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.