan of drinking from plastic cups. This year, I brought along a 12 ounce snifter and decanted all of my beers into it. Sure, it required double-rinsing, but it allowed for the enjoyment and appreciation that these specialty beers deserve. On a related note, bring tap water from home. Lots of rinsing and hydration requires it, and at $1 a pop, your water bill can rival the monthly one you receive in the mail. I kept my glass at the table to prevent breakage, and used my mug to procure fills.

Value is king. You’re already $25 in with only $8 in beer script. You just spent $17 on what will essentially become a toothbrush holder in your spare bathroom. As the crude chart will show you, there is a difference, albeit small, in the way the Holiday Ale Fest charges. In the rest of the world, those who buy in bulk tend to receive a discount. Inside the HAF tent, however, things are different. 14 ounces for $4 versus four ounces for $1. I know, I know.. sometimes you want that full pour. I’ve only found one way to alleviate this problem: get multiple 1 ticket pours and decant them. Borrow your friends empty mugs and get samples in each at one ticket per four ounces. Four mugs later, you’ll be two ounces ahead of the frivolous plebians.

Kind of like the instructional sex book in American Pie, I hope this tome of forbidden knowledge lives on for generations, helping inexperienced festgoers make the most of the Holiday Ale festival. I skipped it last year because I had such a rough time with crowds and such, but was able to have a smashingly good time this year thanks to a little preplanning, some extra thought, and the wisdom of those who came before me.


  1. Great advice! Thanks for the link to my HAF summary.

    Unfortunately, I was out of town and couldn't attend on Wednesday or Thursday. I had to do the unthinkable and attend on Friday and Saturday nights. Next time, I'll go on Sunday if I can't go on the opening days. Just too crowded for me.

  2. Sunday is probably an OK option, but you hear about beers running out. I know people were going for that delicious Velvet Merkin towards the end of the weekend and being turned away.