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Sláinte (Cheers)! Kells hosts first Irish Beer Festival

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Portland brewers to offer samples at St. Patrick's Day events

COURTESY PHOTO - Irish food, drinks, dancing and boxing are part of the tradition at Kells and elsewhere throughout St. Patrick's Day weekend, starting Friday, March 17. 
Garrett McAleese has been celebrating St. Patrick's Day for as long as he can remember.

Before he was born, his father, Gerard McAleese, founded Kells Irish Pub in Seattle in 1983 after moving from Ireland to the Pacific Northwest.

Then in 1990, when McAleese was a baby, they moved to Portland and opened Kells here. It's remained one of the city's beloved institutions — especially on St. Patrick's Day.

"I grew up in the bar here," says McAleese, who runs the bar at Kells Brew Pub on Northwest 21st Avenue while his dad runs Kells Irish Pub downtown on Southwest Second Avenue.

"The most nostalgic thing is seeing everyone in green, with smiles on their faces ... Even if you're not Irish, everyone puts on a green shirt and comes out and has a great time."

Kells has been the epicenter of St. Patrick's Day festivities for decades — with a weekend-long festival featuring traditional food, Irish beer, live music, dancing and an annual black-tie "smoker," a boxing event that matches Golden Glove boxers from Ireland against the top U.S. amateur fighters.

With St. Patrick's Day festivities next week, however, they will kick it up a notch, with a first-ever Irish Beer Festival. That means there will be plenty more to drink than the ubiquitous Guinness.

"I had a bunch of brewer friends bugging me ... 'Can I have my beer there?'" McAleee says.

COURTESY PHOTO - Party-goers have been celebrating St. Patrick's Day at Kells in Portland for nearly three decades. This year there will be a lot more than Guinness being poured, as Portland brewers try their hand at specialty Irish brews. There are only so many taps to fill. So this past fall, he decided to host an Irish Beer Fest, as a chance to showcase craft beer and cider brewed with Irish customs and flavors and ingredients, and let party-goers taste them all under one heated tent.

Local brewers were thrilled, and set to making their own creations

"Everyone's excited to do something different," McAleese says. "We all make IPAs. These guys want to do something more exciting."

Some are using Kells' stock of Irish ale yeast.

Deschutes Brewery is making an Irish stout just for the festival. Culmination Brewing is making a potato pilsner, and Cascade Brewing is making a blond Irish coffee beer that's been put in Irish whiskey barrels.

Other participating brewers include 54°40' Brewing, Burnside Brewing, Cider Riot!, Grixsen Brewing, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Kells Brewery, Lompoc Brewing, Lucky Lab Brewpub and Mt. Hood Brewing.

To round out the beer tasting, there will be Irish dancers, bagpipers, live music and Irish food specials — including shepherd's pie, fish and chips, and corned beef and cabbage as well as Northwest-caught salmon and other classics — all three days.

Minors are welcome daily until 4 p.m., and attendees are encouraged to travel between the Irish Beer Festival and the 26th annual Kells Irish Festival next door. (Kells Irish Pub, 112 S.W. Second Ave., will also host a weekend-long festival.)

Judging from the sheer volume of craft beer festivals in Portland, it may just be the start of a new, enduring tradition.

"The response from the beer community in Portland has been enormous," McAleese says. "It's gotten bigger than ourselves; we're building community."

Check it out: St. Patrick's Day Irish Beer Festival, Kells Brew Pub, 210 N.W. 21st Ave., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. March 17-18, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. March 19.

For tickets and more info: www.kellsbrewpub.com

@jenmomanderson