Industry News

Best of the Year in Beer 2017

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Welcome to The New School’s annual Best of the Year Awards 2017. This is where we celebrate and congratulate the best in Oregon beer for the year, along with nods to best out-of-state beer and new brands to Oregon. Our awards are not chosen by any one individual or even by just New School contributors; instead, we polled over thirty of the best experts in the industry–folks who work at beer bars/bottleshops, familiar bartenders, homebrewers, and beer buyers, as well as writers and critics. All of them weighed in on the nominations and the final voting. You can agree or disagree with our winners, but they represent the views of a wide swath of the best beer experts in the state.

This year’s Best of the Year Awards represent a very varied list and wide selection of winners, but also some funny contradictions. It’s always funny to see a beer win one category but lose in another that it’s qualified for

Our annual voting commitee this year is: Lisa Morrison (Beer writer & Belmont Station owner), Sean Campbell (The BeerMongers), Michael Perozzo (New School, Brewcouver, North Bank Beer Week), Clark Prather (Beer Portland), Parker Hall (Willamette Week), Robbie Roda (Day One Distributing), Jeff Alworth (Beervana, The Beer Bible), Alex Kurnellas (Imperial Bottle Shop & Taproom), Don Sch (New School, Celebrator), Sarah Pederson (Saraveza owner), Martin Cizmer (Willamette Week), Bill Murningham (manager of Bailey’s Taproom), Aaron Brussat (New School, NW Brewing News), Herb Apon (Loyal Legion manager), Holly Amlin (pdxbeergirl), Ryan Geise (Saraveza manager), Gordon Feighner (New School), Michael Waite (Bridgetown Beerhouse), Christopher Barnes (Point Bank Distributing, Ithinkaboutbeer.com), John Chilson (Lost Oregon, New School), George Dimeo (Maletis Beverage), Pete Dunlop (Beervana Buzz), Warren Wills (AmericanCraftBeer.com), Geoff Phillips (Bailey’s Taproom/Level Beer), Ashley Rose Salvitti (Brewvana Brewery Tours), Holly Emery Walen (Beergarden), Sean Hiatt (Proper Pint Taproom), John Lovegrove (PDX: Brew City), Carl Singmaster (Belmont Station), Nicole Kasten (Owner Beer Connections), and Jeremy Lewis (Roscoe’s).

 

WORST NEW TREND

WINNER – Bad or Too Many NE Hazy IPAs

Last year the hazy New England-style IPA was just beginning to take hold, and now the style is a full-blown craze in Oregon, with more fans and more enemies than ever. Even those like myself who do enjoy the juicy, less bitter style are tired of bad renditions that are too thick and bitter, or are just being made for the sake of hype. This category was absolutely dominated by votes for/or against the hazy IPA, so much so that you could say the runner-up winner is also a rebuttal to a sub-sub style of the category, the Milkshake IPA. There is no denying the style is still popular, but the community is sending a message to brewers about getting it right. These beers shouldn’t be super milky, brown, or bitter from too much yeast and proteins still in suspension, or sweet from an unfinished fermentation.

Runner-Up – Milkshake IPA (brewed with lactose)

 

BEST NEW TREND

WINNER – More Beers in Cans

The voting in this category was a tight race between the winner “More Beer in Cans.” Following with only one less vote was a tie between the trend of bringing back classic styles like pilsners and the wine grape beers that are now becoming popular. The return of cans to craft beer has been a great thing. I love that they are light weight and stay fresh and even look better in cans. Clearly, the community is embracing cans, and it’s becoming more strange to see any successful medium-sized brewery that’s still bottling and not canning. Get with the times, we love cans.

Runner-Up TIE – Return to Classic Styles (more great Pilsners & Lagers) and Wine Grape Beers

 

BEST OREGON TAPHOUSE/BEER BAR

WINNER – Belmont Station

The regular annual winner does it again. Belmont Station eeks out another win in this category, closely trailed by Bailey’s Taproom, with The Beermongers coming in 3rd in voting, while Eugene’s The Bier Stein and Roscoe’s also in the running. The Station’s 20 year plus history probably has something to do with its dominance, as well as the 23 taps that are constantly rotating and very well selected, the Monk’s Deli food cart turning out a really freaking good Italian Cold Cut sandwich, and the bottleshop still boasting  a selection of over 1,200 beers from around the world.

Runner-Up – Bailey’s Taproom

 

BEST OREGON BREWPUB

WINNER – pFriem Family Brewers (Hood River)

The Hood River-based pFriem Family Brewers ran away with this category, dominating by more than twice the votes of the runner-up Fort George Brewery. Still, it was a very strong year for Fort George Brewery–with its most votes yet, those guys are certainly doing something right! pFriem recently added a new side taproom to the brewpub and the frequently updated beer and food menu are always enticing, as is the patio and fire pit and location just across the street from the waterfront park. Food, service, ambiance, and, of course, beer are all factors in determining the best brewpub, and pFriem Family Brewers is excellent at each.

Runner-Up – Fort George Brewery (Astoria)

 

 

Alesong owner/brewers left to right: Brian Coombs, Doug Coombs and Matt van Wyk.

OREGON BREWER OF THE YEAR

WINNER – Matt van Wyk (Alesong Brewing & Blending)

To be fair, Matt van Wyk splits the brewing duties with his co-founders, Doug and Brian Coombs, at the Eugene-area Alesong Brewing & Blending. Van Wyk helped put Oakshire Brewing on the map before opening Alesong in 2016 as a farmhouse-style brewery making fantastic brett wild fermentation saisons, fruited sours, and even the occasional double IPA. I recently made it out to the brewery’s new taproom and aging facility in the countryside and had a great experience with the quarterly lineup of releases and a tasty cheese board. In just a year Alesong Brewing has also racked up some impressive awards, like a Gold at the 2016 GABF and perhaps even more prestigiously, The New School’s Best New Brewery of 2016. Also let’s not forget the runner-up, Trevor Rogers of De Garde Brewing, which had perhaps its best year yet. de Garde released some of its most accomplished beers yet and recently completed the move to a new space and taproom in Tillamook.

Runner-Up – Trevor Rogers (De Garde Brewing)

 

BEST NEW OREGON BREWERY

WINNER – Wayfinder Beer

2017 was an unexpectedly strong year for new Portland-area breweries, and the competition was extremely stiff between Little Beast Brewing, Level Beer, and the winning Wayfinder Beer. Early voting had Little Beast Brewing dominating, with late results shifting towards Level Beer, but Wayfinder stayed a steady favorite and winning by two votes in the end. Wayfinder Beer has put another great brewpub on the map in Portland–one of the best there is–and head brewer Kevin Davey is also pushing the return to classic styles like Pilsner, Helles and Doppelbock. The beers are fantastic, the patio is amazing, and the food is up there with the best brewpub menus. Level Beer comes in runner-up with a varied lineup of hoppy beers to stouts and saisons and a fun and unique beer garden taproom and Little Beast Brewing is making world-class farmhouse and sour ales.

Runner-Up – Level Beer

 

MOST UNDERRATED OREGON BREWERY

WINNER TIE – Culmination Brewing and Upright Brewing

Constantly considered one of the most underrated breweries on the west coast, Upright Brewing was voted #1 most underrated in our 2015 Best of the Year Awards. Culmination Brewing is only three years old and won our Best New Brewery award in 2015. Neither brewery is something you could call off the radar–both are well liked among beer geeks but I think the voters are saying with this tie that they should be on the top lists of breweries in the state, let alone Portland. Our runner-up is Sunriver Brewing, the fantastic Bend brewery that won this category in the 2016 Best of the Year Awards.

Runner-Up – Sunriver Brewing

 

BEST NEW BRAND TO OREGON (in 2017)

WINNER – Modern Times Beer Co. (San Diego, CA)

This category was introduced last year and there is some confusion about it. The category is created to honor breweries from out of state that are being introduced to the Oregon market. Over the last two or so years, tons of breweries have been opening up distribution into Oregon for the first time, partly because of wanting to grow their production, but also because we have so many new indie distributors to bring them in. Our winner is no surprise; Modern Times Beer is perhaps the hottest brewery in California and growing very, very quickly with a lot of buzz. It entered the Oregon market right and has been constantly sending us new and buzz-worthy beers, plus local beer geeks are excited because the brewery is opening a Portland location in the former Commons Brewery facility. Our runner-up also did well in the voting; Reuben’s Brews is one of Washington’s best breweries and it’s awesome to get its beers now in Oregon. Reuben’s makes very tasty IPAs, rye beers, and pilsners, as well as the most award-winning Gose in the country.

Runner-Up – Reuben’s Brews (Seattle, WA)

 

BEST NON-OREGON BEER

WINNER – Fremont Brewing: Field to Ferment (Fresh Hop Pale Ale)

Fremont Brewing is possibly the most popular brewery in Seattle, and its beer was introduced to Oregon just a few years ago. Field to Ferment is the big fresh hop release and this year the brewery pushed it further than ever with bottles, cans, and draft and three different single-hop versions. Beer geeks have clearly responded and awarded this technique, Fremont Brewing is loved for its hoppy beers and it’s awesome to see it getting some more love in Oregon. More better fresh hop beers!

Our runner-up was a tie. Epic Brewing was one of those tiemakers with a new huge version of a popular annual Imperial Stout, this one a tripelized version called Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist. Fremont Brewing really proves its chops for winning this category and tying for second place in the same category with a special edition of the winter Abominable Ale aged in bourbon barrels, this is a special limited version of that with coconut. Fremont’s lovingly dubbed A-bomb series is becoming known as one of the best barrel-aged beers in the world.

Runner-Up TIE – Fremont Brewing: B-Bomb with Coconut and Epic Brewing: Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist

 

BEST OREGON IPA

WINNER – Breakside Brewery: What Rough Beast

This was a very tight category in voting with Fort George’s annual 3-Way IPA release coming in a close second by just one vote. Breakside Brewery has won more awards for its flagship IPA and Wanderlust IPA than any other IPAs in the state, and both earned votes again this year, but it’s the brand new release “What Rough Beast” that everyone loved this year. WRB is Breakside’s take on the New England/Northeastern-style hazy IPA and is a great bridge of the gap between the more bitter West Coast IPA and the sweeter, less bitter and more tropical NE-style. Even those who hate the NE-style have admitted love and/or respect for What Rough Beast. Does Breakside need to add it as a 3rd year-round release?

Runner-Up – Fort George Brewery/Great Notion Brewing/Reuben’s Brews: 3-Way IPA

 

OREGON BREWERY OF THE YEAR

WINNER – pFriem Family Brewers

For the third year running, pFriem Family Brewers out of Hood River is the winner of The New School’s Oregon Brewery of the Year. This fantastic feat is a testament to the multi-faceted brewery’s excellence in beers in nearly every style, from single hop and experimental IPA’s to barrel-fermented wild fruit sours and a world-class brewpub to boot. Like the runner-up brewery of the year Breakside Brewery, both breweries make such a diverse lineup of excellence that it can be difficult for individual beers to stand out of the pack, but the fans recognize they are safe blind buying any beer releases from either brewery. And what could be a better recommendation than that?

Runner-Up – Breakside Brewery

BEST OREGON BEER (2017 release or annual vintage)

WINNER – Fort George Brewery: 3-Way IPA

Fort George Brewery has been producing an annual three brewery collaborative IPA for the last three or four years now, and all have been good, but the 2017 release was a runaway, knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark-style hit. Teaming up with Portland’s Great Notion Brewing (famous for the NE-style IPA) and Seattle’s Reuben’s Brews (who makes amazing experimental hop beers) for a new hazy IPA version of 3-Way that became perhaps the fastest selling Oregon beer ever. I certainly have never seen the level of beer geek craze over a major not limited beer release in Oregon that I saw with 3-Way. It cements Fort George Brewery as a top level hop wizard (if it wasn’t already known as one) and the 3-Way IPA series as one of the most anticipated annual beer releases that there is.

Runner-Up – Upright Brewing: Pathways 

Let’s also give some love to runner-up Pathways saison from Upright Brewing. As an obscure and strange beer, Pathways saison is a constantly changing beer made from beers aged at least a year in casks, with parts of the blend using anything from fruits to herbs, wild yeast to bacteria, etc. Upright says the overall goal and flavor you can expect with Pathways is to expect that “Each blend does have the common goal of crafting a saison with character and balance that extends for over a year of conditioning, in which young bottles will show an attractive herbal hop profile intertwined with light malt, oak, and fermentation notes.”

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: [email protected]

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