Another year another subjective best of the year list painstakingly considered and compiled with the Best of the Year 2014 in Oregon Beer. Previous years we have polled other beer experts to vote but that concept will soon be reborn and improved upon as the “Oregon Beer Awards” with a ceremony and everything. This years list is my own and yes I am biased as I do and have worked with many Oregon breweries but for every one of those I am close to that wins there is another one that didn’t rank at all. All the breweries are great and there are likely tons that I missed but you owe it to yourself to check out the ones that are listed. Congratulations and cheers to you all!
Best Oregon Beer
Deschutes Brewery: Cultivateur
I wish more people had a chance to try this amazing beer from Deschutes Brewery that was bottled in their Reserve Series line of beers that includes beers like The Dissident. In fact Cultivateur is probably the closest thing they have done to The Dissident but is more of a wild funky Farmhouse Saison that you might expect from Upright Brewing or Logsdon Farmhouse Ales. Peach, Apricot, oak, wine, hops and spicy yeast combine for perhaps the most complex and accomplished beer of the season. My only regret is I did not stock up on this brewery bottle release while I had the chance. Full Cultivateur review here.
Runner-up – Upright Brewing: Jeux d’ eau
Upright’s Lambic-style barrel fermented beer with wine grapes was probably the finest sour beer out of Oregon last year.
Best non-Oregon Beer
(A beer brewed out of state but that was available for sale in Oregon)
Anchorage/Jolly Pumpkin: Calabaza Boreal
Collaborations are rarely as good as the sum of their parts but that was not the case when two of America’s best brewers of farmhouse and brett beers got together to each brew their own take on Calabaza Boreal. An oak aged and barrel fermented farmhouse ale with grapefruit peel, juice and peppercorns the spices meld well with the yeast character so as far as to seem one but push the eccentricities and subtleties of this beer. It is both tart, bordering on sour as well as spicy and hoppy with incredible aromatics and flavors that pop against your tongue.
Runner-Up – Anderson Valley Gose
Cheap and approachable, slightly more sour than traditional versions of Gose but with a great salinity this experiment proved you can sell thousands of cases of sour beer for an affordable price.
Best newly Bottled or Canned Oregon Beer
Breakside Brewery: Passionfruit Sour
My go-to beer this summer was the thirst quenchingly sour, smooth and tropical Passionfruit Sour from Breakside Brewery. Both affordable and sessionable it’s the only affordable and widely available sour easily available in Oregon.
Runner-Up: Gigantic Pipewrench Gin Barrel-Aged IPA
Another amazing barrel-aged beer but there is not another one quite like it atleast that was made in such a large amount. It recently made our top 8 winter beers list and best of all it will be an annual seasonal release.
Best Oregon IPA
Breakside Brewery: IPA
Could there be another? Undoubtedly it was this beers year after winning blind tasting after blind tasting, then Sip Northwest Magazine’s Best IPA and culminating in a Gold medal win at the Great American Beer Festival in the most highly contested contest ever.
Runner-Up: Barley Browns Pallet Jack
Last years GABF gold medal winner is as good as ever and in 2014 finally became widely available thanks to the expanded Baker City Brewing and Point Blank Distributing.
Most Underrated Oregon Brewery
Under the helm of Head Brewer Bryan Keilty the venerable Portland brewery has slowly began to reinvent their lineup from an outstanding new citrus IPA called Pampelmoose to terrific new fruit sours like their Peach Wheat and better Saisons and Farmhouse Ales than any brewery not dedicated to the style has a right to be. We are looking forward to the continued update of their brands and what they do next.
Best New Oregon Brewery
One of the most difficult categories this year was Best New Oregon Brewery because there was some really solid newcomers that came strong out of the gate like Baerlic, Ex Novo and BTU Brasserie but Stormbreaker was for me the best overall experience. I was not expecting a lot but owner Rob Lutz and Dan Malech have succeeded in well made if not showy Pacific Northwest ales like hoppy Reds, Pales, IPA’s and Kolsch’s while blowing my mind on the quality of food that can be produced without a fryer or hood. From a terrific Pimento Cheeseburger to cheese and charcuterie plates, an improved beer lineup, beer cocktails and covered patio with a fire pit they have managed to take the former Amnesia Brewing not just up one notch but two.
Runner-Up – Fat Head’s Brewery
The most anticipated and buzzed about brewery opening of 2014 was no doubt Ohio based Fat Head’s Brewing’s outpost in Northwest Portland in the Pearl District. The brewery had a lot to live up to from mid-westerners hype to skeptical Portlanders they have delivered on terrific beers out of the gate and above average gluttonous pub food that may not be for everyone but regardless does what it does extremely well.
Best Oregon Brewery
The Commons Brewery
2014 was the year that Portland’s The Commons Brewery really started coming into their own. I have been a fan since Mike Wright founded the brewery originally called Beetje brewing out of his garage and the beer has consistently improved. In 2014 they really began hitting more home runs than ever before, it’s like your kid brother who finally turned 21 though he has been making great homebrew for years. They have also diversified with Lagers and Imperial Stouts and Baltic Porters while releasing some terrific sour beers like Maybelle, Citrus Royale and just last week Creme de Peche.
Runner-Up – Breakside Brewery
Breakside was also the runner-up for Best Oregon Brewery last year and kicked just as much ass as last year. 2014 was the year Breakside embraced sour and wild ales and in the future it’s likely to produce huge dividends both in quality and beer geek cred on a local and national level.
Best Oregon Brewpub
Falling Sky Pour House & Delicatessen
I called it in October when I declared Eugene, Oregon’s 2nd Falling Sky Brewing location the best brewpub in the state and I have not had anyone convince me otherwise since. The last few years have seen Oregon breweries step up their brewpub game and when I say “brewpub” I take equal account of the restaurant, food, atmosphere and service as I do the beer. I wrote a whole article about why Falling Sky Pour House & Delicatessen excels to world class in all of these areas and you can reference that here.
Runner-Up – TIE: Breakside Brewery & pFriem Family Brewers
Last years winner Breakside Brewery continued to do what they do with excellent food and beer while pFriem always had great food they initially were not prepared for their own popularity. With an expanded kitchen and now full on restaurant and killer location pFriem has became one of the top brewpub destinations in the Northwest and has a shot at #1.
Best Oregon Brewer
Ben Edmunds (Breakside Brewery)
Call me biased but I truly could not thing of another brewer/brewery making as diverse and unique beers as Breakside Brewery is making right now. From you classic NW IPA to sour beers like Passionfruit Sour Ale to old school styles like Kolsch, Oktoberfest and ESB. Their has not been quite as many truly crazy beers in the past but excellent experiments like Bergamot Special Bitter (lemon peel and earl grey tea leaves) and Birra Minestra (Sungold Tomatoes, Basil and Pluots). Credit Brewmaster Ben Edmunds for the direction and encouragement of the growing team at Breakside.
Runner-Up: Sean Burke and Mike Wright (The Commons)
As mentioned in their brewery of the year award this is the year they began hitting their stride.
Another one of the most difficult decisions every year, I think Belmont Station’s win in this category is a long-time coming. Perhaps they get slightly overlooked because of their reputation as a bottleshop more than a taproom their expansion and addition of a covered patio and on-site food cart put Belmont Station head and shoulders above most. Not only does Belmont Station rotate through their beers as quickly as anyone else in town but they are also quite possibly the most affordably priced drafts.
Runner-Up: Tin Bucket
Just over a year old the tiny Tin Bucket fits a huge selection into a very modest space. I actually had forgotten they have an astounding 40 taps and hundreds of bottles inside a building with bar seats for about 4 people. Also Tin Bucket has Corvallis Brewing Supply, Corvallis Beer Week and Les Caves alumni Drew Salmi behind the taps and thus one of the most well curated beer lists and most educated bartenders in the state.
The red-headed stepchild of American craft beers or microbrews or whatever you want to call them has been light lagers. Beer geeks and beer afficionados conflated them with the macro cheap American Lagers that gave US beer a bad name. Finally at long last an appreciation for lower alcohol, crisp and clean Pilsners, Helles and Vienna lagers have made a complete and huge comeback with everyone from The Commons to Deschutes Brewery attempting them often to great results.
Runner-Up – Sour beers get more affordable
From Breakside Brewery’s Passionfruit Sour Ale and La Tormenta to great Berliner-Weisse’s from Laurelwood, Hopworks and Oakshire we got approachable and affordable sour beers for the masses. That’s also including long-time pioneer Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche and the fantastic new Anderson Valley Gose and Blood Orange Gose.
Worst New Trend
The biggest and most controversial news of the year was Anheuser-Busch’s acquisition of 10 Barrel but smaller less controversial brewery purchases like Founders Brewing and Green Flash of Alpine also made huge waves and added to anger an unease among craft beer fans.
Runner-Up – Way too many IPA sub-styles and spinoffs
Brewers are nothing if not creative but it’s also a business and hops and IPA’s sell which means we have seen a million alternate versions of America’s most popular style. This year saw tons of Session IPA’s, India Pale Lagers, White IPA’s, Citrus IPA’s, Red IPA’s, Rye IPA’s and even Coffee IPA’s and Brett IPA’s and that is likely just the beginning. I am not saying these beers are bad it’s just IPA’s are becoming overblown and these variations less creative.