2012 Best of the Year Awards

Rather than have one blogger pick his or her favorite beers, brewers, IPAs, and etc. of 2012, I have polled a number of writers, critics, industry professionals, and just plain expert beer geeks for their picks on the best of Oregon craft beer, as well as industry awards for Best Non-Oregon Beer and Best and Worst trends. The judges were Jonathan Carmean, manager of Saraveza; Paul Kasten from Wildwood Restaurant; Bill Night from the It's Pub Night blog; Jeff Alworth of Beervana; Holly Emery-Walen, manager of Belmont Station's Bier Cafe; Jon Abernathy, beer blogger at The Brew Site; Brian Yaeger, beer writer for All About Beer mag; Abram Goldman-Armstrong, professional beer writer and judge; Nicole Kasten, beer blogger and founder of Beer Connections; and The New School's ElGordo and "SNOB" Ritch. All votes cast were private, and as such no one critic's votes could single-handedly sway any category.

Best Oregon Beer of 2012 Readers Choice Poll
Winner: Boneyard RPM IPA
For the last few weeks we have polled our readership on their favorite Oregon beer of 2012. It started out as a race between The Commons Flemish Kiss, Burnside Sweet Heat, Upright Fantasia, and Boneyard RPM. Once Cascade Brewing's fans heard about the race, their Blueberry Ale shot up to #1. A day or two later, a groundswell of support for Boneyard Brewing surged forward and did not stop throwing votes at the RPM IPA until it was healthily ahead of all competitors. Congratulations to Boneyard RPM IPA, which has to be the breakout Oregon beer of 2012.


Best Oregon Taphouse* 
    Winner: APEX
    Runner-Up: TIE Bailey's Taproom &Horse Brass Pub
    APEX is the newest taphouse to make this list, and after 2 years it has finally deservedly earned the top spot. Perhaps it's the huge patio, or maybe the 50 taps. Could it be the pinball room, or even the selection of rare and vintage bottles? Perhaps it's all of the above, but for me it's the dedication to serious craft beer without other bullshit getting in the way. Coupled with owner Jesse McCann's ability to bring in the big fish, aka visiting guest brewers and even those not normally distributed in the state of Oregon, and you have the one of the largest and most impressive tap lists in the state.

    Other nominees:
    • Saraveza
    • Belmont Station
    • The Beermongers
    • Roscoe's


      Best Non-Oregon Beer of 2012 *  Winner: Firestone Walker Wookey Jack

      Runner Up: Green Flash Rayon Vert
      As usual, our brothers and sisters in craft beer in California dominated with terrific examples of hoppy beer. My personal favorite was Sierra Nevada's Ruthless Rye, but Firestone Walker's take on a Cascadian Dark Ale with Wookey Jack easily won this category. Who am I to dispute what is easily the best new CDA to come out in years? I would also like to give a mention to Anchorage Brewing's Bitter Monk, which would have placed 3rd. In a crowded field of Belgian IPAs, Achorage's barrel-aged, Brett-inflected take was the best.

      Other top nominees:
      • Anchorage Brewing: Bitter Monk
      • Boulevard: Rye on Rye
      • Elysian Brewing: Pumpkin Ale
      • Elysian Brewing: Dark o' the Moon Pumpkin Stout
      • Rodenbach Caractere Rouge
      • Epic Brainless on Peaches
      • Sierra Nevada: Ruthless Rye IPA

       
      Best Oregon Beer*
      Winner: Upright Brewing Fantasia

      Runner-Up 3-Way Tie! Boneyard RPM, Burnside Sweet Heat, Double Mountain Devil's Kriek

      This category, along with Best Oregon Brewery, were the toughest to decide. Both came down to multiple ties in voting and forced a tie breaker. Many of the nominees would have made a worthy best beer of the year, especially the three runners-up, which are all very different and all the best examples in their respective styles. Fantasia, a barrel fermented ;ambic-style wild ale with peaches, gets the nod for simply being the most juicy and delicious beer that you want to follow up with another.

      Other top nominees:
      • The Commons: Flemish Kiss
      • Logsdon Farmhouse Ales: Peche n' Brett
      • Breakside Brewery: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Aztec
      • Upright Brewing: Blend Love
      • Burnside Brewing: International Incident
      • Double Mountain/Terminal Gravity: Gravity Mountain IPA
      • Gigantic Brewing: IPA
      • Deschutes Brewery: Chasin' Freshies IPA
      • Widmer Bros. Brewing: Marionberry Hibiscus Gose
      • Breakside Brewery: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
      • Block 15 Restaurant and Brewery: Super Nebula


      Best Oregon IPA*
      Winner: Boneyard Brewing: RPM IPA

      Runner Up - Gigantic Brewing: IPA 

      2012 was the year that Boneyard Brewing and its flagship RPM IPA really burst onto the Oregon craft beer scene. A rare scarcity in 2011, it jumped to higher production levels and captured an incredible amount of tap handles around town while winning many a blind tasting. I was actually surprised that Gigantic Brewing's IPA, also a newcomer, was a very close 2nd in this race. Who knows, if Gigantic's flagship IPA is more widely available on draft in 2013, Boneyard may have a real challenger to the local IPA throne previously dominated by Ninkasi, Terminal Gravity, and Bridgeport. Then again, if Boneyard Brewing gets its new facility and canning line up and running, we may be awash in RPM IPA, and that is something to look forward to.

      Other top nominees:
      • Breakside Brewing: IPA
      • Fort George Brewing: Vortex IPA
      • Oakshire Brewing: Watershed IPA
      • Ninkasi Brewing: Total Domination IPA
      • Barley Browns Brew Pub: Turmoil
      • 10 Barrel Brewing: Apocalypse IPA
      • Barley Browns Brew Pub: Tank Slapper IPA
      • Bridgeport Brewing: Hop Czar IPA

      Best New Canned or Bottled Beer *
      Winner: Burnside Brewing: Sweet Heat

      Runner-Up: Double Mountain: Killer Green  

      Long a fan favorite of mine, Sweet Heat was always a bit of a cult classic that would come on and off the taps at Burnside Brewing. I always said it was the best of the year-round beers, and with its Gold Medal win at this year's Great American Beer Festival, many others are discovering just how great a beer it is. A wheat ale brewed with apricots and Scotch Bonnet peppers, it has a terrific sweet, slightly tart and hot balance, and its low abv makes it incredibly quaffable. For the contest of best new canned or bottled beer, there really was no contest--Sweet Heat walked away with an easy win. Let's hope that next year the runner-up, Double Mountain's fresh hopped Killer Green, gets even wider distribution in bottles, as it may now be the best fresh hop beer ever bottled.

      Other top nominees:
      • Double Mountain Brewery and Taproom: Killer Red
      • Ninkasi Brewing: Helles Belles
      • Gigantic Brewing: IPA
      • Double Mountain Brewery and Taproom: Vaporizer
      • Fort George Brewery: Cavatica
      • Fort George Brewery: Oatmeal Pale Ale 


      Most Underrated Oregon Brewery* Winner: Brewers Union Local 180
      Runner-Up: Lucky Lab Brewing 

      Many breweries slip under the radar of the ├╝ber beer geek, and this category is the one I wish I could award multiple breweries as most underrated. However, I am overjoyed that the tiny brewpub in Oakridge, OR, operated by owner/brewer Ted Sobel has won. For one thing, Brewers Union is doing what no one else in the state is doing, focusing 100% on English-style cask conditioned ales. Sure, other brewers keg an ocassional firkin, but none have the dedication to the techniques and style that Brewers Union does. So committed to true cask beer is Ted Sobel that his firkins are only ever served without his presence at Block 15 Brewing; he will have it done right or not at all.

      I would also like to spare a few words for runner-up Lucky Lab Brewing, which rarely gets its due. Sure, many beer geeks cry about inconsistency in the pub's ales and lagers, and while that is sometimes true, the Lab also cranks out an incredible amount of brews for its 4 brewpubs, and inordinate amount of them are fantastic pub ales. That's one thing the Lab has in common with Brewers Union--its beers are mostly meant to be consumed on premises in a public house atmosphere. I find that Lucky Lab does wonders with the house 1056 ale yeast in making crisp clean pale ales, great rye beers, and a killer Scottish winter ale. LL has also made some of the more memorable big beers in Oregon, including Pavlov's Imperial Stout (a Port barrel-aged version about 3 years ago was unbelievable) and Old Yeller Barleywine, of which I have a 2006 bottle of in my cellar.

      Other top nominees:
      • Burnside Brewing
      • Solera Brewery
      • Occidental Brewing
      • Columbia River Brewing
      • Silver Moon Brewing
      • Good Life Brewing
      • Flat Tail Brewing 

      Best New Oregon Brewery (opened in 2012) Winner: Gigantic Brewing
      Runner-Up: pFriem Family Brewers

      This was a very tight race, with pFriem, Solera, and Crux all vying for the top spot, with Gigantic edging them all out. Without a doubt the most hyped opening of the year, Gigantic Brewing has delivered with exciting beers and unique branding that are nothing if not crowd pleasing. All of the nominees on this list were outstanding, but pFriem Family Brewers gets the nod for 2nd place by coming out of nowhere with little buzz and delivering outstanding polished Belgian-style beers. I can't recall any other brewery opening that delivered such fine-tuned ales from day one. It's going to be exciting to see what all of these guys do in the next year.

      Other top nominees:
      • Falling Sky Brewing
      • Solera Brewery
      • Crux Fermentation Project
      • The Ale Apothecary 


      Best Oregon Brewpub* Winner: Double Mountain Brewery& Taproom
      Runner-Up: Block 15 Brewing
      There are a number of excellent brewpubs in Portland like Deschutes, Laurelwood, Hopworks, Burnside, and Hair of the Dog, as well as standouts out of town like Fort George Brewing. Oregon's best, though, is up in the Columbia River Gorge in Hood River. Double Mountain gets the nod once again as best brewpub, an honor that is earned for going beyond just simply great beer, but taking food and atmosphere up another level. Double Mountain has easily the best pizza of any brewpub and some of the best in the state, bar none. The new expanded pub offers two bars and family friendly tables with a stage for live music. It's easy to see why Double Mountain is the number one brewery destination in the gorge. It will be hard to ever knock it off the top of this list.
       Other top nominees:
      • Hopworks (SE Powell)
      • Deschutes Brewery (Portland)
      • Burnside Brewing
      • Hair of the Dog Brewing
      • Fort George Brewing
      • Laurelwood Brewing (51st and Sandy)
      Best Oregon Brewer* 
      Winner: Nick Arzner - Block 15 Brewing
      Runner-Up: Ben Edmunds - Breakside Brewery 
      It's difficult to separate a brewer from his or her beers. If this were the Academy Awards, the same person would likely sweep best brewery, best brewer, and best beer, but by the incredible competition this year, our critics' votes are scattered across the board. With that being said, Nick Arzner, the owner/brewer at Corvallis, OR's Block 15 Restaurant and Brewery, was the hands-down winner in this category. Nick has been able to capture the crown at being excellent at the 3 styles that matter most to beer geeks: IPAs, Barrel-Aged Strong Ales (i.e., Imperial Stout), and barrel-aged Sour/Wild Ales. If that's not enough, he puts out solid examples of most American and English-style beers constantly, and does it all on a small 7 barrel brewhouse. Let's hope an expansion is in the works. Congrats to Nick!
      Other top nominees:
      • Alex Ganum - Upright Brewing
      • Mike Wright/Sean Burke - The Commons
      • Tony Lawrence - Boneyard Brewing
      • Matt Swihart - Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom
      • Shawn Kelso - 10 Barrel Brewing
      • Alan Sprints - Hair of the Dog Brewing
      • Ron Gansberg - Cascade Brewing


      Best Oregon Brewery of 2012  Winner: Deschutes Brewery
      Runner-Up 3-Way Tie: The Commons, Boneyard Brewing, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales

      This for me was the most difficult decision of this best-of list. I once again had to be the tie-breaker, as this was the most wide open field with no brewery dominating in votes. After the 11 other voters had weighed in, The Commons, Boneyard, Logsdon, and Deschutes were the top vote getters with only 2 votes each. This means I had to choose one. It was an extremely difficult decision, but I cast my vote with Deschutes simply for the broad spectrum and diversity of its beers. Known in beer geek circles for outstanding special releases like The Abyss and The Dissident, the brewery also churns out some killer one-off beers for its pubs, and I had quite a few amazing little small batches at the wonderful PDX pub. I love that Deschutes knows no bounds. There is nowhere the brewers won't go, from fruit beers, English-style pub ales, Belgian-styles, German styles, and obscure from gratzers to barrel-aged sour beers. Deschutes truly does it all, and I don't think a single other Oregon brewer has shown its level of success at so many different styles. Congratulations for a win well-deserved, guys!
       Other top nominees: 
      • Breakside Brewing
      • Upright Brewing
      • Deschutes Brewery
      • Block 15 Brewing
      • Barley Browns Brewing
      • Pelican Brewing
      Winner - TIE: More canned beers and Farmhouse ales

      Runner-Up: Session Beers

      Other top nominees:
      • Rotator IPAs
      • Cascadian Everything
      • Fruit Beers
      • Chili Pepper Beers
      • Gastropubs
       
      Winner - TIE: Bizarre ingredients and Calling fresh hop beers "wet" hopped and drying fresh hops   
      Other top nominees:
      • Everything in Cans
      • Rising Prices
      • Opening East Coast production breweries
      • Cascadian Everything

      5 comments:

      1. I was not much help to you, but it looks like folks made wise decisions.

        ReplyDelete
      2. Hey Ezra,

        I think "wet hop" is actually the old name. The very first American beer of the style, Sierra Nevada Harvest, was called that for many, many years.

        I guess it's new to Oregon, though. Gotta wet that beat with non-native beer on occasion to see the forest for the trees, dawg!

        -Martin Cizmar

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. the debate is not over what is the original term it's over what the definition of fresh hop and wet hop are. Since the beginning they have been the same but in recent years certain brewers have tried to divide the public by giving them separate definitions that allow them to use the "fresh hop" term more liberally and confuse consumers. Fresh Hop is the excepted term now by the Brewers Association and they dont recognize wet hop as any different. So the vote in worst new trend is really about those trying to reinterpret the definition for their own gain.

          Delete
        2. OK, that makes sense, thanks for explaining the situation.

          -Martin

          Delete
      3. 1. I love Gigantic's branding. Bravo.
        2. Was the Fantasia label chosen from a junior high school art class contest? Yikes. Not good.
        3. Hair of the Dog, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE overhaul your food menu. You have some of the best beer around, yet your food is nearly inedible.
        4. Double Mountain has also done a great job with their branding - their bottles really stand out at the grocery store.

        ReplyDelete

      Try not to be a dick.