Before we honor this year's winner, a word about a beers that didn't win. In my final consideration, there were really only three contenders, and a fairly clear top two. Honorable mention to Widmer Decorator, surely one of the year's overlooked beers, and one reason why I will not forsake my allegiance to Widmer, no matter who they merge with. Truth is in the pint glass, not on the letterhead, and any brewery that can brew a beer like this earns my thanks.
The extremely close second-place beer is Double Mountain's IRA ("Ira," forever and always, to me), a beer that has every quality an enlightening beer should have: it is in perfect harmony, is instantly striking to the drinker, and is original in design and implementation. I wrote of it in August:
Ira is an IPA brewed with a Belgian yeast strain. The resulting beer is softer and rounder than a muscular Oregon IPA. It has a creamy sweetness that buoys the ample hops and simultaneously seems to enclose the bitterness in a gentle pocket. I am reminded of Orval, which is also a huge, yet deceptively smooth beerIn practically any other year, it would be hands down the winner. (In my people's choice award, it was the winner, hands down, earning a near-majority over nine other beers.) Not only is Ira a dandy beer, but Double Mountain, from top to bottom, may well offer the best lineup of beer in Oregon. An amazing beer from an amazing brewery from whom we might expect to see a Satori winner in the future. But, sadly for Charlie and Matt, they debuted Ira in Beervana, in which legends still toil over kettles of magic elixir. And this year, they have to stand aside for one.
There are many famous brewers in Oregon, and if we tried to identify the "best," we'd come down to no single name. But a case could be made for John Harris, who must hold the record for the longest list of famous beers. Starting at McMenamins in the formative years, moving to Deschutes during their formative years, and then ending up at Full Sail, where the company has given him his own laboratory to craft potions: Wreck the Halls, Black Gold, Vesuvius, Hopocity--the list grows by the year. He looks a little like Gandalf (with a wee bit of Gimli mixed in) and he brews like a wizard. And this year, he produced his finest beer yet.
Full Sail Lupulin
Lupulin is, of course, a reference to humulus lupulus, the humble yet glorious hop. In what has emerged to be one of the signature events on the beer calendar, humulus lupulus is celebrated by immersion, mere minutes after the fall harvest, in a brewing kettle. What emerges is a "fresh hop" beer, the character of which is substantially different from the normal dried-hop standard. It is so different, in fact, that many of this year's beers were slight (if noble) misfires. But John Harris brought his decades of brewing experience to bear on his version, Lupulin, which I wrote about it in October (with one change, at the end of the first paragraph):
Then came the beer: an intense citrus aroma, but orange rather than grapefruit. The flavor continued in this orangey vein, agressively zesty. At the Horse Brass website, they say it has a red bell pepper note, which is close but not quite right. I kept going back to try to identify something it reminded me of; it was in comments that "KeAloha" nailed it--mango.Just one request to John and Full Sail: brew it again, will you? Exactly like this. I can't bear thinking I'll never taste it again.
For me, it will be the beer all green-hopped ales are judged against; it may even usher in that new, completely indigenous beer I have been hoping the Northwest would birth.