By Jon Abernathy

For The Bulletin

What: Central Oregon Winter Beer Festival

When: 2-9 p.m. Saturday

Where: GoodLife Brewing, 70 NW Century Dr., Bend

Cost: $10 at the door; includes entry, glass and four drink tickets

Contact: goodlifebrewing.com

This Saturday, the fourth annual Central Oregon Winter Beer Festival returns to GoodLife Brewing. This event is a fundraiser for the Central Oregon Brewers Guild, and features 22 local breweries and cider makers pouring a selection of winter and holiday-themed libations.

What makes a “winter beer”? The modern concept usually calls for a stronger, darker ale, sometime spiced with flavorings that invoke the Yuletide season. Beer writer Michael Jackson wrote, “The colder countries, especially in the far north, have a long tradition of comforting themselves with strong beers during the darkest, shortest days of winter.” In England the tradition traces its roots back to wassailing, similar to the modern concept of caroling.

Wassail is a bowl of hot, spiced (or mulled) ale, to be shared and toasted to the good fortune and health of the coming year. This evolved among British brewers into strong “Winter Warmers,” and according to beer writer Jeff Alworth, American brewers honed the concept. “From deep amber to mahogany, and brewed strong (7 percent seems typical),” Alworth wrote in The Beer Bible, “American winter warmers feature candy or dark fruit malts with spicy hop garlands.”

In recent years brewers have experimented with all manner of flavors and spices to brew a wide variety of specialty holiday beers. Here are just a few of the beers you’ll find on tap this Saturday.

Bend Brewing Company will be pouring Spruce Willis, a Cascadian dark ale brewed with spruce tips and Williams tangelos. Spruce adds a piney flavor that can be minty or even cola-like. Combined with the tangelos and hoppiness of the base style, this beer may remind you (in a good way) of a Christmas tree.

Silver Moon Brewing has Elf Brew, their holiday seasonal which features a different style and recipe each year. For 2016 they riffed on a German style to brew a Doppelsticke Altbier, a malty, full flavored ale that is 8.8 percent alcohol by volume.

Worthy Brewing is bringing their Powder Keg, billed as a Winter IPA. For this year’s version, “(Head brewer Dustin Kellner) dialed back the bitterness a bit,” said Branden Andersen, Worthy’s sales manager, “but the hop character still screams pine and bright orange with a smooth caramel and toasted malt backbone.”

Three Creeks Brewing will feature their Frontier Justice Coffee Stout, brewed with four pounds per barrel (31 gallons) of cold-pressed Sumatra roast from Sisters Coffee Company. Rich and dark aromatics and flavor from the coffee enhance this imperial stout to draw out the warming notes.

Three cideries will be pouring as well: Atlas Hard Cider Co., Red Tank Cider, and Tumalo Cider Co. Atlas will pour their Cinnamon Pear Cider, featuring pear juice and spices. Red Tank is bringing Pumpkin Pie Cider, made with real pumpkin and pie spices. And Tumalo has Alpenglow, a cranberry- and cardamom-infused cider.

Other breweries and cider makers slated to be present include Bridge 99 Brewery, Boneyard Beer, Cascade Lakes Brewing Co., Craft Kitchen & Brewery, Crux Fermentation Project, Deschutes Brewery, GoodLife Brewing, Kobold Brewing, Monkless Belgian Ales, Oblivion Brewing Co., Ochoco Brewing Co., McMenamins Old St. Francis School, RiverBend Brewing, Sunriver Brewing Co., and Wild Ride Brewing.

The Winter Beer Fest has been hosted at GoodLife since its inauguration in 2013. In previous years it took place under a heated tent in the brewery’s Biergarten; this year, it has been moved to the courtyard of the Century Center, the same venue where concerts perform. This is a smart move; attendees of past years, myself included, can attest to how swampy (and cold) the Biergarten lawn becomes with inclement weather.

It takes place under a heated tent and there will be food carts on site as well. Live music will be performed by the local band Blackstrap.

Proceeds from the Festival will benefit the Central Oregon Brewers Guild, which was formed in 2012 with the goal of giving a united voice to the local beer industry. According to the press release, the Guild “works to bring outside awareness to Central Oregon by focusing on our local craft beer culture, with a mission to drive tourism and commerce to Central Oregon, as well as surrounding Oregon communities.”

The weather outside might be frightful, but you’ll find plenty of delightful and warming beers at the Winter Beer Festival.

—Jon Abernathy is a local beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!

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