An early winter weekend afternoon, at Belmont Station in Portland: Beer lovers walk through the bottle shop, purchase a few 22s and then take their seats at the bar or at the tables. As I set up for the consumer tasting, a few stop by my table, curious about the coolers full of beer samples. Can we see them, they ask? It’s a blind tasting of Oregon’s holiday beers, I explain. You’ll get to help us choose 6 or 7 favorites, which will be featured in December’s issue of the Oregon Beer Growler. After you vote, then you get to see what you tasted. The crowd is enthusiastic, and becomes more so as our monthly tasting event gets underway.
A few words about holiday beers: If you were thinking spice and high alcohol, you might be limiting your thoughts. Oregon brewers, as usual, break the mold, pound it into tiny bits, and in some cases, throw it into the mash. As a result, Oregon’s holiday beers are not only delicious, but also varied. Cascade dark ales, strong ales, stouts, alts, imperial this and double that, cherry, chocolate, smoke and coffee flavors, and a thousand other incarnations of Oregon ales are flowing from taps and store shelves during the holidays. You have a few short months to enjoy these often limited-production brews.
Following, in no particular order, are the holiday beers chosen by consumers at Belmont Station. Scroll down for a larger list of Oregon holiday beers.
Burnside Permafrost, Portland
8.3% ABV, 77 IBU
Brewer’s description: Permafrost is Burnside Brewing Co.’s original winter elixir. It’s a big, strong ale brewed with seven malts and copious amounts of Columbia and Amarillo hops designed to give this warming brew a chewy complex malt body and a unique fruity juicy hoppiness throughout. Permafrost, as all Burnside Beer, is unfiltered. “I could enjoy this anytime,” said one taster. “This is a treat,” and “Golden bliss, smooth operator and beautific,” were among other compliments.
Coalition Bring Out the Imp – Imperial Stout, Portland
8.5% ABV, 70 IBU
Brewer’s description: The newest large batch release from Coalition, this Imperial Stout is designed to keep you warm at night and a smile on your face all winter. A nose of cocoa, cherry, and a whisper of smoke prepare you for flavors ofcoffee, chocolate, and dark fruit. At 8.5% ABV and 70 IBU, this beer is displays incredible balance and drinkability.
“Let it wreck me,” said one taster. “This one sparkles,” said another. “Lovely balance and beautiful color. It’s dangerously smooth.”
Pyramid Snow Cap, Portland
7.0% ABV, 47 IBUs
Brewer’s description: Deep mahogany in color, our full-bodied winter warmer is brewed in the spirit of British winter ales. Crafted with a flurry of roasted chocolate and caramel malts, and generously hopped, it delivers a smooth finish that makes this beer the perfect cold weather companion. “Nice sweetness and bitterness,” said one. “Mild and drinkable,” “Subtle chocolate goodness,” and “Can I take my Christmas tree on the bus?” were among other comments.
Golden Valley Tannenbomb, McMinnville
8 % ABV, 50 IBU
Brewer’s description: Our famous award-winning traditional-style winter warmer, Tannenbomb is a massive complex beer brewed especially to bring warmth and cheer to the cold wet winter months of the great Northwest. “This is the best one so far,” exclaimed one taster. “Now that’s a holiday beer,” “This would be good with cheese,” and “I taste caramel!” were among kudos.
Ninkasi Sleigh’R Dark Double Alt Ale, Eugene
7.2% ABV, 50 IBU
Brewer’s description: A delicious Northwest seasonal brewed with winter in mind. A dark doüble alt ale, malty and delicious, it’s sure to keep the winter at bay. Alts have a more refined and crisp lager-like flavor than traditional ales. The double alt means that it has been “Ninkasified” with a deep, toasted malt flavor that finishes dry and has higher ABV and IBUs than a regular alt. “Time to unwrap some presents,” said one taster. “Snappy, spicy, reminds me of my ex on a good day (rare),” and “A horse of a different color,” were other sentiments
BridgePort Ebenezer, Portland
6.4% ABV, 40 IBUs
Brewer’s description: Our special holiday brew is a smooth ale with a complex palate derived from four roasted malts and a blend of local and imported hops. Deep mahogany in color, its malty forward taste and full body is balanced witha light hop aroma, with a caramel finish. Transform the mood of any Scrooge. “As pleasant as a fine leather jacket,” said one taster. “Floral fun explosive flavor,” “Hoppy fun,” “Easy drinking with light wintery spiciness,” and “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” were among other descriptors.
Here’s a short list of a few of Oregon’s seasonals in no particular order. Are you checking it twice?
Pelican Bad Santa – 6.7% ABV, 70 IBUs.
Pelican Mother of all Storms
– 14%, 40 IBUs. This Kentucky bourbon barrel-aged barley wine will be released on “Mother’s Day,” Dec. 7. Good luck trying to find this highly-popular brew east of the Coast Range. Best bet: Line up at 8 a.m. release day at the Pacific City brewpub or join the other festivities that weekend.
Full Sail Wassail
Golden Valley Subduction Zone
– 6.6 % ABV, 66 IBUs. A Cascadian Dark Ale with notes of coffee and chocolate.