Oregon Beer Awards

The Oregon Beer Awards were handed out last night, and there were a few surprises. The first came when Wolf Tree (Seal Rock) won the first gold medal. Wait, who? That happened several times throughout the night, as obscure breweries took home medals: Freebridge (the Dalles), Back Pedal (Portland), Salem Ale Works, and Wild Ride (Redmond). Wolf Tree, incidentally, "is one of very few breweries operating on a working cattle ranch." I have no doubt about that.

Meanwhile, some high-profile breweries got mostly elbowed off the podium--pFriem, Block 15, and The Commons took home just four medals combined. That kind of thing happens when you have a blind-tasting competition. (Upright, a member of that often-lauded tier, pulled a hat trick, getting a bronze, silver, and gold, so some order was restored to the universe.)

The big winner, by a country mile, was Breakside, which took home ten medals total, including four gold. There were only 22 categories, which means Breakside managed to win a staggering 15% of the awards--in a competition with over 900 beers from 114 breweries. Tourists visiting the city often overlook Breakside or seem surprised when I suggest they go visit--this is a pretty good example of why locals keep buzzing about it. (Though from the perspective of optics, there is something slightly awkward about seeing the festival organizer, Breakside's Ben Edmunds, trot up on the stage so many times to pick up hardware.)

Maybe the best moment of the night was the short film put together by Lucas Chemotti and Ezra Johnson-Greenough to honor the late publican Don Younger, who was voted into the hall of fame:

Two years ago, when the OBA asked for nominations for the hall of fame, they forbade us from choosing posthumous candidates. Something like 75% of us ignored that and nominated Fred Eckhardt anyway (they relented and he was honored). Don is a worthy follow-up. Now maybe the organizers will get their wish and we can start honoring the living legends.

A couple other odd notes. Of all the beers submitted, 140 used Lactobacillus. 140! This is a trend no one could have seen developing even a decade ago. Related to that, Cascade Brewing, which is famous for using only Lactobacillus in its sour ales, won gold in the "Wood + Barrel-aged Sour + Brett category." Ron Gansberg is so opposed to Brettanomyces he used to dump barrels that had been wood-inoculated. I don't know if Framblanc 2015, the winner, had any Brett, but even winning the category is jarring.

Oh, and Ezra wore a tie.

Finally, a comment to organizers of the ceremony. Waiting outside in line for thirty minutes is not acceptable to get into a pre-ticketed event. The venue at Revolution Hall is great--for a crowd half that size. It's a rolling mosh pit with ten-minute beer lines. The ceremony is an awkward blend of awards-show pretension and in-group humor. I really felt for the poor MC, a comedienne whose jokes fell flat in a crowd where guys from a hop farm got a giant roar from the audience. The awards show itself doesn't know whether it wants to be for the industry or the public, and striking the unhappy medium between the two just isn't working. It's still a lot of fun, but that part needs to be tweaked.

Congrats to all the winners, the organizers, and the judges.