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Oakes Weekly - January 1, 2004

The 2003 Oakes Awards
Oakes Weekly January 1, 2004      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

Presenting the 2003 Oakes Awards!

<P>Best New Brewery – I’m surprised how few breweries I discovered this past year. In fact, most of the ones I discovered were ones I already knew about. But in Michigan I happened upon Kuhnhenn Brewery. They had several winning beers on the day, including Raspberry Eisbock, Russian Imperial Stout, Wheat Wine, and Loonie Kuhnie. Amongst breweries previously unknown to me, I think this had the greatest variety of tasty drops. Two strong runners-up were Andrew’s Brewing from Maine and Mill Street from Toronto.

<P>Best Brewpub – This year saw the emergence of a new star in Quebec’s brewing scene. True, Dieu du Ciel! has been around for a few years now, but I think 2003 was the first year people outside Quebec took notice. The thirsty masses will be delivered the goods for real in 2004, but that’s another story. The 2003 story was a great pub and great beers like the Abt, Equinox de Printemps, Charbonnière, and Solstice d’Été (oh, and the unfruited version thereof!). Oh, and some beer that has made the top 50 – Péché Mortel. Runners up include Diamond Knot from Mukilteo, WA and Dogfish Head is pretty fun, too.

<P>Best Fest – The Ratebeer Summer Party. Hands down, no question. Jaw-dropping beer after jaw-dropping beer. Nothing could compare to that. There’s two of them next year, and no amount of excuses about being too far from Portland or Stockholm will make up for the shame you should feel for missing the beer world’s best event. Runner up would have to be Michigan.

<P>Best Crawl – Montreal with Radek, MartinT, Simon_Patrice and muzzlehatch. Yeah, I dug that one. So many great brews it hurt to drink them all in one night, but sometimes that’s what you’ve got to do. I had a couple of good crawls in Halifax with OKBeer and the C’est What/Smokeless Joe’s combo in November was pretty cool, too.

<P>Anglo-American Ale of the Year – Most of these were big, big beers this year, since that’s what everyone was brewing. The winner was no exception. Amazingly, it was sampled right at the beginning of the year, on the 3rd of January at Mukilteo, Washington. Diamond Knot was runner-up for Brewpub of the Year, and with its killer beer lineup and great food how could it not be a contender. Icebreaker Barley Wine joined its showstopper of an IPA as a world-classic. Such perfect malt notes, exquisite balance…this deserves wider recognition (as does DK in general).

<P>Lager of the Year – It wasn't conventional by any means, nor did it have a particularly long shelf-life in terms of being at the top of its game. But for a brief few weeks this fall, there was nothing better than Mill Street Oktoberfest. Underappreciated, yeah, but that’s okay because I loved it and that’s all any one person really needs.

<P>Belgian & Specialty Ale of the Year – Lots of fine examples to choose from, as this was easily the most hotly contested category of the year. Of all new beers that I crowned as a world classic, half were from this category. But the best of them all was the one that everyone in Chicago remembers – Belle Vue Selection Lambic. They may not make much of this, nor with any frequency, but it is traditional gueuze at its best.

<P>Stout/Porter of the Year – Dark Lord. It is that good. But I didn’t need to tell you that, did I?

<P>Wheat Beer of the Year – I had a few that I really like a lot, and there wasn’t much to choose from in the Top 5. But I got one in the mail from Per a few weeks ago that really hit the spot, in all the places that Denison’s did when it was at the absolute top of its game in 2002. Lohrer Keiler Weissbier is an unknown hefeweizen from Germany that other raters didn’t see so much greatness in, but damn I thought it was brilliantly balanced and unbelievably drinkable.

<P>Pub/Bar of the Year – Smokeless Joe’s for the second year in a row. I can even take non-beer geeks there, it’s so good. And they continued to deliver beers not found anywhere else in North America. Even the biggest name US beer bars can’t say that.

<P>Session of the Year – Saturday evening session at the Ratebeer Summer Party. Like I said, one jaw-dropping beer after another. I was so jacked up that no amount of alcohol could slow me down. A bubba of Bitburger at the cottage in May was a lot of fun, too, as was the session in Buffalo with Radek and Doug Shoemaker back in November.

<P>Pint of the Year – No clear-cut winner like the previous two years, but I’d say the litre of Creemore Springs Premium Lager in the middle of the stream that flows through Creemore on the longest day of the year. A truly sublime experience, and that’s what the pint of the year should be – when all the elements of life’s greatness come together at once. You don’t forget that kind of thing easily. That first Two Druid’s Gruit would win honourable mention for sheer WTF? value.

<P>Brewpub Meal of the Year – Actually only about two weeks after the 2002 Brewpub Meal of the Year. At Diamond Knot, steak sandwiches comes with a hot stone upon which you place the veggies, pour some porter, steaming the veggies before stuffing the sandwich. Everybody turns and looks, and the end result tastes wonderful. Presentation plus flavour equals Brewpub Meal of the Year for 2003.

<P>Drain Pour of the Year – Antonio’s Garlic Pils from Brew Brothers of Calgary, Alberta. This is a drain pour based on the aroma alone. And I love garlic. Anyone at my Christmas party knows what I mean when I give this the drain pour of the year award. Close nods for Muchacha and that gluten-free beer from the Gout de Quebec event.

<P>Vintage Beer of the Year – It wasn’t really that big a year for vintage beers, but I remember specifically a killer Moinette II Blonde. I’d forgotten how great a beer this is, and even though I actually rated the vintage version a notch lower than the fresh, it was really an eye opener for me to not only become reacquainted with this beer, but to remind myself that there are beers out there that I forgot kicked ass.

<P>Beer Style of the Year – Lambic. I had quite a few new ones, and so many of those were downright dominant. They’re all over my Top Belgian Ales category. Honourable mention to eisbock – I didn’t have a lot of them but each of the ones I had really made an impression.

<P>Beer Glass of the Year – Orval. Why? Because I had a lot of Orval out of it this year, and that’s always a good thing.

<P>New Beer of the Year – I won’t go with the more-or-less extinct one (the Belle Vue), so what’s next? Dark Lord. May his reign be everlasting!

<P>Check back next year where the frontrunner for best pint is at the first decent brewpub I hit (in Wuhan, China) after two months without a decent beer. Dibs on best pub crawl has to go to Bamberg. It should be good.



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start quote remind myself that there are beers out there that I forgot kicked ass end quote