As 2015 comes to a close, it’s time to tally up and settle scores as to the Best of the Year in Oregon Beer, breweries, beer bars, and trends according to local beer experts. Rather than just list our personal picks, we poll beer buyers, experts and critics to vote on a wide swath of nominees celebrating the best in beer.
This year our voting academy covered a wide swath of experts that we would like to thank: Sarah Pederson (Saraveza), Jeff Alworth (Beervana), Aaron Brussat (The Bier Stein & The New School), “SNOB” Ritch Marvin (The New School), Chris Tappan (The Beermongers), Kris McDowell (BeerMusingsKris, Brewvana, Oregon Beer Growler), Gordon Feighner (The New School editor), Bill Murningham (Bailey’s Taproom), Martin Cizmar (Willamette Week), Jackson Wyatt (NWIPA), Herb Apon (Loyal Legion), Don Scheidt (Celebrator), Michael Waite (Bridgetown Beerhouse), Chris Ormand (Belmont Station), Jon Abernathy (The Brew Site), Rodney Kibzey (Oregon Brew Crew), Hilda Stevens (Bazi Bierbrasserie), Pete Dunlop (Beervana Buzz), Drew Worden (The Hop & Vine), Holly Emery-Walen (beergarden), Branden Andersen (The New School, NW Brewing News), Alex Kurnellas (Imperial Bottle Shop & Taproom) and myself, founder of The New School. Each of us only accounts for one vote in each category, and with 23 voters, no one person holds much voting power.
Oregon Beer of the Year
pFriem Family Brewers: Pils
Runner-Up- Oakshire: Sun Made Cucumber Berliner-Weisse
Congratulations to pFriem in Hood River for turning its Pilsner into a Silver medal-winning beer at the Great American Beer Festival in 2015, and now winning the even more prestigious New School Oregon Beer of the Year award! I remember trying earlier versions of this beer tinged with diacetyl, but that only shows you how far this beer has come.
This category was overall a tight race, with no one beer running away with it. Oakshire’s Sun Made Cucumber Berliner-Weisse was only down by one vote. Other numerous vote getters were Ecliptic Brewing’s Bourbon barrel-aged Orange Giant, Buoy Beer’s Czech Pils, The Commons Petit Classique, and also pFriem’s Dank IPA.
Oregon Brewery of the Year
pFriem Family Brewers
Runner-Up a 3-way Tie – De Garde, Breakside Brewery and Barley Browns
2015 was a huge year for pFriem Family Brewers. In addition to that GABF performance and these two New School Best of the Year Awards, the brewery also installed a new brewhouse and began bottling its beers. I think those changes as well as a larger awareness of the brand has lead to a stellar year for pFriem, and that’s even more impressive considering that it just turned 3 years old this summer.
pFriem was a very decisive winner in this category, too. De Garde, Breakside, and Barley Browns were also top vote getters, but their combined total votes were still less than those for pFriem!
Best Oregon IPA
Block 15 Brewing: Sticky Hands
Runners-up a 2-way Tie – Barley Browns Brewing Pallet Jack and Breakside Brewery IPA
Sticky Hands has been a highly buzzed-about cult favorite beer for years now. It has been available in bottles on and-off in limited release and in different versions, but with the opening of Block 15 Brewing’s production brewery this year we can finally get Sticky Hands year-round. That expansion enabled Sticky Hands to be available in cans, which buoyed Block 15 to the top of this category.
Two GABF Gold medal-winning beers from Barley Browns brewpub and Breakside Brewery tied for the 2nd most vote getters. Which makes all three top IPAs from breweries that start with a “B”.
Best Non-Oregon Beer
Stone Brewing: Xocoveza
Runner-Up – Ballast Point: Grapefruit Sculpin IPA
This was an extremely tight race, with no one brewery pulling away with the win. Stone Brewing’s excellent spicy Mexican mocha-inspired beer comes away with the win by one vote. Ballast Point’s Grapefruit IPA that nearly blends Radler with west coast IPA was a close 2nd. Not far behind in voting was Crooked Stave’s Cherry Nightmare on Brett, Knee Deep Brewing’s Breaking Bud IPA, and Perennial Ales Abraxas Imperial Stout.
Best Newly Bottled or Canned Oregon Beer
Buoy Beer Czech Pils
Runner-Up – Block 15 Brewing Sticky Hands IPA
Three beers lead this tightly-contested category, with each topping the each other by only one vote. In the end, Buoy Beer Co. is buoyed (haha!) by the release of its Czech Pils for the first time in bottles, while Block 15 got a similar boost from the release of cans of Sticky Hands IPA. Only one vote behind Block 15, pFriem Family Brewers Pils which is pretty great, but perhaps not surprising since it also won our Oregon Beer of the Year.
Most Underrated Oregon Brewery
Runners-up Tie – Occidental Brewing and Bend Brewing Co.
Wow, this one was unexpected, but Upright Brewing ran away with the win. Shocking considering that it was one of the first breweries in Oregon to do farmhouse ales and introduced many to saisons and brett beers. Upright still does very well and may have earned one of the strongest devoted cult followings over the years, but it hasn’t received the public press or praise other newer breweries have had over the past few years.
Following up Upright with half the votes are the well loved but under-recognized German-style beers of N. Portland’s Occidental Brewing and the award-winning beers of the Bend Brewing Co. With the recent news that Bend Brewing was being sold and an expansion on the way, it may not be considered underrated for long!
Best New Brewery
Runner-Up – Montavilla Brew Works
Far and away the clearest cut winner of these awards was Culmination Brewing for best new brewery. We were the first publication to write about Culmination back when it was supposed to be in Southwest Portland in 2013 and have tracked its progress since. It looks like all those years of delays and hard work are paying off.
Runner-up was the also long awaited brewery Montavilla Brew Works with the only other vote getters 10 Barrel Brewing’s new Portland location, 54-40 Brewing in Washougal, and Rosenstadt Brewing.
Brewer of the Year
Michael Hunsaker (Fat Head’s Portland)
Runners-Up Tie – Josh Pfriem (pFriem Family Brewers) and Ben Edmunds (Breakside Brewery)
This was a really great win for a very well-liked brewer who came out of nowhere to claim a Gold Medal at GABF this year after only one year in business. Fat Head’s Portland brewpub has taken people from critically skeptical to nearly beloved over the course of a year, and most of that should be credited to Michael Hunsaker.
Continuing pFriem Family Brewers’big run of 2015, co-founder Josh Pfriem did well in the voting, as did last year’s winner, Ben Edmunds of Breakside Brewery.
Best Oregon Brewpub
Buoy Beer Co.
Runner-Up – Fat Head’s Brewing
Buoy Beer Co. is off to an astounding debut after being open for only just over a year, and it really ran away with this category by doubling the runner-up (Fat Heads) votes. This is pretty crazy, since it came out of nowhere to dominate a really strong category that featured previous winners like Double Mountain, Breakside, Deschutes PDX, and other top vote getters, pFriem and Ecliptic. Voters point toward the view at Buoy in addition to the beers, of course. I think the fresh seafood and location on Astoria’s waterfront also help.
Best Oregon Taphouse/Beer Bar
Runner-Up – Bailey’s Taproom
West coast and Portland institution Belmont Station wins this category for the 2nd year in a row, while Bailey’s Taproom–which won in 2013–comes in 2nd. Perhaps it’s the great staff, the largest selection of bottles in town, the frequently rotating guest taps, or the newish patio and food cart, but Belmont Station continues to be one of the best on the west coast. Coming up behind it were Roscoe’s and an impressive multiple write-in votes for NWIPA.
Best New Trend
Runners-Up 3-Way Tie – Session IPAs, Crowlers and Craft-Only Beer Distributors
Kettle sours ran away with this category almost like a referendum to the small backlash some brewers have made about the quick souring technique. Most of the public, critics, and even brewers are all about this affordable, quick, and easy method to souring beer, though they agree it does not have quite the complexity of a wild fermented beer. Each only getting a 3rd of kettle sours vote but still in the top vote getters in this category were Session IPAs, Crowlers, and Craft-Only Beer Distributors.
Worst New Trend
Runner-Up – Too Many Pumpkin Ales
It’s no surprise that selling out dominated this category, almost nothing came close except for pumpkin ales. Of course, this was the year when Anheuser-Busch InBev went on a craft brewery purchasing spree and Miller-Coors, Constellation Brands and others followed suit, leaving many drinkers without their favorite independently owned brewery. The backlash has been swift and strong. That’s really telling that pumpkin ales were the only bad trend that could follow it. People love and love to hate the cloying pumpkin pie spiced beers that are increasingly common every fall.