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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Breakside, Younger Steal OBA Show

Breakside Brewing and Don Younger dominated Tuesday evening's Oregon Beer Awards, presented in front of a packed house at Revolution Hall. The industry-centric affair, sponsored by Willamette Week, coincided with the release of the 2017 Beer Guide.

Breakside walked away with 10 medals, including four golds. It won two medals, a bronze and a gold, in the hotly contested IPA category. It's not all that surprising to see Breakside do well.Their beers are well-made and have won medals in a lot of places. But seeing them win 15 percent of the total medals awarded in 22 categories was somewhat shocking.

Jeff Alworth, who is few years younger than me and slightly less of a curmudgeon, speculates in his event recap that Breakside winning so many medals is a little awkward. It's awkward because Breakside's head brewer, Ben Edmunds, organizes the OBA judging. Yup.

In fact, it would be pretty impossible to mess with the tasting results. Beers are numbered and tasted blind. Numbers become names when the winners are chosen. Ben would have to be pretty shifty to alter the outcomes. Also pretty dishonest. I can't see it. Claims of impropriety remind me of an NFL pool I ran for many years with a friend. Whenever we won money, people complained that we were fixing the results. That was quite impossible. I had no power to modify picks or results. Such is the case with Ben Edmunds and Breakside. It just looks awkward.

Don Younger, who passed away in 2011, was honored for Lifetime Achievement. Younger, you will recall, was owner of the Horse Brass. Very early on, the Old Tavern Rat became a passionate advocate for Oregon craft beer. His energy and promotional ideas helped make Portland what it is. He is one of a handful of local icons who essentially launched the craft beer industry here.

Organizers showed a wonderful video, created by Lucas Chemotti and Ezra Johnson-Greenough. It featured comments from folks who knew Younger well...Jerry Fechter (Lompoc Brewing), Karl Ockert (founding brewer at Bridgeport Brewing), John Foyston (Oregonian for many years), Carl Singmaster (Belmont Station), Fred Bowman (co-founder of Portland Brewing) and others. It was a fabulous tribute. Follow the link above if you haven't seen the video.

With respect to the results, I'm not going to pile on and post them here. No point. You can chase them down in a variety of places, including here. There are always surprises. That's what happens when beers are judged anonymously. Some beers that are well-regarded don't do well. Some that aren't regarded at all do. That was definitely the case this year, as it was last year, the first time blind judging was used.

The event itself has grown in popularity, complete with red carpet interviews. This was the second year at Revolution Hall and it sold out for the first time. That led to some issues with folks entering the venue. I arrived fairly early and waited only a few minutes to get in. Folks who showed up later, like Jeff, got stuck in long lines and were not happy.

Organizers actually anticipated problems herding people through the door, having experienced it last year, They made a concerted effort to shepherd people into the venue via multiple lines. Somehow, it didn't work out. For some reason, Portlanders accustomed to waiting in single file lines (possibly for rare specialty beer) wanted to enter the venue that way. Doh!

Once inside, there seemed to be ample seating in the theater. I sat in the balcony area and enjoyed panoramic views. There were the usual lines for beer. Hey, these are pro drinkers. What did you expect? They didn't mess with food this year, avoiding last year's free-for-all fiasco. If you wanted or needed to eat, there was a food truck parked outside. Problem solved.

After last year's event, which packed the venue about as tight as it was Tuesday night, I wondered if organizers might consider moving to a larger venue. They're kinda stuck. They need something larger than Revolution Hall, but smaller than the Schnitz. There isn't much in-between that would work for them, I'm told. That will force them to figure out how to make Revolution Hall work.

Speaking of Revolution Hall, everyone knows the building originally housed Washington High School, right? Sitting upstairs gave me the opportunity to snoop around while sipping a beer. There's some amazing history on display in the trophy/memento cases. That part of Revolution Hall is worth a look if you're into that sort of thing. Very cool surprise.

My thanks once again to Martin Cizmar and Willamette Week, for asking me to be part of OBA judging and the 2017 Beer Guide. Special thanks to Steph Barnhart, Ezra Johnson-Greenough, Ben Edmunds and the countless volunteers (you know who you are) without whom this event would not happen. I hope to see you next year.

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