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Friday, March 2, 2018

Oregon Beer Awards, Version 2018

The 2018 Oregon Beer Awards ceremony took place at Revolution Hall on Wednesday evening. It was a packed house of mostly industry-connected folks. There may have been some independents who attended because they thought it might fun...and they were rewarded.

Organizers have fixed a lot of the issues that made this event less than perfect in the past. Getting into the building was a problem in each of the last two years. I didn't see much of that this year, maybe because I was in the building early. Things seemed to have a better flow.

The two MCs did a good job keeping the awards on schedule. Presenters got onstage and mostly focused on the award they were handing out. There wasn't as much in-between fluff as what I recall from past years. Yet the ceremony still lasted nearly three hours.

This is the third year in which the award winning beers were selected by way of objective judging. I was part of that again. Judging (with the exception of the fresh hop beers) happened in late January at Maletis Distributing headquarters on Swan Island. Very nice facility there.

Judging was done over two days. We tasted a gazillion beers in 24 style categories. The Oregon Beer Awards are establishing themselves as our own version of the Great American Beer Festival, but the number of categories is a far cry from the 90+ judged in Denver. That's good and bad.

I was on the panel that selected winners in Classic UK Styles. That category included English-style IPAs, porters and the gold medal winner, a barleywine (Femur) from Boneyard. Having all these sub-styles in the same category was, like a friend of mine, a little awkward. My understanding from competition director, Ben Edmunds, is they hope to adjust for that next year. That would be good.

This year's actual judging was nicely arranged. The space at Maletis was an improvement on what we had in previous years. Then there were the countless behind-the-scenes people who volunteered their time to pour and schlep samples around. Big thanks to those folks. In contrast, those of us who judge are on easy street. Honest.

No need for me to dwell on the winners. Ezra posted a recap within hours of the event winding up. He's a co-founder of the competition and director of the awards ceremony. Unlike the rest of us schmucks, he surely had the results in hand prior to the time winners were announced on stage. Regardless, you can read his article here.

One of the complaints I've heard several times around town is that the OBA is the Breakside show. That's due to the fact that Breakside has been pretty dominant since judging began in 2016 and that Ben Edmunds, Breakside brewmaster, has somehow fixed the competition.

That's a pretty outrageous suggestion, right? And it's all the more outrageous if you know Ben, who is one of the most honest and genuine people you'll meet in this business. Breakside was tied with 10 Barrel for the most medals this year with five each. Maybe Edmunds was a little off his fixing game this year. Maybe.

Another part of the OBA schtick is an academy that votes on a bunch of things, like Best New Brewery, Best Brewpub Experience, etc. I plead guilty to being part of that academy and I voted for  the winners, for better or worse, in most categories (the results are part of Ezra's piece).

One area where my vote differed from the academy was the Hall of Fame choice. John Harris was inducted and he is certainly deserving of the honor. Harris started his career at McMenamin's and became an icon at Deschutes and Full Sail before launching Ecliptic several years ago. He's a great fit for the Hall of Fame.

My vote went to Art Larrance, one of the founding fathers here with Portland Brewing. Art has been director of the Oregon Brewers Festival since the beginning and, of course, founded Cascade Brewing in 1998. Along with the Widmers, the Ponzis and the McMenamins, Art was instrumental in getting the Brewpub Bill, passed in 1985. These folks should all be in the Hall of Fame ahead of brewers who benefited from their efforts. My opinions on this issue are informed mostly by history. Thus, I hope all of the founding brewers are inducted before they're gone.

As has been the case for the past several years, the Oregon Beer Awards coincided with release of Willamette Week's 2018 Beer Guide. I wrote some snippets and a short article for the Guide again this year. The 2018 focus is a little different, as we switched from covering breweries within 50 miles of Portland to covering the Top 100 Oregon breweries. That actually aligns with the OBA judging. Copies are available around town and there will be an online version soon.

There's no particular need to review the Guide here. It is what it is. One thing I do want to mention is the list of Top 10 beers. That's a highly subjective list, compiled by WW staffers and beer freelancers during a December bottleshare. The top beer listed is Upright's Pathways, a unanimous choice. Coincidentally, Pathways won a gold medal in objective judging. Hmmm.

So that's about it. As in past years, thanks to Willamette Week for sponsoring the competition and to Ben Edmunds for running it. Finally, special thanks to Martin Cizmar, WW arts and culture editor, who drove the editorial portion of the Beer Guide and invited me to participate several years ago. Martin is moving on to new digs at RawStory. Good luck, man.

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