Best of the Year in Oregon Beer for 2019

2019 was a dizzying year of brewery closures, expansions, buyouts and more trends than you can shake a stick at. Among all the chaos were a hell of a lot of great beers and good news. The craft beer segment is still expanding, and more breweries are opening than closing, according to the Brewers Association. There is also just more great beer than ever, and the overall quality is also through the roof.

As we do each year, we asked over 75 industry experts and pros to vote on the best in Oregon beer for 2019. That means it’s not any single person’s opinion, but sort of an average of what the industry thinks. For that reason, we think it’s one of the best overviews of what happened in Oregon craft beer this year.

This year’s Best of the Year Awards voting body:

Beer Buyers/Taproom Managers: Ryan Spencer (Bailey’s Taproom), Steve Jones (Cheese Bar), Lisa Morrison (Belmont Station), Sean Campbell (The Beermongers), Herb Apon (Loyal Legion, Mikkeller), Dave Flores (Bridgetown Beerhouse), Brian Koch (Lombard House), Kyle Stone-Chilla (Mcmenamins 23rd Ave. Bottleshop), Ryan Born (Mayfly PDX), Timothy Augustin (Ben’s Bottle Shop), Louis DiLullo (Hoplandia), Holly Emery Walen (Beergarden), Jason Youngers (Side Street Tavern), Jeremy Lewis (Roscoe’s, Saraveza), Dwayne Smallwood (Bridge & Tunnel Bottle Shop), Clark Prather (BEER), Colby Phillips (Tap & Growler, Publichouse), Sean Hiatt (Proper Pint Taproom), Chris Tappan (The Beermongers), Kimberly Johnson (Final Draft Taphouse), Laura Kramer (On Tap Bend), Sara Hill (Black Squid Beerhouse), Paul Moglia (Chill n’ Fill), Peter Gordon (Civic Taproom), Josh Johnson (Uptown Market), John Mankes (Sessionable)

Writers/Media: Jeff Alworth (Beervana, The Beer Bible), Andre Meunier (The Oregonian), Andi Prewitt (Willamette Week), Lucy Burningham (Portland Monthly, My Beer Year), Warren Wills (Craft Beer Scribe), Holly Amlin (PDX Beer Girl), Parker Hall (Wired, Willamette Week), Gordon Feighner (The New School), , Neil Ferguson (The New School), John Chilson (Lost Oregon), Pete Dunlop (Beervana Buzz), Kris Thered (Southeast Examiner, Beer Musings), Aaron Brussat (The New School), Don Scheidt (The New School), John Lovegrove (PDX: Brew City)

Industry Pros: Nicole Kasten (Beer Connections, Brewery Branding), Ryan Sharp (Best of Craft Beer Awards), Nick Funnell (Brewers Supply Group), Michael Perozzo (North Bank Beer Week), Preson Weesner (Holiday Ale Festival), Dana Garves (Oregon Brew Lab), Drew Worden (Columbia Distributing), Chris Barnes (Point Blank Distributing), Joseph Sundberg (Portland Craft Beer Festival), Brandon Mikel (High Road Distribution), Jeremy Herrig (Brews for New Avenues), Rodney Kibzey (Homebrewer), George Demio (Maletis Beverage), Charles Culp (Lombard House), Katie Prevost (Jam), Troy Teach (Maletis Beverage),

Hard Seltzer image from Provi

WORST NEW TREND

Hard Seltzer

Runner-Up: Legacy Brewery Closures

Brewery closures are inevitable, and although 2019 was the worst year yet for this terrible trend, it’s hard seltzer that captured the most passionate feelings. The questions is: are Hard Seltzers made by craft breweries necessary for them to survive, or are they diluting or somehow harming the industry? Time will tell.

BEST NEW TREND

Lager Resurgence

Runner-Up: West Coast IPA Resurgence

The rise of craft lagers is nothing new, that’s been a top new trend on our annual awards for a number of years running. But 2019 may have been the year that lagers really broke through the trub to become a legitimate hit with beer fans. This is evidenced by the fact that many non-lager centric breweries have added one to their lineups, and that many are finding them among their best sellers. At the New School, we have witnessed the consumer demand and interest; not only are hoppy Italian-style Pilsners hot right now but so are oak-aged lagers and darker German lagers. These sub-genres were in the running for best new trend of 2019.

Alex Ganum contemplates a beer at Upright Brewing

MOST UNDERRATED OREGON BREWERY

Upright Brewing

Runner-Up: Heater Allen Brewing

At this point, Upright Brewing should just permanently keep the trophy (not that there is one) for most underrated Oregon brewery because it has earned it so many times. The basement Portland brewery was among the first to make a go of the farmhouse style ale and open fermentation in a metropolitan area. And, of course, Upright makes excellent beers that have earned universal admiration and a cult following among beer geeks. Strangely, Upright beer is still not a common sight on taplists or at bottleshops, and that is just plain wrong.

We’d also like to give a shout out to Heater Allen Brewing and ColdFire Brewing, two other great breweries who were runners up in this category. Heater Allen is pretty well known; it has been around since 2007 and pretty much kicked off the craft lager trend in Oregon before it was cool. ColdFire Brewing is a Eugene, Oregon favorite that just kicks ass at a variety of styles. Unfortunately you don’t see and hear about them enough outside of Track Town.

Belmont Station’s biercafe

BEST TAPHOUSE/BEER BAR

Belmont Station

Runner-Up: The Beermongers

Perennial winner Belmont Station has led the pack in this category, both in innovation and in voters choice, but The Beermongers has been a very close runner-up for two years running now. It’s difficult (impossible?) to beat Belmont Station’s 22 years in business, selection of over 1,400 beers in bottles and cans, and 34 rotating taps. They also go through more beer than most grocery stores. The Beermongers is a worthy successor, beloved for its welcoming nature, open bottle shares and dedication to the craft and the people that make it what it is. We’d be remiss not to mention that Roscoe’s, Bridge & Tunnel and The Bier Stein were all in the running for this year’s honor as well.

Wayfinder deck entrance to Bar

BEST OREGON BREWPUB

Wayfinder Beer

Runner-Up: pFriem Family Brewers

Choosing the best brewpub is about more than just beer (although that is a big factor). You have to take into account the food, the ambiance, the service etc. Brewpubs have got slicker, the food programs go beyond fried bar food, and they offer more amenities. It’s hard to think of places that have it more down pat than Wayfinder Beer and pFriem Family Brewers. pFriem is complimented by gorgeous design elements, world-class beer, a tasty seasonal menu from chef Justin Congdon, and being Columbia River Gorge waterfront adjacent.

This year’s winner, Wayfinder Beer, combines lagers and German-style ales into a hearty grilled and fresh menu by chef Ryan Day. The space also has a bit of old Portland with its vintage brick architecture coupled with warm wood touches and that beautiful elevated deck. Wayfinder merges classic with modern, old metal with nu-metal and pub grub with fresh veg into something special, even in the brewpub-dense Portland.

BEST NEW BRAND TO OREGON

Fieldwork Brewing – Berkeley, CA

Runner-Up: The Rare Barrel – Berkeley, CA

You gotta wonder what’s in the water in Berkeley, California besides progressive politics and bong water, and that’s apparently great beer. This year’s best new brand to now be available in Oregon was Fieldwork Brewing over a slim margin to runner-up The Rare Barrel, both in Berkeley. These two breweries couldn’t be much different. Fieldwork is known primarily for hazy IPAs and clean bright taprooms, while The Rare Barrel is all sour/wild barrel-aged beers in an industrial warehouse. The only other thing they have in common is how they get to Oregon through Day One Distribution. Just don’t assume you can easily find them in Oregon though, their beer drops infrequently and is gobbled up quickly.

Sean Burke (left) and Sam Pecoraro (right)

OREGON BREWER(s) OF THE YEAR

Sean Burke & Sam Pecoraro – Von Ebert Brewing

Runner-Up: Shaun Kalis & Devin Benware – Ruse Brewing

Every brewer has their day, and this is where we get to honor them with a more personal shout out. This isn’t about the best brewer, it’s about who stood out and had a great year, and they are undoubtedly Sean Burke and Sam Pecoraro of Von Ebert Brewing, and Shaun Kalis and Devin Benware of Ruse Brewing. Typically we give this award out to one single person, but it’s impossible to separate these two duos. Both Von Ebert and Ruse are in their second year and already hitting it out of the park on multiple levels. Take for example Von Ebert’s recent Gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival for Obeisance (a farmhouse ale), and a Gold for Volatile Substance (an IPA) at the Oregon Beer Awards fresh hop competition, both very different beers and styles.

Boss Rambler Beer Club
Boss Rambler Beer Club

BEST NEW OREGON BREWERY

Boss Rambler Beer Club – Bend, OR

Runner-Up: Threshold Brewing & Blending

In a slower year for new brewery openings, it was Bend, Oregon’s Boss Rambler Beer Club that most impressed the industry with its airy beach vibes and Instagram-able design alongside hazy, farmhouse, and light lager crushers. In Portland, Threshold Brewing & Blending stole the show with its small neighborhood location and a barrel-aging program that’s beginning to see fruition nearly one year into operation.

OBA Gold medal winning Fresh Hop Volatile Substance IPA from Von Ebert Brewing

BEST OREGON IPA

Von Ebert Brewing: Volatile Substance

Runner-Up: Block 15 Sticky Hands

Oregon’s favorite beer style often forecasts the future and present of the industry; whoever makes the most popular IPA often dominates the market. Ever since Bridgeport Brewing launched its IPA, the style has cast a wide green shadow on the landscape. From Bridgeport IPA to the 90’s staple Terminal Gravity IPA, from the early aughts Ninkasi Total Domination to the more recent Boneyard IPA, Breakside Wanderlust and Block 15 Sticky Hands. The latest champion to be crowned is Volatile Substance, a beer hard to find outside of Von Ebert Brewing’s two PDX locations, but well worth seeking out.

OREGON BREWERY OF THE YEAR

Von Ebert Brewing

Runner-Up: pFriem Family Brewers

In which we have the unenviable task of picking one great brewing company among a crowd of dozens of great ones. There were a lot of standouts in 2019, you could say at least half a dozen were winning the year in beer, but Von Ebert Brewing has earned the honor of Oregon Brewery of the Year. pFriem Family Brewers notched another incredible year, but it was Von Ebert’s breakout year that has established it as a brewery to watch in 2020 as it begins to win awards and come into its own. Von Ebert consists of two brewpubs with each focusing on different oeuvres; one of clean fermentations and American-centric styles, and the other on farmhouse and German-styles. Together the Von Ebert brand converges into a dream team that does everything well.

Grains of Wrath Dystopia IPA

BEST NON-OREGON BEER

Grains of Wrath: Dystopia IPA

There were really only three beers from two different breweries that garnered multiple nominations from the experts we polled – Camas, Washington’s Grains of Wrath and Seattle’s Fremont Brewing. The final voting came down to GOW and two beers from Fremont: Coconut B-Bomb and Barrel-Aged Dark Star split the vote, the rest were not even in the running. Grains of Wrath was the clear favorite from one of southwest Washington’s most prolific (and new) breweries.

Wayfinder Hell

OREGON BEER OF THE YEAR

Wayfinder HELL

Runner-Up: Alesong Brewing & Blending Rhino Suit

When we tallied up the nominations for Oregon Beer of the Year, it was clear that the field was divided. No longer are there a handful of standouts that most people have tried, instead there is an insane and ever changing selection, leaving something for everybody and not enough for everyone. But when looking for finalists that were nominated multiple times, only three breweries were in the running: Upright Brewing, Alesong Brewing & Blending, and Wayfinder Beer.

Wayfinder Beer’s Terrifico Italian-style Pils was another contender for beer of the year, but it was the HELL that takes home the prize. This clear, bright, light but full of character German-style Helles is the kind of beer that patios were made for. Brewer Kevin Davey should know; he brewed a GABF gold medal-winning Helles when he was at Gordon Biersch, and the Wayfinder Hell is becoming his signature.

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

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