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Brew Ho Ho 2014Crowded parking lots. The hustle-and-bustle of a massive crowd. Nigh-infinite lines which terminate only at other nigh-infinite lines, with scores of shoppers praying for the simple respite of a cash register. Thank God this only applies to local shopping malls during the holiday season. The Third Annual Brew-Ho-Ho, on the other hand, was (refreshingly) the exact opposite this year. With a modified layout of the festival this year, the organizers took what could have been another crowded holiday event and unwrapped it into a pleasant, open-air winter beer garden.

Entry to the festival was as smooth as could possibly be: no long lines, no confusion, just a short wait to be welcomed into the capable hands of the event staff. I’ve seen many a beer festival where the announcement that “pouring may begin” looked like a starter’s pistol going off at a marathon. Not so here, the attendees were mellow, cheerful, and definitely in the holiday spirit (if not at the beginning, then definitely by the end).

Beer SantaA perusal of the festival leads to encounters with all the favorite locals: Kyle Manns (formerly of Bottle Logic, and now having returned to TAPS), was in good spirits. Spencer Coleman (everyone’s favorite Beer Santa) was in attendance, willing to impart his near-encyclopedic knowledge of not just beer, but also the local beer community, to any and all who would listen. Brandon, Steve, and Wes, the three wise men of Bottle Logic Brewing, brought their gifts for all to partake. The list could go on forever (Jerrod Larson [Tustin Brewing Company], Evan Price [Noble Ale Works], Aaron Heyden [Black Market Brewing Co.], etc., etc.).

The mild weather and open format of the festival could have kept all those in attendance participating for many hours more; however, all good things must at some point come to an end. After four solid hours of beer sampling, the attendees slowly made their way back home, with many lingering behind to purchase beer-themed Christmas gifts. As usual, the organizers provided booths where the “Jolly-est” attendees could procure an Uber for a safe journey home.

Bottle Logic Christmas BeerFor many, Black Friday is the beginning of the “Christmas” season, where they truly change gears and get into the holiday spirit. For myself (and I would venture to say, for many of the attendees), the annual Brew-Ho-Ho marks this changing of the season. As with last year (and the year before), I look forward to the warmth and joy to be found in this Christmas beer experience in December 2015.

Highlights:

Krampus  (Noble Aleworks) ABV 6.8% - Pours dark mahogany with rich body. With festive christmas spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and soft  ginger, this Winter Warmer will conjure memories of Christmas Eves spent relaxing next to an open fire. 

Peppermint Patty (Bottle Logic) ABV 5% – An Invigorating crisp blonde ale enveloped in mint tea leaves and cocoa nibs. This ingenious Charlie Brown themed blonde revitalizes your palate like a fresh meadow of snow. I hope to see the return of Peppermint Patty next year!

Magnificat (Monkish) ABV 10.1% – Belgian-style Christmas ale peppered with coriander seed, citrus, honey, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pours dark brown with rich malty notes at first sip, while dark fruit flavors are veiled with warm christmas spices. Elegant full bodied beer to enjoy this time of year.

Blueberry Sour Ale (Cascade Brewing) ABV 7.66% – Sour ale aged in oak barrels for six months, then additionally aged for four months with fresh blueberries. Pours light purple in color likened to silkened blueberry juice. Huge herbal and fruity notes come though as the presence of natural blueberry flavors pleasantly linger. Acid and tartness finish as the blueberry mellows out.

La Tarte Mango Lassi (Hoparazzi) ABV 5.5% – Pours hazy with a soft orange hue. Anticipated to open early 2015 (hopefully), Hoparazzi has become famous for their ability to deftly navigate all dimensions of fruity, sour ales. For those not acquainted with this beer’s namesake, Mango Lassi is an Indian beverage crafted from (among other ingredients) yogurt and mango pulp. This beer (thankfully) leaves the dairy aspect of the yogurt behind, but makes up for it in full force with powerful melon notes sure to strike a chord with your palate.

Fusty Puckett (Barley Forge) ABV 7% – Winter brown ale brewed with Chinook and Stryian hops. Very smooth tasting, but subtly sweet christmas beer draped in cinnamon, ginger and orange peel. This beer counters the oft-seen sweetness of a typical Winter Warmer with a malty, roasted, slightly bitter flavor profile. A definite must for those who prefer black coffee to lattes.

Chernyy Medved (Brew Ho Ho) ABV 13% – A robust Russian Imperial Stout brewed in collaboration with Black Market Brewing (Temecula) and Valiant Brewing Company (Orange). Chernyy Medved was brewed as the official holiday beer to celebrate the 3rd Annual Holiday Ale Festival – OC Brew Ho Ho 2014. This full-bodied IRS is brewed with cherries, vanilla, smoked wood, and pine. Pours ominous velvety black and comes in at a bold 13% ABV. At first sip the flavors of smokey sweet cherries stand out amongst soft flavors of cocoa, vanilla bean and bittersweet chocolate.

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