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Oakes Weekly - January 6, 2005

Presenting the 2004 Oakes Awards
Oakes Weekly January 6, 2005      
Written by Oakes

Kelowna, CANADA -

This past year was definitely a strange one in terms of beerhunting structure. I found more beers – and more really good ones – than expected over the first six months (though May and June were the best of those) but then things got all weird. I hit the road for 5 ½ months. At first, everything was great – I didn’t just find a new beer or a new brewery, I found an entirely new beer scene. One that completely rocks. I’m still waiting for Michael Jackson to get up to northern Lithuania and mooch off my work the way I’ve spent the past ten years mooching off of his. It’s about time I gave something back to The Man for inspiring me to beerhunt and showing me the way to all those awesome beers and breweries in the 90’s.

After Lithuania, Sweden was the site of many great experiences jammed into a small window of only a few days. It was so intense, slimjimdrinker has been scared to come back to the site ever since. I mean, those Ratebeer parties can really mess with you.

From there, it started to slowly fade. The ratio of microbrew to macrobrew dropped from Finland to Russia to Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan. Heck, I was happy just to find any microbrew in those last two countries. China was strange – so many terrible pale lagers, but the good beers there really are pretty good. Either that or my palate was in shock. When I got back to Vancouver, I finished with a flourish.

The results of all this? The 2004 Oakes Awards.

Best New Brewery – Strangely, for all those new breweries, very few were both new and memorable. Well, there were some, but they only made one or two beers, which is not much to declare a Best New Brewery award with. <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/ShowBrewer.asp?BrewerID=4947>Padubysio, <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/ShowBrewer.asp?BrewerID=4950>Jovaru, <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/ShowBrewer.asp?BrewerID=4933>Chimkora and <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/ShowBrewer.asp?BrewerID=4951>Vygantas in Lithuania are all possibilities. <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-5260.htm>Wuhan Brautechnischesakademie and <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-5264.htm>Le Vôtre in China were good, too. But maybe this year I’ll just call it the Best Brewery and give it to <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-1067.htm>Nynäshamns, who rocked me with two world classics – <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Reviews-11627.htm>Pickla Pils and <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=31733>Fatlagrad Smörpundet Porter.

Best Brewpub – Here’s a good place for <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-5264.htm>Le Vôtre in Yangshuo, China. There were others, and the weak atmosphere and service here were downsides, but the two beers they make are both excellent examples of their styles and were probably the two best brewpub beers I had this year.

Best Fest<a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/events-detail.asp?eventID=854>Brewtopia, largely by default but it was a great time. Volunteering at fests just seems to work out for me. Maybe it’s the increased access, maybe it’s the forced downtime preventing overindulgence, or the afterparties, but working beer fests has been a consistent winner the past few years.

Best CrawlRatebeer European Summer Party Pub Crawl. We had stylish with great food (<a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Places/ShowPlace.asp?PlaceID=1280>Ardbeg Room), lambicfest (<a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Places/ShowPlace.asp?PlaceID=95>Akkurat), Americafest (<a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Places/ShowPlace.asp?PlaceID=96>Oliver Twist), a little Czech at the Soldaten Svejk, and yeah, lots of great people, some tasty reindeer and raggmunk and a whole whack of really cool brews in a city that’s always fun.

Anglo-American Ale of the Year – A weak year overall for this type of beer – I went from August 1st at the <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-3579.htm>Huvila Brewery in Finland to November 25th at the <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-2846.htm>Londoner in Bangkok in between examples of what is normally a very common ale family. Four of my top ten got onto that list at the very end of the year after I returned home. But don’t think that the winners aren’t deserving. In third place was <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=42015>Amnesiac Double IPA from <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-1844.htm>Phillips Brewing of Victoria, BC. Second place was <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=42588>Old Bad Cat Barley Wine from <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-1235.htm>Fat Cat Brewery of Nanaimo, BC – I can’t remember the last time BC had two new beers this good. The best Anglo-American Ale in 2004 was <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=28797>Old Man Winter Ale from NY state’s <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-3473.htm>Southern Tier Brewing.

Lager of the Year – I may have had a million of them, but a lot of those were terrible. Thankfully, the Lithuanian farmhouse brews fall into this family, and they dominate the top ten. China managed a couple of top ten lagers out of their 100+ entrants (<a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=39756>Le Vôtre Yellow, <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=16518>Tsingtao Black), and Uzbekistan got in there as well (<a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=37990>Gambrinus Nefiltrovne). In third place, <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=36933>Padubysio Bernelius from Pakruojis, Lithuania. Second place came from just down the road – <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=36938>Jovaru Alus from Jovarai, Lithuania. The best Lager of 2004 was <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Reviews-11627.htm>Nynäshamns Pickla Pils, a true show-stopper that they need to start mailing to me on a bi-weekly basis.

Belgian & Specialty Ale of the Year – My top ten in this category was, for the first time ever, swept by the little nation of Belgium. Lambics took 5 of the top 7 spots. The top three were all vintage lambics. In third place, <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=36906>De Neve Gueuze, from the real De Neve brewery. Second place, Cuvée de 9 Nations from Cantillon, an ancestor of sorts to Vigneronne. The best Belgian or Specialty Ale of 2004 was <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=12514>Drie Fonteinen Framboos/Frambozenlambik. Joris tried to convince Armand Debelder to make this one again, but it appears that effort is in vain. A terrible shame – I like to see my beers of the year a second, third, or twentieth time and I may never see this again.

Stout/Porter of the Year – I track a top five for these, as it isn’t such a big category. To my disgust, the ever-trendy barrel-aged category took two of the top five, though it should be noted that in the case of Speedway the barrel didn’t make much of an improvement. I had a lot of foreign stouts this year, and they were my thing for a while in the fall. In third place, <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=28173>Barrel-Aged Speedway. In second, the Singaporean version of <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=19433>Guinness Foreign Extra Stout – perhaps the classic example of the style as it embodies all the traditional elements including abundant acidity. The Stout/Porter of the year was the barrel-aged <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=31733>Nynäshamns Fatlagrad Smörpundet Porter, simply the best barrel-aged beer in the world.

Wheat Beer of the Year – Another smaller category, with a top five tracked. Strong contenders came from all corners of the globe. In third, the funky <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=3557>Summer Sail from upstate NY’s <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-611.htm>Wagner Valley. Nobody else seemed to like this and my samples at Brewtopia seemed to be "unique" in character compared with what most people found, but whatever happened to it, I liked it. Second place goes to <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=6243>Vehnäolut (“Wheat beer”) from the venerable Finnish masters at Tampere’s <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-1077.htm>Plevna brewpub. From a most unusual source, China’s national brewing school, comes the Wheat Beer of the Year, <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=39702>Zentrumsbier Weizen. Available in bottles or on tap at the brewing school’s pub, it’s not easy to find, but I was glad I did.

Pub/Bar of the Year – In addition to being constantly on the move, I also didn’t get out much during the first half of the year because I was saving money for the trip. So there isn’t even a Toronto bar I spent much time in that I could nominate. But that’s okay because being on the road you get to experience of lot of great places. One that I loved for beer, food and atmosphere was <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Places/ShowPlace.asp?PlaceID=908>Spuyten Duyvil in Brooklyn. Very few bars put together the total beer geek package (including staff who know their stuff) – Spuyten Duyvil does and is a worthy winner of Pub/Bar of the Year. Definitely one of the best. (<a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Places/ShowPlace.asp?PlaceID=1866>Alaus Baras Kelias in Pasvalys, Lithuania and <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Places/ShowPlace.asp?PlaceID=95>Akkurat in Stockholm are also extremely good!)

Session of the Year – The day Per and I discovered Lithuanian farmhouse beer at <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Places/ShowPlace.asp?PlaceID=1866>Alaus Baras Kelias. From the bar snacks, the attempted conversations with the locals, the sunshine, the exuberant publican to the bizarre, wonderful beer this was just about as close to perfect as I could imagine a session being.

Pint of the Year – Supreme satisfaction from a pint can come many ways. The setting, the company, the beer itself – a lot more variables come into the Pint of the Year than the Beer of the Year. The beer itself will inevitably have to be good, but not necessarily a world-beater. But magic has to happen. I had magic moments, yes, but nothing like the past two winners in this category. However, the first eye-opening glass of <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=36826>Chimkora Dvaro was pretty cool. The mind-blowing goodness of <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=12514>Drie Fonteinen Framboos, but that wasn’t really a pint so that doesn’t count. Hiding in a corner of <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Places/ShowPlace.asp?PlaceID=11>Smokeless Joe’s with a good book and an <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=3734>Affligem Tripel certainly was fun. Finding out that you really could escape the searing heat of Uzbekistan by seeking refuge in a really tasty microbrew at the <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Places/ShowPlace.asp?PlaceID=1889>Gambrinus restaurant in Tashkent was certainly memorable. At the end of the day, the great times and supreme beerhunting satisfaction of finally getting my hands on a rarity wins the award – Pint of the Year was <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=11439>Westvleteren red cap with Diplomat at his farm in the middle of nowhere, Finland. After some crazy beerhunting out in the woods at the <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-1087.htm>Finlandia Sahti shed, some homebrewed sahti from his cousin, a trip to a Finnish brewing school/micro, getting stuffed with some amazing food that his wife Tiina prepared and dipping into all those great beers from his cellar…and then the one I’d been waiting for!

Brewpub Meal of the Year – Sadly, brewpub kitchens were well below the Mendoza Line in 2004. Lots of candidates for Worst Brewpub Meal, but Best? No award given.

Drain Pour of the Year –In a year featuring Soviet-style lagers and the debut of the <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-4603.htm>Steelback Brewery, this award amazingly goes to neither. <a href=http://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Reviews-40012-195.htm>Lan Cang River 11p (green label) is truly the most hideous beer on the planet since <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brewers/Brewing-Company-275.htm>Stepan Razin discontinued <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=1556>Studencheskoye. Bad beers usually don’t inspire me at all. Occasionally, they will inspire me to poetry. This just inspired me to profanity.

Vintage Beer of the Year – It was a killer year for vintage beer. Still, I’ve got to go with <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=12514>Drie Fonteinen Framboos 1986. At 18 years old, it was of legal age in Montreal where I had it. But age did nothing to this beer other than render it a nearly flawless specimen of the brewers art. If my name was Armand Debelder, I’d make it again just so I revel in the fact that I could make the world’s best lambic.

Beer Style of the YearLithuanian Farmhouse Ales were the main event, no question. Sure, I had lots of unblended lambics, Trappist ales, and I doubled the amount of Helles in my database (with many wonderful examples, I might add), but 2004 will always be the year of the Lithuanian Farmhouse for me.

Beer Glass of the Year – My 2000 Chicago Real Ale Festival mug. That was what I brought with me on my trip. It served me almost exclusively through pouring rain, blistering sun, up in the mountains and across the open steppe. It saw great foreign stouts and nast-o-rific Chinese lagers and never once complained, chipped or broke. A true soldier.

New Beer of the Year – I’ll break tradition a little and not give it to one of the category winners. How can I justify this? I’ll give it to the classic example of the Style of the Year. The winner – <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/Beer-Ratings.asp?BeerID=36938>Jovaru Alus, from the <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Ratings/Beer/ShowBrewer.asp?BrewerID=4950>Jovaru Brewery in Jovarai, Lithuania. Consumed at a nameless working man’s bar across from the Pakruojis bus depot, which typifies the scene from which it hails. Plus, it is a fantastic beer.



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start quote At first, everything was great – I didn’t just find a new beer or a new brewery, I found an entirely new beer scene. One that completely rocks. end quote