The Oregon Beer Awards are now seeking submissions and voting applications for the 2016 OBAs to be announced at an public ceremony on February 23rd, 2016 at Revolution Hall in Portland. Awards will be handed out in 14 beer-style categories and 5 best of categories in what aims to be the state’s largest beer competition. This year’s OBAs have been re-imagined, improved, and made more ambitious for their 2nd year.
Last year the awards–organized by Willamette Week–were a surprisingly big hit, featuring an over-attended awards ceremony at the Doug Fir Lounge. (Recap of last year here.) The 2016 improved edition strives to become a new standard in statewide competition by moving the beer style categories into a blind judged competition. Competition Director Ben Edmunds seeks between 400 and 650 beers submitted for this years awards in a professionally conducted blind tasting modeled after esteemed competitions such as the Great American Beer Festival. The awards themselves and the ceremony, though, are more inspired by the likes of the Academy Awards.
Alex Ganum of Upright Brewing accepts his award at the 2015 OBA’s
The “non-beer” award categories are for New Brewery, Best Beer Festival, Best Brewpub Experience, Best Beer Bar and Brewery of the Year. Those categories are of course impossible to be judged by tasting so will be voted on by the over 200 members of the OBA Voting Academy. The OBA voters are made up of industry experts from across the state, from professional brewers to beer distributors, hop growers, taproom bartenders and buyers, beer writers, and other industry pros. The OBA’s hope is to grow the voters even further to reflect the community in every region from Ashland to Astoria. In that interest, anyone part of the industry or with other expert cred can easily apply to the voting academy by filling out a very short form here.
Beer journalist/OBA Academy member Jeff Alworth, Widmer’s Doug Rehberg and fellow journalist Pete Dunlop at the 2014 OBA’s
In the interest of keeping the beer awards approachable and easy to understand without politics of beer styles and millions of subcategories, the organizers (including myself) have defined fourteen beer style categories. These styles and guidelines are aimed at capturing and including as many Oregon beers as possible, but are also loose enough to take on more modern style interpretations instead of relying on older, more prohibitive guidelines. Ben Edmunds, the Competition Director and current President of the Oregon Brewers Guild and Brewmaster at Breakside Brewery, said, “if successful, this will be the only competition of its kind, and (in my opinion) it is the sort of competition that Oregon Beer deserves.” The categories of blind judged competition are: Pils/Helles/Kolsch, Wheat/Wit/Weizen, Stout/Porter, Classic Styles (Lagers, Ales, Brown, Amber, Red, etc.), Belgian Beers, Sessionable Hoppy Beers, Strong Hoppy Beers, Dark Hoppy Beers, American IPA, Flavored Beers, Fruit + Field Beers, Sour + Wild Beers, Barrel-Aged Beers, + Experimental Beers. For those concerned those categories are too broad, here is some more info from the much more complete OBA Manual.
The OBA style descriptions are meant as general guidelines for each category. These are not proscriptive guidelines, which define beer by process, raw materials, or particular technical specifications. In general, it is not our goal to reward or eliminate beers on a technicality. Judges should use their expertise and familiarity with styles and trends to determine what constitutes the appropriate ‘boundary’ of each style. Similarly, brewers should enter their beers into the category which they feel it most comfortably fits without having to worry about the risk of it being knocked out because a beer is slightly outside the style guidelines.
Part of the objective of the OBA is to re- ward beers for being harmonious and dynamic. This differentiates it from other competitions in which medals are given along very strictly written style guidelines. As such, a beer with no technical flaws that varies from classic style parameters will be judged in greater esteem than a beer with technical flaws that adheres to style.
The split of the categories is intended to reflect the Oregon beer market as it is currently popularly segmented, while also allowing for all styles to be entered into some category. The fact that there are four categories devoted to hop-forward beers is a reflection of popularity of those beers on the market. The split of categories will evolve from year-to-year based on market trends, judge/brewer input, and number of entries into a category.
In all categories, the ideal is a harmonious and delicious beer which exemplifies the category as it exists in today’s beer culture. Harmoniousness includes technical criteria such as color and carbonation as well as more qualitative elements like finesse, moreishness/drinkability, and balance. Unless it is ‘typical’ of the style, technical flaws such as diacetyl, acetal- dehyde, sulfur, acetone, astringency, unpleasant bitterness, oxidation, autolysis and DMS should not be present, even at low levels. Certain esters, phenols, fusel alcohols and acids are appropriate to some styles when in balance.
In all categories except Category 9/American IPA, the brewer should note the style of beer entered. Some categories require additional information.
Brewers interested in competing can find and download a much more detailed guide to categories at http://www.wweek.com/2015/11/02/oregonbeerawards/ as well as beer submission forms and more info.
If you’re interested in getting involved–perhaps sponsoring the awards or even an individual award category–contact me. Meanwhile, mark January 8th on your calendar as the submission deadline and February 23rd for the Awards Ceremony at Revolution Hall which will be open to the public with many of the best beers on tap.