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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Oregon Beer Award Winners Tell Us A Lot

Last night the inaugural Portland Beer Awards were announced in what aspired to be an Oscars-like ceremony. Inaugural anythings are always a little tentative, and if this tradition survives it might one day be a hot ticket among even those who don't have beers in contention. But the ceremony is the least of matters--it turns out the winning beers were the real story. As the second award was announced, I realized something rare and unusual was unfolding.

The Oregon Beer Awards were a competition solely among Beaver State breweries, judged solely by Oregonians, and assessed blind, without the hype or peer pressure about which brewery currently has the most juice. The rare and unusual element was this: the winning beers are very good examples of the way locals appreciate beer. National and international competitions have a smoothing effect; with the Oregon Beer Awards, you get a concentrating effect as the feedback of culture works its mojo. Most of the judges were brewers who drink each others' beer, share tips and recipes with each other, and who have, over decades, co-authored the Oregon palate. It's the difference between having American beer geeks judge Belgian beers and having Belgians judge them. The winners weren't just Oregon beers, they were the Oregonianist of beers.

I have very poor photos of all the winners. This was the least poor.

So, back to the ceremony. The second award was in the wheat category, and some obvious suspects were getting announced: Occidental's stellar Hefeweizen for bronze, Fort George's dry, sophisticated Quick Wit for the silver. And the gold? Widmer Hefeweizen, the wheat beer we were all weaned on. You hear a lot of talk about how this brewery or that brewery has slipped or changed, but in the quiet of a blind judging, you just have the beer. There was a kind of delicious appropriateness that Widmer's old flagship, perhaps the most discussed beer in Oregon's craft beer history, would steam to victory. What else so well defines what we Oregonians think of as wheat beer?

When John Harris won the gold for Capella Porter at his new joint, Ecliptic, it was another echo from the past. I have no doubt he's enjoyed winning medals at national competitions, but there's something special about getting the nod from your friends and peers. John choked up just slightly and said, "So, I used to brew a beer called Black Butte Porter..." He let the sentence just hang there, knowing that most of us would realize that he had been the brewer who originally brewed that other, incredibly important Oregon beer (or at least adapted it). He created the palate among Oregonians for porter, and now he was back to collect a reward from people who had learned his lessons well.

As expected, the night also featured regular mention of some of the younger guys, too (Breakside, pFriem, The Commons, and Buoy had great nights). They, of course, are part of this ongoing lineage, plowing the collective wisdom and preferences back into their beers. I started drinking Oregon beer in 1987, and I've been drinking it ever since. I've never really known how to communicate to non-Oregonians what Oregon beer is--why Widmer Hefeweizen, The Commons Urban Farmhouse, and Breakside IPA are all indicative of it--but now I don't need to: they can just look at the winners of the OBA.

I'll post the winners below the jump, and do have a look at them all. The winning beers represent just 8% of all the beers selected--and often in these competitions, the difference between first and third amounts to the preferences of one or two judges. These are all really good, really Oregonian beers.

 Gold: Wider Brothers PDX Pils
Silver: Widmer Brothers Green and Gold
Bronze: Terminal Gravity Wallowa Lake Lager

Gold: Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen
Silver: Fort George Quick Wit
Bronze: Occidental Hefeweizen

Belgian Beers
Gold: The Commons,Urban Farmhouse Ale
Silver: Mazama Saison d'Etre
Bronze: Fat Heads Pimp My Sleigh

Dark Hoppy Beers
Gold: Buoy Cascadia
Silver: Sunriver 2nd Anniversary Imperial Red
Bronze: Ecliptic Orange Giant Barleywine

Experimental Beers
Gold: Breakside Vienna Coffee Beer
Silver: Breakside Bon Vivant
Bronze: The Labrewatory Billy the Squid

Sessionable Hoppy Beers (6% or lower)
Gold: Deschutes Hoppy Pilsner
Silver: pFriem Family Brewers Mosaic Pale Ale
Bronze: Sunriver Rippin NW Ale

Stout or Porter
Gold: Ecliptic Brewing Capella Porter
Silver: Fat Heads Battle Axe
Bronze: Arch Rock He-Man Imperial Stout

Flavored Beers
Gold: Ex Novo Nevermore
Silver: Three Creeks TenPine Chocolate Porter
Bronze: Upright Fatali Four

Fruit & Field Beers
Gold: The Commons Clarabelle
Silver: Double Mountain Peche Mode
 Bronze: 10 Barrel Cucumber Crush Sour

Wild Beers
Gold: Stickmen Kissed By Melons
 Silver: Cascade Foudre #1 2013
 Bronze: Cascade Kriek 2014

Barrel-Aged Beers 
Gold: Gigantic, Pipewrench
Silver: pFriem, Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout
Bronze: Breakside, The Pathfinder

Strong Hoppy Beers (7.5%+)
Gold: Breakside Hop Delivery Mechanism Double
IPA Silver: Breakside Safe Word Triple IPA
Bronze: pFriem Double IPA

Classic Styles
Gold: Buoy Dunkel
Silver: Golden Valley Atlas Elevator Doppelbock
Bronze: Golden Valley Red Thistle Ale

American IPA
Gold: Breakside Wanderlust IPA
Silver: 10 Barrel Joe IPA
Bronze: Golden Valley Bald Peak IPA


  1. Not a single Heater Allen on that list. Very disappointing.

  2. Great perspective, Jeff. Thanks for putting it together.

  3. Feeling batter tastier I agree with you a famous craft beer.This one frankly floored me - what an awesome beer