Last night the Oscars of Oregon beer were held at Revolution Hall in southeast Portland, where the 2017 Oregon Beer Awards ceremony commenced. This annual event is as close to a star-studded gala affair as the beer industry gets, with seventy-two medals being handed out in thirty categories with live interviews, sealed envelopes, funny, inspiring, and awkward acceptance speeches, and even a tearful tribute video to Don Younger, who entered the beer hall of fame with a Lifetime Achievement award.
The evening kicked off with Oregon Beer Awards competition director Ben Edmunds making his grand entrance to intro the awards. An important detail is that twenty-two categories are for beer styles and are judged double-blind by some of the most qualified industry pros I have ever seen gathered (I was at the judging). Also, unlike homebrew competitions or even other pro beer competitions, the Oregon Beer Awards write their own style guidelines to reflect what Oregon brewers are making today. Some think this is a bad idea, but it has proven to be ahead of its time. For instance, a gold medal-worthy IPA could get completely thrown out of a pro competition for being a shade too light or dark, while the OBA rubric pushes overall quality ahead of strict adherence to rarely updated style guidelines. Many of today’s most popular beers don’t have chances at medals in other competitions because they are too light, too bitter, or use a different kind of hop than the style guidelines call for.
2017 Award Winning Beers/Breweries:
Not surprisingly, Breakside Brewery did very well, but in order for awards like this to be successful there need to be some underdogs and unexpected wins. The first shocker of the night came with the first award in the “Experimental” category, when Breakside managed both bronze and silver medals only to be topped by coastal nano farmhouse brewery Wolf Tree Brewery with its Spruce Tip Gruit.
Bronze Breakside Brewery + Taproom: Vienna Coffee Beer
Silver Breakside Brewery + Taproom: Bellwether 2015
Gold Wolf Tree Brewery: Spruce Tip Gruit
Bronze Golden Valley Restaurant + Brewery: Carlton Kölsch
Silver StormBreaker Brewing: Total ReKolsch
Gold Pelican Brewing Company: Kiwanda Cream Ale
Stormbreaker and Golden Valley earned a couple of medals early on, highlighting two of Oregon’s underrated local brewers. We also can’t forget perennial favorite Pelican, which racked up another gold for Kiwanda Cream Ale.
Bronze Deschutes Brewery – Bend: Elkington’s Golden Strong
Silver Burnside Brewing Company: Juin
Gold Fat Heads Brewery: Pimp My Sleigh
Fat Head’s won gold in the Belgian category, one of two medals earned by the Portland brewery in a bittersweet homage to departing brewer Mike Hunsaker, who brewed those beers. I was excited for Fat Head’s, and also my friends at Burnside Brewing for the underrecognized Juin, which won silver. A beer I have never heard of from Deschutes PDX ended up winning bronze.
Saisons + Farmhouse
Bronze Deschutes Brewery – Portland Public House: Blended Saison
Silver The Commons Brewery: Urban Farmhouse Ale
Gold Base Camp Brewing Company: Harvest Saison
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Base Camp Brewing winning gold in the Saison & Farmhouse category for Harvest Saison. Base Camp has not been a big awards contender and certainly is not known for Belgians or saisons, so it was amazing to see it win ahead of the silver medal for Commons Urban Farmhouse Ale.
Brett + Mixed Culture
Bronze Oakshire Brewing: “X” Tenth Anniversary
Silver Breakside Brewery: Homunculus
Gold Logsdon Farmhouse Ales: Oak Aged Bretta
Fruit + Field
Bronze pFriem Family Brewers: Kumquat Farmhouse Ale
Silver Upright Brewing: Oregon Native
Gold Logsdon Farmhouse Ales: Peche ‘n Brett
Fruit & Field beer was a category I judged for the medal round, assigning these bronze, silver and golds without knowing what beers they were until now. This category was amazing, and while I had a suspicion that the silver was Upright Native, I didn’t even know about pFriem’s tasty kumquat beer, and there were enough great peach beers that I didn’t suspect the gold was Logsdon.
Bronze Full Sail Brewery: Cascade Pilsner
Silver Freebridge Brewing: Pulpit Rock Pilsner
Gold Breakside Brewery + Taproom: Breakside Pilsner
Classic German Styles
Bronze Upright Brewing: Apple Wood Smoked Helles Bock
Silver PINTS Brewing Company: Yule Log-er Smoked Helles Lager
Gold Rosenstadt Brewery: Altbier
Another unexpected win was a silver for the little known, year-old Freebridge Brewing in The Dalles for Pilsner. Also, I was stoked Upright ended up winning three medals for the night–a bronze for Apple Wood Smoked Helles, a silver for Oregon Native, and a gold for Fatali Four. It was nice to see Pints Brewing get some love with a silver for Smoked Helles Lager, and another underdog, Rosenstadt Brewery, winning a gold for Altbier.
Classic UK and American Styles
Bronze Hop Valley Brewing Company: Paunchy Porter
Silver Back Pedal Brewing: Summer Breeze
Gold Widmer Brothers Brewing: Hefe
Little-known Portland nano Back Pedal Brewing pulled out a silver in Classic UK and American Styles, which should be huge for the nascent brewery and its Pearl District taproom. Widmer reminded folks why Hefe is still an up-to-date classic with another gold.
Other Traditional Beers
Bronze Mt. Tabor Brewing Company: Cowboy’s Lament
Silver StormBreaker Brewing: Imperial Mississippi Rye’d
Gold Silver Moon Brewing: Ghost Fields Rye IPA
Bronze Breakside Brewery: New World Bruin
Silver Laurelwood Brewing: Flanders Red
Gold Royale Brewing Company: Strassen Katze
Bronze Stickmen Brewing Company: Emilia
Silver Yachats Brewing: Salal Sour
Gold Breakside Brewery: #MakingFriendsMakingMemories
By this time it was clear Breakside was dominating the night with another gold medal. I was very interested in the silver that Yachats Brewing won for Salal Sour, a beer I was already planning to seek out.
Wood + Barrel-aged Sour + Brett
Bronze Baerlic Brewing Company: Wood Worker Harshmellow Mountain
Silver Wolves + People Farmhouse Brewery: OE2 (Blend One)
Gold Cascade Brewing: Framblanc 2015
Bronze Breakside Brewery + Taproom: Lunch Break ISA
Silver Sunriver Brewing Company: Electric Avenue Session IPA
Gold Worthy Brewing Company: Stratasphere IPA
Bronze Baerlic Brewing Company: Dark Thoughts Cascadian Dark Ale
Silver Salem Ale Works: Cast Iron CDA
Gold Burnside Brewing Company: Keg Nog
Bronze GoodLife Brewing Company: Comatose Imperial IPA
Silver 10 Barrel Brewing – Portland: Pearl IPA
Gold Breakside Brewery: Precious Snowflake Double IPA
Bronze pFriem Family Brewers: Fresh Hop Mosaic Pale
Silver Sunriver Brewing: D’Bomb
Gold Baerlic Brewing Company: Pioneer Fresh Hop Special Bitter
Bronze Sunriver Brewing Company: Cocoa Cow
Silver Rock Bottom Brewery: Port-Chata
Gold Upright Brewing: Fatali Four
Bronze Wild Ride Brewing: Stand Up and Shout Stout
Silver Feckin Brewery: Feckin De Los Muertos
Gold Three Creeks Brewing Company: Frontier Justice Coffee Stout
Bronze Alesong Brewing + Blending: Rhino Suit
Silver Hop Valley Brewing, Production: Pinot Barrel-Aged Saiblonde
Gold Santiam Brewing Company: Pirate Stout
Bronze Three Creeks Brewing Company: FivePine Chocolate Porter
Silver Falling Sky Brewing: Dreadnut Stout
Gold McKenzie Brewing Company: Break Action Porter
Bronze Breakside Brewery + Taproom: Breakside IPA
Silver Fat Heads Brewery: Semper FiPA
Gold Breakside Brewery + Taproom: Tall Guy
An hour later into the awards session, I was nervous and honored to go on-stage and introduce the OBA Academy Voters and what that’s all about. The Academy was created to vote on non beer-style competition awards. These categories are hard to judge, so we have created an academy of industry voters from all over the state to vote on them. Any industry-affiliated pro can apply to be a member of the academy, and we strive to have representatives from the whole state. Here are the 2017 winners of those categories.
Best Beer Bar/Bottle Shop Belmont Station
Best Brewpub Experience pFriem Family Brewers
Best Beer Festival Festival of the Dark Arts
Best New Brewery Alesong Brewing + Blending
The Brewery of the Year categories are based on an algorithm that weighs both academy voters choices with point scores from the beer judging competition. Thus gold, silver, and bronze medals are about an equal factor in breweries winning one of these awards as the voters.
Brewery of the Year – SMALL (less than 1000 bbls/yr) Baerlic Brewing
Brewery of the Year – MEDIUM (1000 – 2500 bbls/yr) The Commons
Brewery of the Year – LARGE (more than 2500 bbls/yr) Breakside Brewery
Also of note is the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by JVNW. This Hall of Fame style award comes complete with a tribute video featuring interviews with various luminaries who knew the winner well. This year the award went to the late, great Don Younger of the Horse Brass Pub. Much more than founding one of the first influential beer bars, Don helped make Oregon and Portland the beer mecca that is today; without him, this would not be Beervana. It was great to see Lompoc Brewing owner Jerry Fechter accept the award for Don, and it was a great pleasure to produce the tribute video and conduct the interviews myself.
After all was said and done, 44 different brewing companies won medals, or 47 if you count multiple locations from Hop Valley, Breakside and Deschutes.
Local kiwi John Lovegrove ran the numbers and reported:
Breakside was miles ahead of the competition with 10 total medals, 4 for its Dekum location and 6 for Milwaukie. It also received the award for Large Brewery of the Year. Baerlic and Upright each got 3 medals, with Baerlic also getting Small Brewery of the Year. Breweries with 2 medals were Burnside Brewing, Deschutes (1 for Portland, 1 for Bend), Fat Head’s, Hop Valley, Logsdon, StormBreaker, Sunriver, Three Creeks, and pFriem, with pFriem also winning Best Brewpub Experience. The Commons got 1 medal, and also won Medium Size Brewery of the Year.
Alesong Brewing + Blending was named Best New Brewery, and Fort George’s Festival of the Dark Arts was named Best Beer Festival.
The City of Portland got 29 medals, with 9 more in the greater Portland area.
The remaining medals came from all over the state – Central Oregon (Bend, Redmond, and Sunriver) got 8, Eugene got 7 medals, Hood River got 6, 3 Oregon Coast breweries, 2 for breweries in Salem, and one each for McMinnville, Newberg and The Dalles. Congrats to all the winners!
The Oregon Beer Awards also marks the release of Willamette Week’s annual standalone publication, the 2017 Oregon Beer Guide, which you can find now on newsstands and at breweries, beer bars, and Powell’s Books, among others. While not an OBA production, the beer guide does feature pocket-sized writeups on every brewery within an hour of Portland and sidebars on other beer destinations. Most controversially, it features Willamette Week writers’ Top 10 beers of the year, lead by arts/culture editor Martin Cizmar, who always has something controversial to say. Though, I would say the Top 10 picks this year might be the least egregious yet.
10. De Garde Brewing: Lee Kriek
I haven’t had this one, but De Garde can do some great things with sour fruit beers, so I imagine its place is earned.
9. Arch Rock: Gold Beach Lager
Sure, this beer is as clean and crisp of a lager as there comes, I just wonder why it’s making this list now after it won a gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival in the Kellerbier/Zwickelbier category? Still, better late than never.
8. Block 15: DAB Lab Hop Hash
I am ashamed to say I haven’t tried this one yet, but we all know how good Block 15’s Sticky Hands can be.
7. Fat Head’s: Nocino Barrel-aged Pimp My Sleigh
Not sure that this would make my top 10, but it was a delightful twist on barrel-aged beers with unique flavors seldom seen in beer, so I certainly can’t fault it for making the list.
6. Ex Novo: Duo Peach Lambic
Another beer I missed but I heard was great.
5. Alesong: Gin Hop Farm
No surprise, Alesong has made a splash right out of the gates with a gold medal at GABF after being open less than a year.
4. Culmination Brewing: Trumpet Major Burton Ale
A resuscitation of a nearly extinct style, a collaboration with homebrewer Bill Schneller, this beer is pretty unique and flavorful. I would recommend trying Upright’s Billy the Mountain alongside it. It’s a similar beer, with the same ideas that’s been around quite a while, but never given the love it deserves.
3. pFriem Family Brewers: Flanders Red
I much prefer pFriem’s fruited sours to the brewerys Flanders beers, but this Flanders Red does make for a very approachable, balanced, only mildly sour and funky beer that could be appreciated by many.
2. Upright Brewing: Oregon Native
The best pick on this list, Upright’s Oregon Native was my personal favorite beer of the year and was even voted in The New School’s Best of the Year Awards as the Best Oregon Beer of 2016. This barrel fermented wild ale merges the flavors of farmhouse ale beer with pinot noir in a way no beer has done before. One sip you will say beer, the next wine, in the end it’s something wholly unique and mind blowing.
1. Great Notion Brewing: Juice Jr.
No big surprise that Great Notion’s highly influential hazy New England inspired IPAs would land a top spot on this list. Martin Cizmar has been pushing them on a semi-willing populace for the better part of a year now. I too appreciate the hop aroma and juicy flavor forward hop bombs like Juice Jr. that are light on the bitterness and big on flavor. They also are influencing a new generation of beer geeks turned off by the bitter hop bombs that are now finding something approachable with less harsh flavors that they can get into. Not sure it’s the best beer of the year but Juice Jr. earns its place for influence alone, whether you love or hate the hazy IPA trend.
You can actually watch the full three hour show, with an hour of red carpet interivew lead-ups and live music from The Greenneck Daredevils, above.