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Have a Very Beery Christmas: Portland’s Annual Holiday Ale Fest

December 19, 2013 in Christmas Literary Traveler, Literary Food, Weekend Getaways, Winter Travel

If you should find yourself in Portland, Oregon, or the Pacific Northwest, next holiday season, you may want to consider dropping in on one of the most iconic beer festivals the city has to offer. The Holiday Ale Festival, the only beer fest brave enough to set up outdoors in December, has become a Portland winter tradition.

I was lucky enough to be in Portland to attend this year’s 18th Annual event, have a chat with organizer Preston Weesner, and test out some of the 50+ local seasonal brews offered. And I was not disappointed. The festival stakes its claim in Pioneer Square downtown, maxing out two tent rental companies, according to Weesner, installing 15 heating units and even gutters for the rain (critical in a place where rain falls pretty consistently during the winter months.)

“We essentially set up a small city in three days, have the festival for five, and tear it down, leaving no trace that we were ever there in the following 24 hours,” said Weesner.

It was shockingly comfortable for an outdoor venue. The ambient lighting and wafting aromas of roasted nuts blended with the sounds of laughter and cheers from bundled up strangers-turned-familiar faces to create a cozy and warm feeling for which December winds were no match. The dozens of ales tasted and tested that day may have helped too.

Ranging from spiced ales to stouts and porters, ciders and imperial brews, this festival offered a mind-blowing variety, but certainly was not the place for the faint of heart (i.e. light beer drinkers). With names like “You’ll shoot yer eye out kid,” “PantyHose,” and “Yo Baba Gaba,” to name a minuscule sampling, picking out which beers to try and finding them in the three levels of festivity was almost as fun as actually tasting them.

When asked about the imaginative names and intricate stories behind the ales, Weesner, who writes the beer descriptions for Cascade Brewery, admits that some are very creative, but stresses the importance of telling what’s in the brew.

“My descriptions may not be as elegant,” says Weesner, “but they tell what it tastes like. That’s more important.”

As a beer fan, I have to agree, although I do love a good story behind the name. We literary travelers are always looking for deeper meaning, aren’t we?

The thing that makes this festival so unique, besides the fact that it is the only one insane enough to set up outside in the middle of winter, is the fact that most of the brews aren’t available for sale. Many of them are aged with the finesse a fine wine would receive and can’t be found in any bars or stores. It’s a good dress rehearsal for beers that breweries are considering releasing and a good draw for the beer nerd who has tried everything out there.

“I’m a beer geek, always have been,” confirms Weesner. “I’m trying to create the best beer event that I would ever want to go to.”

The downside for Weesner is that, with all the hard work he puts in, he doesn’t get to take part in the fun of the Festival. Instead, he must enjoy vicariously through the guests and their good times.

In a place like Portland, a place making a real name for itself on the food and beer circuit, a place of many festivals, a place that has often been referred to as “Beervana,” it takes a little something special to stand out among the crowd. The Holiday Ale Fest averages 17,000 attendees each year, and based on my Saturday visit, did not look as if it would fall short in the 2013 season. And while natives comprise most of the Festival’s attendance, Weesner tells me that a solid 26% of ticket purchasers come from outside of the Portland Metro area, stretching all across the country.

“Many people travel to this because there’s nothing like it where they live,” said Weesner, “They’ll literally book their tickets and make a week of it — a beer-cation.”

Always looking for an excuse to get away, this works for us! And with more than 70 breweries in the Portland Metro area, this is a beer-drinker’s haven worth a visit at any time of year.

Find out about next year’s Holiday Ale Festival at holidayalefest.com

 

Fall Rituals: Apple Picking In Stow, Massachusetts

October 12, 2010 in Massachusetts Travel, New England Travel, Uncategorized, Weekend Getaways

Image via canong2fan's Flickr streamFor as long as I can remember, autumn has always been my favorite season. I love Halloween, the lengthening evenings, and the way dead leaves crunch underfoot. I love the colors of New England fall, all blazing reds and oranges and the clear blue of the October sky. I love back-to-school shopping and donning wool scarves. But what I love most is the smell.

Fall air smells like nothing else in the world. Somehow, the fallen and decaying leaves and the growing cold conspire to turn the atmosphere into something wonderful. Something that smells not of death, but of rebirth.

In my opinion, the best place to experience the scents of fall is in an apple orchard. Apple picking has become something of a fall tradition for me. Every year as September draws to a close, I throw on my jacket and head to Shelburne Farm in Stow, Massachusetts.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of introducing my boyfriend to Shelburne Farm. The orchard seemed seeped in the spirit of Autumn as we wandered among the manicured rows, stopping occasionally to pluck some imperfect specimen from the branches (several of which we ate immediately, in a violation of orchard rules). We climbed into the trees on the spindly ladders, pulling down fruit that ranged from under-ripe and sour to sweet and crisp. For $17, we went home with a giant bag of Macintoshs, Cortlands, and Royals, which Garrett promptly baked into pies and crumbles. We also picked up some cider donuts at the Farm Stand, where they doled them out in half-dozens, piping hot out of the fryer. Before we left, we even made a quick pit stop to visit the sheep at the small but smelly petting zoo.

We went home happy and full. It was one of those perfect New England days–and a wonderful way to ring in the new season. It never truly feels like fall until I’ve bagged that first batch of local apples.

So that’s my fall ritual, but I’d love to hear: What’s yours?

Third-hand captivity narratives

September 22, 2010 in American literature, Dark New England, involuntary travel, New England Travel, Weekend Getaways

When I read Katy’s post about LT’s Dark New England theme, I thought of centuries-old stories set in a wilderness that no longer exists, Hawthorne’s characters tempted by the devil in the woods.

Then, last weekend, on the drive to his late godfather’s place in Maine, my boyfriend me told a story that hit a little closer to home.  His mother had recently stumbled across an old family Bible in the attic.  Inscribed in it was the name of a distant great aunt who was accused of committing withcraft in Marlborough, Massachusetts in the early 1700s.

More interesting, though, was a letter folded in the Bible, recounting the experience of another Marlborough aunt.  She started in an idyllic domestic setting, singing in the kitchen as a pie baked in the oven and her sister’s children made God’s Eyes on the floor.

Then the tomahawks came out, the arrows flew through the air, and, in a few minutes time, everyone but the singing aunt was slain where they stood.  Enraptured by the beauty of her song, the invading tribe decided to take her as a captive instead.  They brought her back to Marlborough four years later.

I haven’t heard many more details — I do know that she married her fiance when she came back to town — but until I get them, I like to hope that the letter is a concise, Quaker variation on Mary Rowlandson’s The Soverignty and Goodness of God, with sheet music of the melodies she dreamt up on the frontier.

I scoured the internet, just in case, but I couldn’t find any such music, or even an operatic captivity narrative.  (His mother’s a writer and his grandmother was an opera singer; I thought they might appreciate the connection.)  No such luck, but I did find a blogger/musician who wrote a song inspired by Rowlandson’s experiences.  Listen at your own risk.

Weekend Getaway: Roughing It in Maine and New Hampshire

September 7, 2010 in Maine travel, New Hampshire Travel, Uncategorized, Weekend Getaways

Image via Looseends's Flickr Stream Like my fellow Literary Traveler blogger Ashley, I’ve been on a rather tight budget this summer.  This does not jive well with my near-constant need to get out of the city, to always be going, going, gone.  Fortunately, I’ve found a way around my limitations: camping.

I’m no stranger to roughing it–I did once complete several weeks of Outward Bound–but I hadn’t done a lot of camping in the past couple of years, so my recent trip to Maine was something of a shock.  Camping was dirtier, messier, scarier, and harder than I remembered.  But also so much more fun.

And Maine is the perfect place to get away from it all.  From the mountains in the West to the island-riddled coast in the East, the entire state is filled with incredible views, pristine lakes, remote villages, and all the rural charm you could ever want.  We stayed at the Augusta West Kampground on Annabessacook Lake, an oddly-shaped body of water, delightfully rich in water lilies, located somewhere in the middle of Maine.  Our first afternoon was spent on the water, canoeing from island to minuscule island, poking through the debris left behind by former visitors.  I felt like an anthropologist, uncovering the remains of a forgotten culture–though in truth I discovered nothing more exciting than charred fire pits and empty beer cans.

On the second day–and our final day of the weekend getaway–we drove out to New Hampshire and climbed Mount Pine.  The White Mountain National Forest is an amazing place for both experts and amateur hikers.  Though I probably fall into the later category, I felt an absurd sense of pride as we reached the summit, just moments before the fog rolled in.  I watched as the thick, sullen clouds descended over the peaks, shrouding them–and us–from view.

Fortunately for me, my camping days are not over yet.  This week, I’m dragging my boyfriend out to Western Massachusetts, where my younger sister goes to school.  I’m looking forward to several days of hiking, hot dogs, beer, bonfires, and maybe some early-fall swimming.  Stay tuned for details.

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