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Oakes Weekly - January 9th, 2003


The 2003 Oakes Awards
Oakes Weekly January 9, 2003      
Written by Oakes


Vancouver, CANADA -



<P>What better way to reflect on the year passed than to hand out some awards? Judging by the forums, most Ratebeerians couldn't give a rat's ass about the Grammies and their celebration of banal pop. The Academy Awards I guess still have some shred of dignity, though are far from perfect. But no worries, because the most perfect awards on Earth have arrived.

<P>So without any further delay, the 2002 Oakes Awards!

<P>Best New Brewery: A tough category, because not all breweries that are new to me are actually new. Some are quite old, in fact. Like the winner, Cain's of Liverpool, whose stellar Bitter and Mild are staples of any self-respecting Liverpudlians diet. Evidently Paul McCartney is not self-respecting, because he should have stepped up and bought the brewery instead of the fix and flip artists who own the plant now, and who many locals feel will be the end of their great Victorian landmark firm.

<P>Best Brewpub: This year seemed to be the year of Denison's. I went to some place in Rehoboth Beach a couple times that wasn't all that bad, but Michael Hancock's German-style perfection seemed especially good this year. Other Ratebeerians apparently agree, and his Weizen finished second among all wheat beers to the mighty Aventinus in November's Ratebeer Best.

<P>Best Fest: I actually didn't get to very many festivals this year, but no matter. I could have gone to a hundred of them and the Great British Beer Festival still would have won. Obscene is about the only word to describe it. Whether you want to sample English ale til the end of time, explore obscure classics from Belgium, Germany and beyond, or just enjoy a session with one or two old favourites, the world's biggest pub is THE place to do it.

<P>Best Crawl: A good crawl is a lot of fun, though if the beers are all new it can be a very punishing experience. The best crawls combine great beer, good company, some tasty food, and an absence of difficulty. So having good organization and an easily navigable town help immensely. Touring Manchester with omhper and his girlfriend wins this one easily.

<P>Anglo-American Ale of the Year: This is normally a hotly contested category, and with a trip to England it was even more so this year. Finishing in the top ten is an amazing honour. That list will be posted soon to the Manifesto as it is every year. But the best this year, which will surprise a lot of you Imperial IPA fans out there, was Cain's Mild. Maybe some others scored a little higher for their technical precision, but Cain's Mild wins for its sublime combination of complexity and drinkability. I could drink it for days.

<P>Lager of the Year: The much-maligned lager class showed some surprising form this year. I kept the number of raunchadelic macro lagers to a minimum, and found some superb German and Czech ones upon which to focus my attention. In fact, my top ten is comprised of 6 German and 4 Czech, which when you think about makes a lot of sense. Though I had a more famous smoked "Lagerbier" as well, it was the one from Spezial that really jumped out at me. I liked smoked anything of course, so that doesn't hurt, but I think it's a worthy choice.

<P>Belgian & Specialty Ale of the Year: I kicked the year off at the stroke of midnight Jan. 1st with one classic gueuze, but the best was yet to come. Get it while you can, cause they're out of business: Beersel Oude Gueuze.

<P>Stout & Porter of the Year: How rare is it that the winner is a beer available to me locally? I'm pretty sure this is the first time it's happened, actually. Smuttynose Robust Porter, however, is a worthy beer in all respects, beating out some larger beers with its style, finesse and understated strength.

<P>Wheat Beer of the Year: Well, if I counted lambics this one would never go to any other style. But since I don't count them here, the field is open. One of the best parts about the GBBF was the presence of some very rare Franconian beers. I don't know how rare Greif-Bräu Weisse actually is, but it certainly has rare quality, and I encourage all who see it to try it.

<P>Pub/Bar of the Year: Smokeless Joe's in Toronto has really stepped up to the plate in servicing the need for a great beer bar in this town. It was a hit at the Ratebeer Summer Party. The mussels are great. Joe brings in beers that nobody else has seen (sometimes nobody else in North America even). How can you not love Smokeless Joe's?

<P>Session of the Year: I had a really fun session at the White Horse on Parson's Green. It started as a Babblefest, with me meeting up with a whole bunch of other Babblers, then Per dropped in fresh from the GBBF. The food was solid, the beers were too, and as a bonus I left with the satisfaction of knowing that I'd tapped one of the most famous beerhunter's pubs in the world clean out of new beers.

<P>Pint of the Year: The beer was decent, but still would probably be the worst to win this award. But I wasn't sharing any of the previous winners with a duck, beside a stream, on a beautiful August day, after a ride on a Victorian electric railway, in a country I'd just barely set foot in. Bosun's Bitter from the Old Laxey Brewing Company, at the Shore Hotel on the banks of the Laxey River, in Laxey on the Isle of Man.

<P>Brewpub Meal of the Year: Avalon Brewing in North Vancouver does up some fine Szechuan green beans. In Saveur's 100 Things We Really Like (or whatever it's called) they list this meal, and even give a recipe. But the picture is a disaster - so poorly cooked the poor beans are shriveled and lifeless. Not at Avalon, though. They are firm, crisp, bursting with flavour, and once the spicing is completely up to the diner - you can take it mild or if you want it spicy you can bite into one of the chiles used in the preparation.

<P>Worst Brewpub Meal of the Year: I'm not going to name names on this one, but suffice to say that when you are in a small, unsophisticated town (to distinguish from places like Nelson where it's easier to buy organic food than regular) and you visit their local brewpub, you should probably order something that people in small, unsophisticated towns will know how to cook. Steaks, burgers, roast chicken - not stir fries, nor curries, nor anything vegetarian.

<P>Oxymoron of the Year: On a sign at GM Place, in a reference to Rickard's Red: "Craft-brewed by Molson".

<P>Quote of the Year: Molson again, as an executive commented in a press release that came out with a quarterly report about the nature of microbreweries. "They're annoying, like blackflies and mosquitos". Strangely enough, Alexander the Great didn't die in combat.

<P>Drain Pour of the Year: There was one notably unpleasant wake-up call this past fall which I though would win this, but the true drain pour of the year came as a wonderful Christmas present when I went to visit a non beer-drinking friend who's mother drinks only one beer - Old Style Pilsner, one so bad I can still taste it.

<P>Vintage Beer of the Year: For the second year running this goes to an imperial stout. Cheers to Scott Royce for donating some 1999 Expedition Stout to the cause. If you have some of this, drink it now, because it's tough to do better than perfection.

<P>Beer Style of the Year: Bitter. I had almost 100 of them and so many of them were brilliant - Cain's Bitter, Triple fff Moondance, Smiles Best, Rooster's Hooligan. This was an easy one.

<P>Beer Glass of the Year: I've fallen madly in love with tulips, and the 10oz. Ratebeer Tasting Glass is the perfect example thereof. Perfect head formation, full-flowing aroma, excellent view of the beer, and the right size to drink a 12 oz. bottle and still get the all-important second pour.

<P>New Beer of the Year: The best of the best, which can be quickly narrowed down to two. The impending extinction factor would normally have tipped the scales but they are both on the endangered species list, so I'll have to give it to both Cain's Mild and Beersel Oude Gueuze.

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