best of the year

BEST OF THE YEAR Winners of 2010

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For our year end Best Of list I opened the voting up to a larger contingent of critics than just The New Schoolers (who narrowed it down to the nominations). I polled the likes of Jeff Alworth (Beervana), Bill Night (It’s Pub Night), Charles Culp (An Ear for Beer), Derek Arent (ex-Beer Around Town), Dave Selden (33 Beers), Jason Wallace (Portland Beer & Music), Brady Walen (The Daily Pull), and, of course, New School contributors themselves: SNOB Ritch, ElGordo, Ben Edmunds, and myself. My hope was to get some sort of consensus on the 10 categories I chose, sort of like the NWBN Readers Choice Awards. These awards, however, are picked by the people who spend all of their free time (and some of their professional time) writing, talking, and thinking about beer as amateur or professional critics, not by some sleazy ballot-stuffing initiative by the likes of Columbia River Brewing. Tallying the votes I felt as if I had a horse in the race and I had bet my life savings on it, but I didn’t even know which horse was mine.

So without further ado, I present the Top 10, the #1 vote getters in each category plus the runners up. Hopefully these awards have at least a sliver of respectability.
Best Oregon Beer

Winner: Upright Four Play
Runner-Up: Deschutes Hop in the Dark
This may be the most disputed and most controversial category (much like the label), and it was clear from the voting that there would be no clear winner. Before I opened up voting to other critics Deschutes Hop in the Dark was up by 1 vote, but eventually the breakout CDA lost ground and fell to Upright’s hybrid Saison/Kriek, Four Play. I could not have been more surprised, as it is a beer that was only produced in a small quantity and was sold almost exclusively at the brewery tasting room. Clearly, though, it has made a lasting impression.

Best Non-Oregon Beer
Winner: Firestone Walker Parabola
Runner-Up: Dogfish Head Bitches Brew
This category was not even a contest, as Firestone Walker walked away with almost all the votes. Parabola was a sneaker that did not break any new ground but really showcased the Imperial Stout style, as well as what meticulous barrel-aging can do for a beer when it is not rushed. Dogfish Head’s Bitches Brew, a quasi Imperial Stout, made a strong showing as well.
Best Oregon Brewery
Can be either a brewpub or a production brewery residing in the state of Oregon.

Winner: Double Mountain

Runner Up: Block 15

Another popular and tight category that had the low-key Block 15 out of Corvallis make a surprise appearance after just 2 years of production. They still fell to the rightfully well-loved Double Mountain from Hood River. I find it interesting that neither of the top 2 in this category is based in Portland, though from Double Mountain’s presence here you might not know it. DM has proved a master of all styles, from the hoppy IRA, Hop Lava and the new Vaporizer, to sours like the Devil’s Kriek and killer German style Pilsners. An extremely versatile brewery in a tiny space, they really elevate what is possible in a brewpub.

Most underrated Oregon Brewery

Winner: Oakshire Brewing

Runner Up: Widmer

Another runaway winner was Oakshire Brewing, which really showed its stuff this year. After quickly getting out of Ninkasi’s shadow, they have established themselves as another force to be reckoned with from Eugene. While Oakshire’s standard beer lineup is decidedly American, their repertoire of one-offs and seasonals challenges Double Mountain in versatility and mastery. From Berliner-Weisses to Belgian Strong Ales, they are doing it all and brewing it well. I think we will be seeing a lot more of them in the next year.


Best Oregon Brewpub

Winner: Deschutes Brewing

Runner Up: Double Mountain

Deschutes has been an Oregon staple for many years, but it was not until they opened their Portland pub that the beer geeks really learned what they are capable of. Unleashing tons of special beers, including the styles the beer geeks love (sours, barrel-aged beers, double IPA’s), and great food and service, the Portland Public House has a lot going for it. Double Mountain made a strong showing in this category as well, losing to Deschutes by just 2 votes.

Best Oregon Taphouse

Winner: Bailey’s Taproom

Runner-Up: Saraveza

This was another clear-cut category, with Bailey’s Taproom the clear favorite and Saraveza coming up from behind. Bailey’s has stood out with their curated, constantly rotating taplist that features no standard taps. They also go out of their way to get beers not available through regular distribution channels. If that were not enoug,h their events have really taken off and heated up in 2010, with their own barrel-aged Anniversary Party, Brewpublic’s Microhopic 2 and Killer Beer Fest, and the homegrown local Belgian fest. Bailey’s has many more events in the works that promise to make them the taphouse to beat in the coming years. Interestingly, Saraveza was the closest competitor, and both of these places have opened in just the last few years, leaving the old standbys in the dust.

Best Oregon Brewer

Winner: Alex Ganum (Upright Brewing)

Runner-Up: Matt Swihart (Double Mountain)

This was probably the toughest category to vote in. For one thing, what makes a brewer better in one year than the next, or, for that matter, over his or her whole career? Nonetheless, we did our best to choose who stood out from the pack in 2010, and it was a down-to-the-wire fight. For a while there I was pretty sure that Matt Swihart from Double Mountain had this race locked up, but as the final votes from other beer writers came in, Alex Ganum of Upright Brewing eased them all, finishing with just one more vote than Matt. Especially impressive is that Upright has been around for less than 2 years and is just coming into its own. Alex has clearly left an impression on the Oregon craft beer landscape in a short period of time.

Best new Brewery
Must have opened their doors in 2010.

Winner: Coalition Brewing

Runner-Up: Mt. Tabor Brewing

This was one of the categories that was a total blowout. Coalition won hands down, with all but 4 of the votes. Coalition opened quietly in 2010, but has steadily built a reputation for solid – if not groundbreaking – beers and a cozy pub atmosphere with quality food. It also helps that owners, Kiley Hoyt and Elan Walsky, are always there to welcome everyone.

Best new Trend
A trend can be anything from cask beer to extreme beer to simply the marketing of beer.
As long as it is beer-related, it qualified for voting.


Winner: Cascadian Dark Ales
Runner Up: Beer Cocktails
This was no surprise, as 2010 was clearly the year of Cascadian Dark Ales. Whether you called them Black IPAs, CDAs, or India Black Ales, they continued to stand out, win awards and create buzz. A big trend in and of itself was breweries willing to risk sales by calling a beer a CDA instead of the more recognizable Black IPA. Production of the style moved into the craft brewing mainstream, with Deschutes, Oakshire, Full Sail, and more coming out with their own versions. And how could we not mention Barley Brown’s Turmoil CDA, which won the Gold medal at GABF in the first year ever that this style was recognized (as India-Style Black Ale).
I also am proud to say that the Beer Cocktails trend had a strong showing, losing by just 1 vote. Next year may be the year that they really take off.

Worst new Trend
Tie: Everyone Making (often sub-par) Sour Beers and High Alcohol Beer Arms Race (recent Brewdog controversy)
This was the category where our voters had the hardest time agreeing. It had the most nominations for a variety of subjects – from collaboration beers to the proliferation of nano breweries and meat beers, no one seemed to be able to agree on anything. In the end I cast the vote that ended up tying these two winners, and each of them were only 1 vote ahead of most of the other nominations. Indeed, the worst new trends were plentiful this year. Here’s to hoping there will be fewer awful trends next year!

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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: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

14 Comments

  1. Joe

    December 31, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Awesome list. Definitely glad to see upright getting some preps. Really like what they are doing.

    I really have to disagree on the ‘worst new trend’ field. Done properly, sours and high alcohol content beers are, hands down, the best stuff on earth. Which leads me to my next point, I am super surprised that Cascade Barrel House was not mentioned in any fashion here. The stuff they are doing there is downright amazing. I would put their ‘bourbonic plague’ as one of the best beers in America.

  2. Reino

    December 31, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Great list guys, and bonus points for it being posted at 4:28am ha.
    You are spot on with Oakshire. I think all it’s going to take for them to go from underrated to being nationally recognized is their bottling of Matt’s bourbon barrel-aged barleywine, especially if they name it Wooden Heaven.
    Also, I wouldn’t have minded if you self-pimped and gave yourself the award for best label art. I’ve sold plenty of bottles of Upright brews just because of how cool they look.

  3. Ben

    January 1, 2011 at 3:32 am

    Fully agree with pretty much all of this. Good list.

  4. Ritch

    January 1, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Gordo, Crusty Crab was referring to his post that got deleted. I read it before it was erased, basically he was questioning the legitimacy because Ezra works for Upright and did the beer label for Four Play. While I’m sure Ezra didn’t rig the contest, he probably should have responded with a rebuttal to Crusty instead of deleting his post. But what happened to Gordo’s post?

  5. Samurai Artist

    January 1, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Respond with a legitimate complaint and I will happily respond. Throw out a total BS accusation with absolutely no credibility and your not worth my time.

  6. Crusty Crabs

    January 1, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    You mean your shameless self promotion isn’t really appearing in your blog? That’s a legitimate complaint. Not BS, it’s a fact. The fact that you are milking the public blogging circuit with this crap is disgusting. Do you have no self respect? You won’t leave this up because you can’t bare to expose the true nature of this web site, it’s a tool to expose your mediocre artistic talent and make money for yourself and the so called friends that use you.

  7. Samurai Artist

    January 1, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    that may be one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. So for that I will leave it up.

  8. ElGordo

    January 1, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Ritch – Chairman Mao deleted it.

  9. Jason

    January 2, 2011 at 5:11 am

    While I don’t really agree with ol’ CC, I do wonder why some bloggers continue to tout the Coalition beers. It makes me think that because of the personal connections some may have they are leery of criticizing their stuff. The last time there, a few weeks ago, I was with 3 others and we all got different beers and compared. With a few differences of degree, they all tasted the same—green, and what I’d expect from a beginning, novice brewpub. Actually, they all tasted like the beers I had from a starter brewpub in NE back in the early 90’s.

    I can understand why one would question SA’s praise of beers, despite their worth, considering that he has a vested interest.

    I understand that Portland’s a small town and not a place where criticism, even when warranted, can hurt—at least not for those out of the schmoozing, popular loop.

    As much as I hate to say it, because he goes over the top at times to prove his point, it makes me appreciate Dr. Wort. Not everything is great, or even good, and there’s no good without talking about the bad.

  10. Samurai Artist

    January 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    This criticism is ironic because before I opened up the polling to critics not a part of the New School Hop in the Dark would have won best beer and Matt Swihart would have won for best brewer. And believe it or not my vote would not have been for Four Play as best beer.

    2nd, I have no vested interest in Coalition Brewing. I have never done any work for them. Yes I brewed a coalator there (which I was not paid for) and it was a location on the pub crawl but they did not pay me for that, they were merely in the location I chose for number of close beer establishments. Furthermore I have never even reviewed Coalition or their beers, the most I have done was highlight their winter beer as one of the better ones in the preview.

    It is very inaccurate to portray my opinions as biased since I have offered negative posts on a # of breweries I have actually worked for and have gotten a lot of flack for that. I knew of course I would get some of these accusations but they are way off base.

  11. Jeff Alworth

    January 3, 2011 at 5:37 am

    Jason, yours is the first I’ve heard of rumblings against Coalition. They definitely make hoppy beers, and a whole line of them. But it’s clearly intentional. Unlike Migration (which I do hate to slag), their beers are consistent and clean. You may not like the recipes, but I can’t see an argument for their being sub-par. (And I really love the maple porter.)

    As for Ezra’s various interests–this could be a problem if he weren’t up-front about it. He is. There’s no issue of transparency. If you distrust his commentary on Upright, fair enough, but you have all the info you need so you are able to distrust it. The fact that Ezra is in the beer world makes his blog more worth reading, not less.

    It’s a blog, not a newspaper that claims objectivity. There’s no advertising on the site, so there’s no conflict of interest. In fact, which site do you think is more transparent in terms of monetary interests–this site or Oregonlive.com?

  12. Jason

    January 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    I have to concur with Jeff here. I have really enjoyed Coalition’s output so far. Sure, a few of the beers are similar in taste but none have I found sub-par and several have been very good (Liquid Sterling, Maple Porter come to mind).

    It is true that beer bloggers in Portland are often hesitant to offer truely negative press and frequently choose to be silent in regards to substandard breweries. But I think it is rare to find anyone heaping praise on substandard beer because of some sort of relationship. And Ezra has not been known to hold back in expressing his dislike of certain breweries (cough: CBP :cough).

  13. Mr. Murphy

    January 4, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    My biggest complaint is that Fourplay was not Upright’s best beer. I much prefered the Late Harvest. I would also take the regular Four and Five over Fourplay.

  14. Anonymous

    April 19, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I just stumbled across this blog and am now officially a fan. I write the beer/wine/spirits blog “The Pour Fool” for the Seattle P-I and all three of my “2010 Best of the NW” ales came from Oregon: Deschutes “The Abyss” and Laurelwood’s “Workhorse” received appreciative comments from my readers but the third seemed to puzzle everybody: Alex Ganum/Upright’s “Billy the Mountain”. Honestly, I had never heard of Alex or the brewery before a reader in P-town MAILED me – unsolicited – bottles of Alex’s “Four” and Billy. Loved ’em both and was floored at the brewing erudition I found in each one. My wife just returned from a girls-only weekend in Portland and she made a special trip – across the bridge, IN HER WHEELCHAIR – to visit Upright and bring me a new bottle of Billy. (clearly, I over-married) Along with my bacon-maple bars from Voodoo, I am a very happy guy today and delighted to see Alex, Deschutes (which has now twice been named my Best NW Brewery), Double Mountain, CDAs, and Parabola mentioned here. I also completely agree with the “Worst Trends” selections. My God, I LOVE a great sour but I have yet to taste one from ANY NW brewer and the high-alcohol/hopped-unto-death thing is now bordering on absurdity. I liken that stuff to the sort of frat-boy mentality that leads to chugging Tabasco or eating habaneros to win a bet. It’s neither art nor craft, just rampant escalation.

    Great blog! I’ll be reading regularly and, knowing me, probably commenting, too…

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