Good Pours at the Holiday Ale Fest

There are no absolutes in the subjective realm of taste.  "Good" moves along a sliding scale, depending on our preferences.  So consider the following beers provisional recommendations.  But you knew that, right?
  • For me, the pick of the fest was Gigantic's Red Ryder BB Gun, a cranberry-infused saison.  The fruit choice was inspired: cranberries both offer a note of acid but also a fruitiness, so that the contrasting favorable qualities of the yeast--esters and attenuated dryness--are both accented.  With all the heavy, boozy beers, it also serves as a very welcome palate-cleanser.
  • Cranberries were also put to great use in Burnside's Jingleberry, a hugely-thick imperial stout.  Again, the acid in the berries help cut through the dense folds of black malt (though they're nearly consumed by them).  Unlike some of the heavy beers, it wears well, too.  I could easily have enjoyed a pint.
  • While we're on the porter-stout continuum, another winner was Coalition's Big Maple.  If you know its smaller incarnation, Loving Cup Porter, big brother will be familiar.  The maple is less obvious, which works to the beer's advantage by keeping the level of perceived sweetness down.
  • A beer you might otherwise overlook was quite nice: McMenamin's Lord of Misrule.  It's called a stout, but tracked more like an old ale to me.  Anyway, the use of habanero peppers gives it a ton of spicy flavor and only the tiniest hint of heat.  (I suspect that only two of ten people would even make the ID if they tasted it blind.)  The beer is very sweet and I don't think I could do a pint.  Still, it's well-done and clever.  Definitely worth a pour.
Overall, the fest is studded with a ton of great beers.  I was not in love with Ex Novo's Moonstriker, a mole Baltic porter (too thin; the flavors didn't come together) or Viking's Aurora Braggot (I may not be a braggot guy), but those are mostly matter's of preference.  I didn't encounter a single beer I'd warn people to skip--though in the usual manner of trading recommendations, I was guided away from one or two.  (For obvious reasons, I won't be passing that info along second-hand.)

Gentlemen excited to pursue MORE BEER.

If you care for other picks and pans, check out the New School, Beer Musings, Not So Professional Beer Blog and Beervana Buzz for alternate run-downs.