What: 6th Annual High Gravity Brewfest

When: 1–8 p.m. Saturday

Where: McMenamins Old St. Francis School, 700 NW Bond St., Bend

Cost: $25 for brewfest glass and 12 tokens; $5 for glass; $2 each for tokens

Contact: www.mcmenamins.com/old-st-francis-school

In the depths of winter, cold days and long nights call for something extra, something richer and stronger than a typical porter or pale ale. It’s the time of year for barleywines, strong Belgian ales, imperial stouts and more — boozy and warming beers to enjoy in a snifter by a fire to offset the chill.

Such is the premise behind McMenamins’ High Gravity Brewfest, taking place this Saturday at the Old St. Francis School. This annual event features strong beers and ciders from more than two dozen participating breweries and cider makers, from other McMenamins locations and guests from Central Oregon and beyond.

The name “High Gravity” comes from brewing terms in which the “specific gravity” is the measurement of the amount of sugars in a solution. More sugar means more alcohol when the yeast ferment the beer, so a high starting gravity will yield a stronger beer.

First taking place in 2014, the festival was the brainchild of then-brewer Mike White. “Jared Prince (then the property manager at Old St. Francis) and I were talking about how an outdoor event during the winter months would be something that could work,” wrote White via email. The property’s fire pit and courtyard were well-suited for the event.

“And if it was going to be cold outside, then big and bold beers, and especially high gravity beers, would be a great fit,” White said.

In recent years, inclement weather has moved much of the event indoors into the theater, though there are still beers pouring outdoors by the fires.

White brews at Wild Ride Brewing Co. in Redmond, and teamed up with current Old St. Francis School brewer Vance Wirtz to collaborate on a Belgian Blonde Ale for the festival, named McWild. “We wanted to go with a style not always seen at beer fests,” said White. “We went with traditional style malts even with some grain/biscuit feel in a golden rod hue. We also added spicy and herbal hops to complement the body and the yeast.” Unlike American blonde ales, the Belgian style is strong and dry, typically in the range of 7 to 8 percent alcohol by volume. McWild is listed at 8.13 percent.

The collaboration brews are new this year. Wirtz reached out to a number of breweries, including Fort George Brewery of Astoria and Trap Door Brewing Co. of Washington, to craft the specialty beers that will debut at the festival.

The beer brewed with Fort George is a hazy New England-style IPA named Fort Francis.

“The Fort Francis Hazy was brewed with co-owner/brewer Jack Harris,” Wirtz wrote via email. “Jack used to brew for the company back in the day, so it was a cool little trip down memory lane. The beer was brewed with Azacca, Mosaic, and Ekuanot (hops) with a 5-pound-per-barrel dry hop of the trio. Didn’t come in as boozy as Jack wanted, but I think it will go over well with the people attending the fest.”

There is only one guideline for the festival: The beers must be strong. Nearly all of the beers pouring will be at least 7 percent alcohol or higher, and the styles vary widely. The most common tend to be imperial stouts, double IPAs, and barleywines, but strong red ales, bocks, Belgian strong ales and more have been represented.

Other highlights include the inclusion of Bend’s The Ale Apothecary, Great Notion Brewing from Portland, pFriem Family Brewers from Hood River, and six other McMenamins breweries pouring beers rarely if ever seen in Central Oregon. And local breweries are well represented as well, including Boneyard Beer, Crux Fermentation Project, Immersion Brewing Co., Kobold Brewing Co., Monkless Belgian Ales, Ochoco Brewing Co., and RiverBend Brewing Co.

All of these breweries will be showcasing the perfect styles of beers to be enjoyed by a warm fire on a cold day — or even indoors among friends. The Old St. Francis School provides ample opportunity to do both this Saturday with many beers you likely won’t see any other time of year.

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

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