It’s time we look back on 2016 and celebrate the best and brightest of Oregon beer (and two out of state breweries) and award The New School’s Best of the Year 2016. As usual, rather than base our top picks on just one person’s opinion, we have instead polled over twenty experts of the Oregon beer community to weigh in with their votes. The winners don’t reflect any one person’s choices, and so achieve more of a consensus based on some of the most educated and outgoing experts that try more beers than most year round.
Our voting committee: Jackson Wyatt (NWIPA), John Chilson (New School correspondent, author of Lost Oregon), Aaron Brussat (New School Eugene and The Bier Stein), Michael Perozzo (Brewcouver, North Bank Beer Week), Don Sch (Celebrator, The New School), Charles Porter (upcoming Little Beast Brewing), Martin Cizmar (Willamette Week), Pete Dunlop (Beervana Buzz), Kris Thered (Beermusingskris), Warren Wills (AmericanCraftBeer.com, Parker Hall (homebrewer, Willamette Week), Chris Barnes (ithinkaboutbeer.com, Point Blank Distributing), Herb Apon (Loyal Legion), Dave Selden (33 Beers), Holly Emery-Walen (Beergarden Eugene), Alex Kurnellas (Imperial Bottleshop & Taproom), Sarah Pederson (Saraveza), Gordon Feighner (New School editor), Ritch Marvin (homebrewer, Marvin Estates), Kerry Finsand (Taplister, PDX Beer Week), Ashley Rose Salvitti (Brewvana Brewery Tours), Drew Worden (The Hop & Vine, Columbia Distributing), Jeff Alworth (The Beer Bible, Beervana), Nicole Kasten (Beer Connections, Brewed Oregon), John Lovegrove (PDX: Brew City), Steven Shomler (Portland Beer Stories), Bill Murningham (Bailey’s Taproom).
Worst New Trend
WINNER – Mergers and Buyouts
A concise victory–or is that failure–for the rapidly changing craft beer industry was more mergers and buyouts this year. This is the second year that buyouts have topped the list of our most hated trends, showing that the community still has not accepted the new realities of consolidation and big business taking pieces of the industry. We are not likely to see this trend change over the next few years, either.
Runner-Up – Cloudy New England-style IPAs
Best New Trend
WINNER – Cloudy New England-style IPAs
It’s telling that the now popular but controversial cloudy/hazy NE style IPAs easily won as best new trend but were also the runner-up in worst new trend. Overwhelmingly, though, beer buyers and critics are embracing or are at least curious about the shift to milkshake-like, soft, tropical, and less bitter IPAs popularized locally by Great Notion Brewing and nationally by breweries like The Alchemist and Trillium. This trend–and possible new style–seems destined to keep growing and may become at least as accepted and mainstream as Cascadian Dark Ales, aka American-style Black Ales.
Runner-Up – Fruit Beers
Best Oregon Taphouse/Beer Bar
WINNER – Belmont Station
Continuing its dominance and unbeaten record in our best of the year winners is again Belmont Station. This year Belmont was nearly edged out by both Saraveza and Roscoe’s, which were both just one vote behind. Possibly experiencing a surge for its 40th anniversary, the Horse Brass Pub was only two votes behind. It will be interesting to see if Belmont Station continues the dominance next year.
Runner-Up TIE – Roscoes (PDX) and Saraveza (PDX)
Best Oregon Brewpub
WINNER – pFriem Family Brewers (Hood River, OR)
A runaway hit, pFriem easily claimed victory for the finest brewpub in Oregon in the biggest blowout of this year’s best of awards. The brewpub award is about a combination of great beer, great food, atmosphere, and service. It’s about the overall experience of being there, not just the beer. If you haven’t been to pFriem’s location across from Hood River’s waterfront park, you’re missing out. Send the kids (or adults) to play or walk in the park against the water while catching a bite or brew inside within a big airy space with plenty of views to the surroundings. There is also a patio with fire pit and excellent pub grub ranging from burgers to mac and cheese, meat and pickle plates to classic German options like schnitzel and bratwurst.
Runner-Up TIE – Fat Head’s Brewing PDX and Double Mountain Brewery (Hood River, OR)
Oregon Brewer of the Year
WINNER TIE – Nick Arzner (Block 15) and James Dugan/Andy Miller (Great Notion)
For the first time ever, this category has ended in a tie vote between Nick Arzner of Corvallis beer geek favorite Block 15 Brewing and James Dugan and Andy Miller of the new Portland buzz brewery Great Notion. This marks a great victory for both. It’s Nick’s 2nd time being voted best brewer as he also was in 2012. It’s rare to keep this relevant and stay that well liked, if not more so, four years later. Nick and Block 15’s continued pushing of the envelope in everything from coffee stouts to barrel-aged barleywines and even the trendy sours and cloudy tropical IPAs. Perhaps even crazier is James Dugan and Andy Miller’s rise from unknown home brewers to tying the vote for best Oregon pro-brewer in less than a year since his beer debuted. Great Notion Brewing has influenced the local beer scene more than most others do in just its first year in business, and the work earned Dugan and Miller and Great Notion a Silver medal at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival.
Runner-Up – Mike Hunsaker (Fat Head’s Brewing PDX)
Best New Oregon Brewery
WINNER – Alesong Brewing & Blending
A two way race from the start, Great Notion Brewing came out with an early lead in voting, only for some of the leading beer buyers to help sway and push Alesong Brewing & Blending ahead and to the win. Co-owner Matt Van Wyk’s history in the Oregon beer scene and a recent Gold Medal win at the Great American Beer Festival helped this less than a year old brewery pull off a fantastic year of farmhouse and fruit beers. 2017 should be even greater for Alesong, with a new taproom in the works. Great Notion also plans to expand to a production facility. This marks two of the most successful first years in business I have seen for any new Oregon breweries since The New School was founded in 2010.
Runner-Up – Great Notion Brewing
Most Underrated Oregon Brewery
WINNER – Sunriver Brewing (Sunriver, OR)
This Central Oregon brewery opened in 2012, but was barely on most of our radars until 2015 when new brewer Brett Thomas began making his mark. Fresh award-winning new recipes, a GABF Silver Medal, a World Beer Cup Gold medal, a nod in WW’s 2015 Top 10, a new brewpub in Bend, and new 6-packs and 12oz cans mark an astonishing 2016 for Sunriver.
Runner-Up – Occidental Brewing
Best New Brand to Oregon
(newly released bottles, cans or distributing breweries entering Oregon)
WINNER – Ruse Brewing: Multibeast
One of Oregon’s smallest and least visible breweries opened with little fanfare in 2016, but Ruse Brewing quickly garnered buzz for its amazing IPAss and farmhouse and wild ales like Multibeast. The sole project of brewer/owner Shaun Kalis, Ruse produces beer out of Culmination Brewing with its own tanks, barrels, and bottles. You can only find Ruse Brewing in select bottleshops and taprooms around town; it’s hard to find even in Portland, but has become worthy to seek out and garnered acclaim from beer critics, buyers, and geeks alike. Look for Ruse Brewing’s Architect Saison and Multibeast mixed culture wild ale in bottles.
Runner-Up TIE – Block 15 Gloria and Sunriver Rippin NW Ale
Best Non-Oregon Beer
(must be available in Oregon)
WINNER – Epic Brewing: Big Bad Baptist
Epic Brewing has been releasing its big imperial stout, the Big Bad Baptist, for a number of years now, but perhaps it was the multiple variations in 2016 that made it leader of the voting pack. Or perhaps it was just because people realized it as one of the best imperial stouts on the market, and Epic Brewing has been producing better and better beers since expanding into the Denver production facility. A close runner-up was the phenomenal and multi-award winning 2 X 4 Double IPA from Wyoming’s Melvin Brewing. It’s amazing that we can get this beer in crushable 12oz cans in Oregon now.
Runner-Up – Melvin Brewing: 2 X 4 IPA
Best Oregon IPA
WINNER – Block 15: Sticky Hands IPA
And it’s another win for Block 15’s uber popular Sticky Hands IPA, the 2nd year running. Capturing both citrus fruit and tropical hop flavors that bridge the gap between west coast and NE IPAs in a hop forward juicy manner that is delighting everyone’s palates. It helps that this hard to come by beer is now more available in 16oz cans while the growing fanbase is snapping them up. Meanwhile, excellent year-round standby and award winning Breakside Wanderlust IPA continues to dazzle drinkers while being available at all the big grocery stores.
Runner-Up – Breakside: Wanderlust IPA
Oregon Brewery of the Year
WINNER – pFriem Family Brewers
It was extremely close, but pFriem Family Brewers nudged out Great Notion Brewing by one vote to claim Oregon Brewer of the Year for the 2nd year in a row. If there is one thing you can say about pFriem, it’s that it is consistent–consistently clean, consistently interesting, consistently exciting and tasting. The brewers’ skills are broad, not limited to the Belgian-styles the brewery launched with, or golden IPAs, but also single hop beers, unusual sours, and top-notch fruit lambics in bottles as well. All of this makes pFriem’s beers must trys, no matter what style or experiment is being tackling next.
We also have to plug Great Notion again. I may be repeating myself a lot here, but becoming the runner-up brewery of the year in a first year is an amazing feat, not to mention how close it was to actually tying or winning this award.
Runner-Up – Great Notion Brewing
Best Oregon Beer
WINNER – Upright Brewing: Oregon Native
A well-deserved if somewhat under the radar win, if I do say so myself. Upright Brewing bridged the gap between wine and beer so masterfully in Oregon Native that it practically deserves its own style. Oregon Native is no doubt a beer, but is fermented on Pinot Noir grapes using only the natural yeast and bacteria on their skins. The result is a wild, slightly tart, and funky farmhouse ale that seamlessly merges the rich, sweet, but also somehow dry and juicy notes of the grape in a way that makes every sip more tantalizing.
Runner-Up – Great Notion: Juice Jr. IPA