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.
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
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!