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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Thoughts on the Oregon Beer Awards

Last night's Oregon Beer Awards at the Doug Fir Lounge provided a nice, if brief, look into the soul of the state's craft beer scene. The event was organized by Willamette Week, with help from a few others, and coincides with the release of its 2015 Beer Guide. Get a copy.

Maybe the most shocking thing about last night's affair is that it's the first event of its kind. Oregon's craft beer industry is more than 30 years old, yet there had never been any kind of pubic awards event like this one. Pretty hard to believe.

Inasmuch as this was their first time out, you can understand that there were some issues. There were long lines to enter the building and more long lines to get a beer. Organizers clearly did not anticipate the level of interest this event would generate. I suspect they will do better next year.

There's no reason to list the winners here. Results have been posted over on the New School site and on Brewpublic. As well, I'm quite sure WW will have a web version of the Beer Guide live in the next few days. [Ed note: it's here.] Redundancy is not a virtue, at least not here.

How they determined winners is another matter. It was not by fiat. Instead, group of some 20 experts came up with 15 categories and pared the nominees to roughly 10 in each category. Voting was done by a pool of industry-connected folks...brewers, pub staff, distributors, writers, homebrewers, etc.

Although I wrote a covey of snippets for the Beer Guide, I was not one of the 20 or so "experts" who chose and narrowed the categories. Possibly that was an oversight, possibly not. What's an expert, anyway? Regardless, the ballot was pretty consistent with what I would have included.

Looking out on the crowd of attendees got me thinking about an article that appeared on the Aljazeera America website the other day. The article outlines some of the significant challenges faced by craft beer as it deals with increased competition from within (a doubling of the number of craft breweries since 2008) and from without (buyouts, AB branch distributors, etc.).

For big beer, the writing is on the wall. Part of the reason the Oregon Beer Awards attracted such a sizable crowd is that younger drinkers are moving away from crap macro and toward craft beer in droves. More than 40 percent of Americans aged 21-27 have never even tried Budweiser...this according to AB's own stats. That's scary for the guys that brew "The Hard Way."

The fallout of this situation is financial opportunity. With Anheuser-Busch actively looking to buy craft breweries and with craft growing by leaps and bounds, there is a boatload of money floating around in the marketplace...certainly more than we've ever seen.

A significant downside to that reality is we have people entering craft beer mainly because they see an opportunity to make money. Some see it via growth of their own brewery over time; others see it via getting established and cashing in within a few years.

As I looked out on the crowd at the Beer Awards, I wondered how many of the attending brewers will be content sticking to the ideals of integrity and quality, and how many are mainly in it for the money. I suppose we'll have the answer in a few years.

Maybe sooner in some cases.


  1. Nice writeup Pete, not sure how you werent on the nominating committee. I hope they have a lot more of us back to improve next years awards and ceremony.

  2. Martin thinks I was there. That's enough for me. Nice job, though, by everyone involved. This event was needed a long time ago....and I suspect it will only get better.


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