Somewhere between a joke and a necessity lives the holiday sweater. They can certainly be ugly — and something I bumped into repeatedly during last night’s opening session of the Washington Brewers Guild-produced 2015 Winter Beer Fest in Hangar 30 at Seattle’s Magnuson Park. Sweaters with holiday scenes were the seasonal equivalent of Viking hats at summer beer festivals. Now, if being in a hangar full of people wearing ugly sweaters isn’t enticing enough on its own, add more than 50 breweries pouring 160+ dark malty stouts, robust winter warmers, barrel-aged gems and holiday-inspired beers.
The Winter Beer Fest continues today with noon to 4 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m. sessions. More than half of the pouring breweries went Clark Griswold on their booth, so the evening session is a better bet in regards to holiday spectacle. Three food trucks are on site, thankfully. Disclaimer: I didn’t get to sample everything during the four-hour opening session last night, so this is just my own limited perspective.
Best Mystery: I left wearing a Santa hat. I don’t know where it originated.
Best Pole: Black Raven Brewing Sales Manager Nigel Slater erected a 20-foot high Festivus Pole in front of the Redmond brewery’s booth. While other Festivus traditions such as feats of strength and the ritual airing of grievances weren’t part of Black Raven’s splendor, a bourbon barrel-aged version of their Second Sight Strong Scotch Ale was. Delicious.
Strongest Beer: Fremont Brewing’s Dark Star Imperial Oatmeal Stout is a formable beer at 8 percent ABV. But then age it in 15-year-old single use Kentucky bourbon barrels and it re-emerges at 14 percent, with roasted and chocolate malts complimenting the smooth oats.
Runner up: Fremont Brewing’s 14 percent Bourbon Abominable Winter Ale. Boozy and delicious.
Biggest Surprise: The folks at Ram Restaurant & Brewery know how to have a raucous time. Whether they’re feasting, spanking, fighting or naked, the beer is always flowing. Wait, I apologize, I speak of the “Game of Thrones” folks, although a Lannister-looking dude sat in a throne at the Ram booth, pouring the unlisted but tasty Down and Out Stout from one of the throne’s arm rests.
Runner up: Hi-Fi Brewing Barrel-aged Woofer Porter. Six months in a rye whiskey barrel produced layers of vanilla, oak and rye flavor.
Celebrity Sighting: Kenny “The Beer Man” DesMarets was everywhere last night, including at the Bainbridge Island Brewing booth, his new sales home.
Longest Line: Silver City Brewery consumed the opening crowd with first-hour-only pours of Bourbon Barrel Age Old Scrooge and Party Like It’s Winter 2009! Worth the wait.
Best Membership Beer: Washington Beer Commission was in the house, specifically Hayden Campbell and his Washington Beer Lovers crew, pouring a WaBL-members only beer, an amazing Java Lava Red Ale by Aslan Brewing. The Bellingham brewery blends their Northwest red with HomeBrew cold brew from Bellingham Coffee Roasters. The cold brew flavors burst.
Brewery That Probably Wished They Could Move: Hale’s Ales Brewery set up an amazing display of bright promotion and holiday cheer. You could see the huge yellow Hale’s sign from the other side of the hangar. Soft blue and snowflake lighting welcomed those enjoying nitrogen conditioned Supergoose IPA and El Dazzle Winter Stout. Up and comer Wet Coast Brewing neighbored Hale’s, without holiday flair but offering proud smiles and a delicious “gingerbread in a glass” Holiday Jeer! spice brown ale.
Best Beer Name: No-Li Brewhouse’s OMFG stout. Their Rise and Grind stout barrel aged with chocolate, vanilla and orange peel. OMFG.
Runner Up: Ram Brewery’s Ol’ Mallwaker strong ale makes me laugh every time.
Blast From The Past: When you’re at a beer fest the temptation is only to drink the new, craziest and most exotic beers. But every once in awhile it reacquaints you with a great beer you haven’t had in a long time. Such was the case for me with Naked City Brewing’s The Big Lebrewski White Russian Imperial Stout. Next time I’m in Seattle I’m going to get Naked.
For a list of the participating breweries and the beers, visit: http://bit.ly/1lEMIYJ
So, today’s two Winter Best Fest sessions are sold out online, which means you need to bring $35 in hopes to get in at the door. It’s worth the effort. Did I mention Black Raven Grandfather Raven? Did I mention Elysian Dragonstooth Oatmeal Stout? Did I mention Two Beers Fall Line Russian Imperial Stout? Even Anacortes IPA. … Brave the light rain and 40-degree weather. No matter how cold it is outside, these beers will warm you up.