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Monday, December 27, 2010

Announcing the 2010 DMS Awards for Worst Accomplishments in Beer

At some point this year, as I lolled backward in one brewery or another full of the complimentary draught offered to appease my powerful pen,* it occurred to me that maybe bloggers had gotten too cozy with breweries. Like Nero in a corrupt age, bloggers are apt to fiddle even while a brewery burns. Okay, it's not that bad; still, I thought perhaps a little year-end truth-telling might be an effective antidote. Not everything that happens in the beer world is good, and we will all feel better about ourselves if we acknowledge it.

So herewith I offer the first annual DMS Awards (Dismal Malty Substances) honoring the worst accomplishments in beer. May I have the envelopes, please?

The Pete Coors Award for Worst Act By a Brewery
This award is for the Coors family, who battled non-whites and unions back in the 70s and 80s before cleaning up their act (the kind of thing that sticks in the brains of people like me). Fortunately, breweries don't behave as badly as in those days. Still, we have a few offerings to chose from:
  • Columbia River Brewing for offering bogus, sock-puppet reviews online (even before they'd opened!) as nominated by Paul and documented by the New School. Tsk tsk.
  • Centerbridge Capital Partners gets a nod for behind-the-scenes efforts to homogenize Rock Bottom's beer after organizing a merger with Gordon Biersch recently. A homogenization they promised not to enact.
  • Deschutes Brewery probably shouldn't be on this list, but I'm peeved at them for dumping their entire bottled run of Black Butte XXII (!). It's one of my favorite beers, and I wouldn't have minded a flawed "visual presentation" on an otherwise "fantastic" beer. (As Deschutes described things.)
  • Although it's hard to blame Bud Light Lime for this, I will. A hooched-up Stanley McChrystal, at the time the Army Commander in Afghanistan, trashed his commander, the president, and ended up resigning. The aforementioned Bud Light Lime was the fuel of his misspeech, and I'm sure that's not the whole of its crimes.
  • We have a much-agreed-upon nomination for all breweries who pull their winter beers on January 2. Amen. Winter starts on December 21--the winter beers should at least survive its first fortnight.
  • Finally, a nomination for Magic Hat Brewing by Mark H. This was an issue I didn't even know about until the DMS nominations, but it appears richly deserved. Magic Hat sued Georgetown Brewing over the name of their 9lb Porter and won. Boo!
All of these are worthy efforts, no doubt. But easily the worst actor--from my perspective, anyway--is the Texas-based Gambrinus company for trademarking the word "Beervana" for its BridgePort brand. Gambrinus earns the DMS.

The OLCC Award for Worst Act By a Non-Brewing Entity
The award honors the always fun, always capricious Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which does its best to remind people that Beervana is indeed not a perfect place--mainly by making it so. Our list here is shortish, but there are some standouts--predictably, led by the OLCC:
The winner is a no-brainer, though. It goes to the OLCC (who else?) and Oregon DOJ for randomly deciding to reinterpret a 30-year-old law so that Oregon homebrewers could not compete in public competitions, bring their beers to homebrew meetings, or even leave their home with their own homebrew. Absolutely idiotic, and it brought national attention and shame for creating a problem where none existed.

The Pour Curator Award for Worst Label
Greg Heller-LaBelle has a blog called the Pour Curator, and it has a special focus on label art. I hadn't included this as won of my initial DMS categories, but I agree it ought to be one. So in honor of his blog, we offer these achievements in bad label design:
  • Collaborative Evil. Greg's choice is a muddled collaborative project from Fifty/Fifty, Lucky Bucket, and Oakshire. Greg observed that it was "a massive, red mess of Lenin, bombs, the grim reaper and unreadable font." You can see it here.
  • Bell's 10,000th Batch. In the other direction is a beer Bell's made with 101 malts and 58 hop varieties. Despite the complexity of the recipe, its label was apparently designed in 38 seconds on an old 286 computer. You can see it here.
The winner, however, actually debuted the "art" on their labels back in '09. I remain shocked by how unfortunate they are--both empirically and for the labels they replaced. Your 2010 DMS winner is Pyramid Brewing, with their sports-drink inflected design. No, it does not make them seem edgy or active.

The Doc Wort Award for Worst Blog post
The namesake of this award was nominated, but that's not why we're honoring him. Rather, Doc Wort has long done his damnedest (even recently) to identify other bloggers' failings. This year we nod in his direction as the nominations come out:
  • Jeff Alworth of Beervana for initially deriding BrewDog's End of History before being convinced by his readers he was wrong. (Long live the stoat!) Plus, it was apparently the big hit at the bloggers' conference last fall.
  • E.D. Kain of Balloon Juice for praising Jimmy Carter for paving the way for craft beer. Except Carter had nothing to do with craft beer. (He legalized homebrew.) Plus, Kain's fave beer is Fat Tire, which earns him extra minus points.
  • Andy Crouch of Beer Scribe for slagging beer blogging on his beer blog. He seemed to be saying, "yeah, I have a beer blog, but I'm not a stinkin' blogger." Poor form.
But the winner is Jeff Alworth for Beervana for his lazy attempt to use an innocuous article by John Holl to grind an ax against the Gray Lady. I was immediately castigated, and Holl graciously commented on the post as well. All of it made me feel petty and it may be the low point of the blog. On the upside, I have since established a e-connection with Holl, and one day I'm leading an expedition to New Jersey with a case of Oregon beer.

The Budweiser Chelada Award for Worst Macro-Related Product
What happens when you mix Clamato and Bud--Chelada! One of the lowlights of the products foisted by creatively-bankrupt beer companies on a weary public and the namesake of this award. (A few of these, including the winner, didn't debut this year, but because we couldn't acknowledge them before this year, they get their moment in the sun in 2010.)
  • MGD Light 64. The arms race in light beers started here, with this nearly colorless, flavorless product of just 2.8% alcohol. Note the word "nearly" as we move to...
  • Bud Select 55. This is mildly beer-flavored water with a splash of alcohol (2.4%). It's certainly not beer.
  • Stella Black. One might think this is a schwarzbier, what with the "black" and all. Nope. Just a random macro that was subsequently mocked for the absurd name.
The winner by a landslide, however, has to go to Four Loko, a product not only shockingly distasteful, but so dangerous it was banned in many states and then declared illegal by the FDA.

The HAF Pin-up Girl Award for Worst Event or Feature at an Event
The Holiday Ale Fest is one of the best events in the Portland calendar, but it made two blunders this year. Organizers somehow decided that to get back into the fest, returning customers would have to keep their wristbands on, intact--for as many as five days. But worse still was the second year of the HAF pin-up girl, a bizarrely discordant image for what is otherwise not a party-hearty, frat-boy affair. It shall henceforth stand as the namesake for this award and serve as this year's winner.

The Boston Beefheart Award for Worst "Innovation" or Ingredient
The winner of this year's award will serve as the namesake, though there were some other poorly conceived "innovations" this year as well.
  • Innovation itself. We are definitely seeing blowback on all the experiments breweries have been undertaking in recent years. In nominating innovation, Bill Schneller identifies those "beers designed to be served in 4 oz samples at beer festivals because no one would ever want a pint of it."
  • Imperialization. An anonymous commenter nominated the urge to imperialize everything--a trend that shows now sign of flagging.
  • Miller Lite Vortex bottle. Sign that you have no ideas left about what goes in the bottle? You start pimping the bottle itself.
Ah, but the winner. The winner is a real joy to think about: Boston Beer's Burke in a Bottle, brewed with fried beef hearts. Seriously, that's just gross.

The Henry Weinhard Belgian Wheat Award for Worst Beer of the Year Award
Named for the world's worst commercially-produced beer, the final category is the most (err, least) prestigious and also the most difficult to assess. "Worst," like "best," is subjective. Moreover, we can't all try every beer available. Minnesota-based Flagon of Ale suggested Surly Oak-Aged Bender as worst, for example. Maybe it is, but from this distance I'll never know. Instead, I offer these nominees:
  • Laht Neppur's Strawberry Cream Ale I described it this way: "it wasn't shocking that this beer was treacly, but I was surprised that it was such a muddy, indistinct treacle."
  • Caldera's Hibiscus beer Proof that taste is subjective, many admired this at the '10 Oregon Brewers Festival. For me, it was way too sweet and gingery.
  • 21st Amendment's Come Hell or High Watermelon. This beer comes from the legacy division of recurring badness, and was nominated by commenter Renee. In a world of imperialization, this goes the wrong direction ("froufy," perhaps) . Of course, every year it's one of the most popular at the OBF, so go figure.
  • Hair of the Dog Apricot Fred A beer I had the good fortune not to try, it was described during nominations as a "fiasco" by Hopmonster and a "disappointment" by Kevin. This is a real stunner, because Hair of the Dog is easily one of the country's best breweries. But we pull no punches here.
But the DMS goes to Migration Little Bitter, a 75 BU/4.5% beer and a classic case of a brewpub misfire that was released due to cost realities. Even brewer Mike Branes admitted the beer was a misfire, and the brewery has since begun to right the ship. I know this has been a rocky year for Migration, and I am sending my best vibes their way: may you win the 2011 Satori. And hey, it could be worse--you're in a category with Alan Sprints!

*This tale is apocryphal. I actually pay for 95% of the beer I drink, and despite authoring the Number Two Blog in America (patent pending), my pen is sadly no more powerful than a Bud Select 55.


  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Jeff.

    And I COMPLETELY forgot about Pyramid's strangely angular redesign, which is definitely terrible on a whole different level, especially when one considers the resources and money that into it. It's the type of design that, even though it's technically not terrible, furthers all of the negative, overly macho, frat-boy stereotypes that have dominated beer marketing for years in the macrobrew ranks.

    Loved the DMS post on the whole; a great way to remember the craft beer fails of 2010.

  2. Excellent awards Jeff!

    The Pyramid labels are terrible. I could have also nominated the MacTarnahan labels featuring beat-up miscreants, in order to appeal to... who exactly?

    (But am I the only one who doesn't mind looking at a nice pin-up?)

    Nicely done, Jeff.

  3. Thanks for the Honorary Award Title. Doc's been to busy to post anything snarky or non-snarky. Nice end of the year post.

  4. Better hold off on that patent, Jeff... With all of the links to other blogs, which should result in links back, you may climb back to No. 1. Nice post and perhaps our paths will cross when I'm back in town the next couple of days... I have some fun stories for you. Cheers!

  5. I admire you keeping the breweries accountable, Jeff, but lay off the 21A Watermelon Wheat - you've probably never enjoyed one on a 90-degree San Francisco day at the brewery itself with a wedge of watermelon in it. Pure refreshing tastiness (I know, OLCC will come after me for using the word 'refreshing'). It may not make sense in the Winter, but come Summer it's a go-to beer for sure.

  6. Who the hell wrote this piece you or me? Weird that we agree on so many things over the last year. I seem to recall you once lecturing me for being too mean to brewers around the time of my Rogue posting.
    ...anyway, did someone just suggest Hell or High Watermelon wheat with a wedge of watermelon in it? Was that a real suggestion or a nomination for next years DMS awards?!

  7. Thanks for the recognition Jeff. If we get an award for disposing of flawed product, I'll gladly accept that. I certainly would not want to accept the award we most certainly would have received had we released Black Butte XXII!

    And, think of the anticipation for Black Butte XXIII :)

  8. I feel that there is a good time to drink every beer, and the Hell or High Watermellon is good right after mowing the lawn. Sure, you might not be able to drink a 6 pack, but one or two are very tasty.

  9. All: thanks. I'm glad you liked it; I spent more time on it than I should have.

    Hippy Dave: the only time we get it in Oregon is at the hot-as-blazes Oregon Brewers Festival. Still not convinced. But hey, Deschutes and Hair of the Dog are on the list, so it could be worse.

    Gary: you're still in my doghouse. It may have been flawed, but you described it as "fantastic" yourself--an assessment I endorse based on the draft pours I've had. Sometimes you have to think of the greater good here. An award for grinchliness. (Which I'll also concede may have been--in this one case--next to godliness.)

    Ezra: you and Doc have hardened me. No more mister nice blogger. Or anyway, no more mister nice blogger on one day in late December.

  10. Oh, snap! I was just lauding Gambrinus for managing Bridgeport with a light touch (actually I was more lauding them for saving my beloved Shiner years ago).

    But really the action to trademark Beervana was taken years ago, and it was only granted this year. Why didn't you fight it at the time? I agree with you that Gambrinus should not hold that trademark, but it would have been more effective to challenge it before it was issued.

  11. @Anon, as one of the people who nominated the HAF pinup girl, the question is not whether you mind looking at a nice pin-up. Nor, for that matter, whether I do. The question is whether there are people who _don't_ enjoy it, or for whom it makes them feel alienated from the world of beer. Your comment is really sort of amusingly ironic: you object to the Pyramid and MacTarnahan labels for the stereotypes they portray, but don't apply the same scrutiny to the HAF pinup girl.

  12. Excellent post! As a too infrequent reader, this was a good re-introduction.

    You certainly nailed the tone of good natured but stern that more beer bloggers should take note of (myself included).