As 2018 wraps up, we find ourselves looking down to the bottom of our glass and reflecting on the best of the year in Oregon beer. As usual, it was a busy year with more breweries and beers to account for than any year before it so instead of one persons opinions and experiences we poll a large group of local experts. This year a group of 40 beer writers, beer buyers, bottleshop owners, cicerones, distributors, documentarians and award-winning homebrewers voted on the best brewpubs, brewers, IPAs, beers, beer bars and much more. For this reason we believe The New School’s Best of the Year Awards are one of the more respected honors as it’s judged by the community of experts.
This year our esteemed voting committee members were The New School’s Gordon Feighner, Neil Ferguson, Michael Perozzo, John Chilson, Don Sch, Aaron Brussat (BeerStone) and Ezra Johnson-Greenough. Plus, Nicole Kasten (BeerConnections), Ryan Geise (Saraveza), Jeff Alworth (Beervana), Lisa Morrison (Belmont Station), Ryan Spencer (Bailey’s Taproom), Warren Wills (Craft Beer Scribe), Dave Flores (Bridgetown Beerhouse), Pete Dunlop (Beervana Buzz), Kyle Stone Chilla (McMenamins 23rd Ave. Bottleshop), Rodney Kibzey (Homebrewer and Collaborator winner), Holly Amlin (Pdx Beer Girl), Dave Stockhausen (The Bier Stein), Mary Rose Walker (Advanced Cicerone, Maletis Beverage), Colby Phillips (owner of Tap & Growler, Beergarden, PublicHouse), Sara Hill (Black Squid Beerhouse), John Lovegrove (PDX: Brew City), Alex Kurnellas (Imperial Bottle Shop & Taproom), Andi Prewitt (Willamette Week, Oregon Beer Growler), Herb Apon (Loyal Legion), Jeremy Herrig (Brews for New Avenues), Neil Yandow (Belmont Station), Clark Prather (BEER), Kerry Finsand (Beer Heard), Holly Emery-Walen Muckerman (Beergarden), Drew Worden (Columbia Distributing), Brandon Mikel (Nano Beer Fest, Portland Craft Beer Festival), John Mankes (Sessionable), Eric & Laura Kramer (On Tap Bend) Peter Gordon (The Civic Taproom & Bottleshop), Brian Koch (Lombard House) and James & Scott (Hopheads).
And now without further ado, these are the categories, the winners and the runner-ups in each.
Beer geeks wait in line for the annual Pliny the Younger release at Russian River Brewing. Photo by Beth Schlanker for The Press Democrat.
Worst New Trend
Over-hyped, line culture, secondary market beer releases
Our expert voters were split heavily on the worst trend of the year, but I was forced to break a three-way tie and choose the over-hyped beer releases, beer geek line culture, and secondary black market beer sales. If there is one thing that might destroy the approachability and blue collar, working class reputation of craft beer, it’s this sort of stuff that turns off the public and promotes the mustache twirling stereotype big beer perpetuates. That’s not to say that great beer shouldn’t draw a crowd, but when rarity and gimmicks are more of a draw than beer flavored beer, the industry is in trouble. I am no curmudgeon; beer can be or taste like just about anything, and that’s one of the things that makes it great. But when it’s more than a novelty draw, than I wonder if the fans actually like the taste of malt and hops.
Runner-up TIE –
- Lactose, Vanilla – Pastry-style Sweet Milkshake Beers
- Calling something an IPA that isn’t an IPA
Best New Trend
Resurgence of classic German Styles of Beer
Followed by the similar resurgence in craft lagers, our voters were heavily in favor of the return to brewing classic German-styles of beer, from which we probably owe the creation of American beer culture we now enjoy. The win for German styles was also a bit of foreshadowing for a wave of popularity to some of the local brewers that have spearheaded these historic beer styles returns. Not to mention the runner-up craft lagers could be seen as going hand-in-hand with the return to classic German styles, i.e. lager beers like Pilsner and Helles.
Runner-up – Craft Lagers
Best Oregon Taphouse/Beer Bar
The southeast Portland bottleshop turned-beer-cafe Belmont Station continues its long run of winning this category, but this year is its narrowest victory yet. Keeping Belmont Station on top of the pile was a remodel over the summer that added more tap lines, a nicer bartop and tables, and a new projected taplist. Belmont Station has long had one of the best selected and constantly rotating taplists in town, which makes it both a destination for beer geeks and a local regulars hangout for its location in a quieter residential area. Nipping at the Station’s heels, The Beermongers has been gaining for the last few years and may be the clear favorite among the hardcore beer geeks who often meet there for bottle shares.
Runner-Up – The Beermongers
Wayfinder deck entrance to Bar
Best Oregon Brewpub
Portland’s less than two year-old brewery and last year’s winner of our Best New Brewery award is the new champion of Oregon’s best brewpub category. The last few years have been dominated by pFriem Family Brewers in this category, and it still came in strong in voting at number two. Wayfinder Beer is lead by an all-star team of Sizzle Pie, Double Mountain and Podnah’s Pit veterans and award-winning lager brewer Kevin Davey, who brings his skills from Chuckanut Brewing and Firestone Walker to bear. Wayfinder takes the win here because of its excellence on all three of the main qualifiers in this category. 1. Great ambiance/decor with the restored wood and brick facade and interior and one of the nicest outdoor decks in town. 2. The food is killer and combines Americana with German and Texas BBQ flourishes with hearty fare, but plenty of options for vegans/vegetarians. 3. Excellent beer, of course. The selection of German styles is only matched by Occidental Brewing and the lager selection is the best in town. Hopheads will find west coast styles, hazy and double IPAs as well.
Runner-up – pFriem Family Brewers
Kevin Davey, Head Brewer at Wayfinder Beer
Oregon Brewer of the Year
Kevin Davey (Wayfinder Beer)
Another huge win for Wayfinder and head brewer Kevin Davey who is helping lead the way in the local resurgence of craft lagers and German styles of beer. While lagers have been on the rise in the industry for a while, you could argue that Wayfinder has landed that final kick that knocked down the door helping prove that beer drinkers will line up for light beers and old school German styles. Davey’s devotion to classic brewing traditions combined with an exploratory attitude towards new beer styles and methods has been an inspiration for many.
Runner-Up – Gavin Lord & Josh Pfriem (pFriem Family Brewers)
Devin Benware and Shaun Kalis at Ruse Brewing
Best New Oregon Brewery
Shaun Kalis and Devin Benware started brewing and releasing Ruse Brewing beers in 2017 from the Culmination Brewing facility before finally branching out to open their own spot in July of 2018, which qualifies as a new brewery. While before 2018 very few people had ever heard of Ruse, with the opening of their taproom and expansion of their offerings to regular draft, cans and bottles have really raised the bar for both the breweries quality and their notoriety. Ruse Brewing completely ran away with the best new Oregon brewery voting with the most dominating choice of any category and proving that the respect and admiration for what Kalis and Benware is doing is just beginning.
I also can’t not mention runner-up Von Ebert Brewing, which is still getting its name out there and educating consumers that it is not just a rebranded Fat Head’s. If you don’t know the story, Von Ebert Brewing started out as Fat Head’s Brewing, but with a new name and brand, new head brewer, and a refocus on a broad range of ales and lagers the brewery is showcasing a real mastery of styles.
Runner-Up – Von Ebert Brewing
Most Underrated Oregon Brewery
Heater Allen Brewing
Our voters were really divided on who Oregon’s most underrated brewery was, with Heater Allen Brewing just barely pulling out the win with my tie breaking vote. The voting was so close that it was a four way tie with Heater Allen pulling out the win with just one more vote and leaving a three way runner-up tie. Heater Allen Brewing has been around since 2007 and slowly built up a reputation for classic lagers and German styles, which really have not been popular but are now finally gaining steam. Located in McMinnville wine country turned beer destination, Heater Allen Brewing is perhaps the only place in Oregon where you can find a Dunkel on tap year round.
Runner- up 3-Way TIE
- Upright Brewing
- Coldfire Brewing
- Baerlic Brewing
Mike Hunsaker, Head Brewer and co-Founder of Grains of Wrath Brewing
Best New Brand to Oregon
TIE: Grains of Wrath Brewing and Chuckanut Brewery
Our only tie winners this year are both Washington brewers but could not be much different. Chuckanut Brewing of Bellingham, WA is known for classic German style lagers and incredibly clean, crisp flavor profile and understated old school brand. Grains of Wrath is a metal/punk/marine-style brewpub in Camas by a brewer known for big, bold west coast-style IPAs. What they share in common is excellence and a new availability in Oregon from the same distributor – Day One. Grains of Wrath just introduced cans and Chuckanut is frequently sending draft and occasionally has bottles. Depending on your tastes you can find boatloads of hops at GoW and a near absence of hops in the beers from Chuckanut.
Runner-Up – Bale Breaker Brewing
Best Non-Oregon Beer (a new beer or vintage released in 2018)
Fremont Brewing: B-Bomb
For the second year in a row, with too many one-off beers, seasonals, and limited releases coming to Oregon from breweries across the world, it’s now nearly impossible to build a consensus on what the best non-Oregon beer of the year is. With an incredibly slim margin and tie breaker vote, Seattle’s Fremont Brewing pulls out a win in this category for the 2nd year in a row. In 2017 our voters chose Fremont Brewing’s fresh hop Field to Ferment as the best non-Oregon Beer of the Year, but in 2018 the beloved and sought after B-Bomb takes the prize. B-Bomb is a bourbon barrel-aged version of Fremont Brewing’s winter ale formerly known as Abominable Ale. I can attest to the deliciousness of this dark, malty and rich winter ale laced with oak, bourbon spice and vanilla notes with a bittersweet finish that helps cement Fremont as one of the foremost masters of barrel-aged beer.
However, if the winner of this category was based on nominations a brewery received, Chuckanut had the most of any brewery in this category but our voters couldn’t agree on which beer was their favorite which just cements their excellence even further.
Runner-Up – Sierra Nevada Brewing: Resilience IPA
Best Oregon IPA
Breakside Brewery: Wanderlust IPA
Ever since winning the gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival in the American-style IPA category, the hop wizards at Breakside Brewery have been churning out regular rotating amazing IPAs. While Breakside’s flagship IPA was a previous gold medal winner, it’s the brewery’s second year-round IPA, Wanderlust, that really has beer fans mouths watering. Last year Breakside also won best IPA for the then just introduced hazy/juicy IPA What Rough Beast but with Wanderlust the brewery blends old school and new. The combo of classic citrusy and dank hop varieties like Cascade and Summit with popular newer varieties like Mosaic and Simcoe bring in tropical, fruity, juicy and garlicky notes with a balance that seems to please all palates.
Runner-Up – pFriem Family Brewers: IPA
Oregon Brewery of the Year
This year one brewery found its way through the crowd to make it to the front of the pack and claim the title of Oregon brewery of the year and that Wayfinder Beer is only a little over a year old makes it all the more impressive. Aside from the suitably modern-rustic design and flame fired menu, the beer lineup is of nearly all old world German-style and purity law approved. If it wasn’t for those sneaky hazy IPA’s and “cold” IPA’s or those lagers infused with espresso, this could be a classic German pub lineup. It’s Wayfinder’s pushing of boundaries while still remaining true to the spirit of early industrial brewing tradition that’s capturing the hearts of beer connoisseurs.
- pFriem Family Brewers
- Block 15 Brewing
Best Oregon Beer (must be a new release or vintage)
pFriem: Nectarine Golden Ale
It’s hard to compete with the mastery on display at Hood River’s pFriem Family Brewers, especially when they drop a unique world-class offering like Nectarine Golden Ale. Nectarines are rare in beer and pFriem really captures their distinct citrusy and marmalade-like flavor like a combo of tart apricot, sweet orange jam and juicy peach. A strong but beautiful light Golden Ale base provides a great base for the fruit while backing it up with a complex yeast ester and spice profile that’s complimented even further by aging in Sauvignon Blanc wine barrels. It’s no wonder this beer won a Gold Medal at the 2018 World Beer Cup. Good luck finding a bottle of Nectarine Golden Ale right now but you can probably expect it’s return in 2019.
Worth noting: Alesong and Wayfinder received the most nominations in this category both with five different beers each chosen by judges as contenders for best beer of the year and one from each tied for runner-up in Oregon beer of the year.
- Alesong Brewing & Blending: Gose Anejo
- Wayfinder Beer: Terrifico Horror Pils