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Holiday Ale Fest: A Portland Beer Celebration Unlike Any Other

Portland, Oregon, offers visitors unique neighborhoods, world-class breweries, breathtaking scenery, and much more. From scenic drives on Highway 101 to visiting the art galleries in the West End, Portland has something for everyone.


The Holiday Ale Fest is one of the leading beer-themed events in the city, held downtown at the Pioneer Courthouse Square in a massive clear top tent that features views of the skyline and Portland’s gigantic Christmas tree. Event planners expect over 14,000 attendees, and the event will feature over 50 unique craft beers and ciders. The beers featured are not the ones found at the store. Participating breweries create the ales specifically for this event. Patrons will also get to eat food from great local restaurants, speak with the brewers, buy raffle tickets, and much more. We got the chance to interview Chris Crabb, Public Relations Director for the event, to talk about this beer-themed holiday celebration.


RAL: How long has the event been running?

CC: This marks the 21st year of the festival; it was founded in 1995 as the Winter Ale Festival, ran for two years, then took a hiatus in 1997. When the event returned in 1998, it was known as the Holiday Ale Festival and has run consecutively ever since.


RAL: How many annual participants do you draw and what is the typical demographic makeup of the event? Children? Families? Couples?

CC: We see around 14,000 people at the event annually. The event is 21+, so no children or families with children. We get an even split of men and women between the ages 25-60.


RAL: What makes this event unique?

CC: While eggnog and hot toddies are popular during the holidays, it’s no surprise that craft ales are the drink of choice. Specifically, bold ales that are designed to fend off the cold chill of a long winter night. The 21st annual Holiday Ale Festival gathers together 53 of these winter warmers for a joyous five-day celebration. The beers and ciders featured are rich, robust, and full of complex flavors.


The festival offers a varied collection of offerings, from Belgians to barleywines, porters to winter warmers, and sour ales to stouts. What makes this festival stand out from other similar events is the selection. The festival works with every brewery involved to make sure they send a beer or cider that has either been made or blended specifically for their fans at this event. All beer and cider will be served in Govino tasting glasses made from a flexible BPA-free polymer that properly showcases the beverages.


RAL: Take me through a day at the event.

CC: The doors/taps open at 11 am daily. There are two levels; on the main level are bars, food, the Crater Lake Soda Garden, the coat & bag check, and restrooms. On the second floor is our lounge, where we offer Meet the Brewer events and special tappings, and the Sky Bar. The Sky Bar is also where the Beer Brunch takes place on Sunday.


RAL: Will there be any guest appearances?

CC: There will be some Meet the Brewer events on Wednesday through Friday at the upstairs Brewer’s Lounge. These events will be promoted via the website and social media.


RAL: What dining options will attendees encounter?

CC: We offer two food vendors, Urban German Grill and Oregon Deli Co, plus cheeses for self-pairing and roasted nuts.


RAL: What is the overall environment like?

CC: The atmosphere is festive and bright, with clear top tents allowing for views of the city’s Christmas tree. Holiday music is piped in over the speakers. Lighted fir boughs are strung throughout the event, and Christmas trees are festooned with coasters from the breweries. Many guests get into the spirit by wearing ugly Christmas sweaters or Santa hats. Attendees can navigate a user-friendly mobile website that tells them where each beer is pouring and if it’s still available.


RAL: Is there maybe one place in particular that guests have been flocking to since the event started?

CC: The Nines is a great hotel as it looks at the event from across the street. The Paramount is also nearby, and currently the best deal online.


RAL: Does this drive business to your local economy?

CC: Absolutely, it is a destination for many people around the country. We find that about 20% of the people attending the fest are from out of town. We know there are people outside of Portland that are finding out about us and we want to try to reach more every year.


RAL: Does the event support a special cause in the community? (School funds, etc.)

CC: The festival is pleased to work with the Children's Cancer Association’s MyMusicRx program, which delivers the healing power of music to children battling cancer and their families. Every year, the festival matches and then quadruples, the proceeds from all designated driver tickets, soda garden, and the coat check for the organization.


RAL: Why should people come to your event?

CC: This event is held outdoors during one of the coldest months of the year, yet it's a warm and toasty atmosphere. It's the only place in the world to taste the featured beers and ciders since they’ve all been created for the event. Even the big names in craft beer bring unique beers you won't get anywhere else.


For more information about the Holiday Ale Fest, please visit their website.