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Oakes Weekly - January 5, 2006
The 2005 Oakes Awards
January 5, 2006
Written by Oakes
The 2005 Oakes Awards
It was a pretty solid year in 2005 for beerhunting. I didn’t match the quantity of 2004 but I easily surpassed it in terms of quality. Needless to say, I’m plenty happy with that. It was a time for me to get reacquainted with North American beers, checking out some of the brewers the rest of you have been talking about for a while now. And discover a few up-and-comers of my own.
But you’re here for the prizes, so let’s rock.
Best New Brewery:
I’m going to have to go with Russian River on this one. Their work with bacteria and barrels has been really groundbreaking, putting the whole concept on the national consciousness. But accolades and hype aside, these beers - Damnation, Sanctification, Temptation and Supplication - all rocked. At 3.9, Pliny the Elder was the lowest-rated of the five RR beers I tried. OK, I only tried the showpiece beers but I’ll be down there later this month to check out the rest. Oh hell yes.
I certainly visited some pretty cool brewpubs. In some cases it was the atmosphere, in others it was the beer. That rare brewpub that truly captures both, for me, was North Fork in Deming, WA. The first town of significance south of the BC-Washington border is Bellingham, and North Fork is east of there on the highway towards Mt. Baker, quite possibly the snowiest place on Earth. My first visit involved a snowstorm, sure enough. The place is a rural shack draped in beer memorabilia. The beers are all pretty solid but at times they are downright outstanding. And, when I went in the summer after hiking on Baker with my dad, they remembered me from my previous visit three months earlier with a north-of-the-border brewer.
It really had to be my first GABF. It’s a pretty intense event, especially if you’re judging (which means you start drinking at 9am) and going to all the parties (ending at 3am). No, I wasn’t going to fly all the way to Denver and not go to the parties. All that stuff around the fest was amazing, but I left the fest itself dumbfounded. OK, one ounce samples aren’t my bag but wow the selection is outstanding. I didn’t grab more than a handful of ratings, but I sure had a ton of killer beers.
Who could forget starting the day with a massive hangover at Amère À Boire, heading for about an eight-hour session at Dieu du Ciel! with all the ridiculous beers and good friends that involved. Then headed to Cheval Blanc for the hippie wrestling show. Hell, even the downpour didn’t bother me, as I enjoyed my Grand Noirceur in the doorway. That’s two years in a row that the crawling portion of a Ratebeer Summer party wins this award.
Anglo-American Beer of the Year:
I had three that just blew my mind this year. Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic, the great cedar-aged IPA from Kiuchi really showed me some new things in a style that has really peaked out. Fish’s Batch 4 Leviathan really blew my mind. I heard that it was retired and sought it out. I tracked it down, and it absolutely ruled.
But the winner, courtesy of Larry Pitonka, was LaConner’s Bottleworks IPA. A great IPA, yes, but there are a lot of those in Washington State. It was the aroma that really set this one above all others – so fresh and beautiful like no other IPA I’ve ever smelled.
Lager of the Year:
Last year’s brewery of the year, Nynäshamns, takes this with a gift from omhper Marska Mörka, a replacement for their Mörkö, which I also quite liked. The best of the rest was the Rauchbier from Wolfpack. Previous raters didn’t seem too impressed but those of us who had it at the GABF thought it rocked.
Belgian & Specialty Ale of the Year:
This one is probably the site-wide winner as well. I was the rater that put it into the top 50, a position it hasn’t left since. I’m talking about Pannepot, a gift from Lachesis. That’s not to say I wasn’t totally in awe of stuff like Russian River Damnation and Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek, but Pannepot is the shit.
Stout/Porter of the Year:
Overall a pretty solid year for this category. Early on I received from dough77 a bottle of Great Lakes Blackout Stout. I’ve always like Great Lakes and this proved one of their best brews. Elysian in Seattle makes several solid brews, but some of their stuff is, well, not as good. Dragonstooth, a sweet stout, is their best beer, absolutely exquisite. At the GABF I said “I asked to judge Foreign Stouts to drink beers like this.” When the awards were announced it turned out to be Alameda Black Bear Stout. I got some more and yeah, it’s that good. The winner: Great Lakes Blackout Stout
Wheat Beer of the Year:
Not the greatest year, as only the Hefeweizen category submitted quality to my palate. The best of the year was North Fork German Hefeweizen, though I really enjoyed Anacortes Hefeweizen as well.
Pub/Bar of the Year:
Big Time…I just keep going back.
Session of the Year:
Radekfest 05…yeah other sessions had better beer but seeing the Torbuffilton crew again was a major highlight. Great people make great sessions.
Pint of the Year:
No massive standouts, surprisingly. I got a kick out of Kirin Namakuro, my first ever happo-shu, probably a much bigger kick than was deserved. Any of the great beers I tried would have to be considered. But it was perhaps the best beer I had all year that takes this one. I guess the hunt for new beers does sometimes really overshadow the awesome stuff on the local shelves. But when I rediscovered Traquair Jacobite this year, it was truly sublime. I’d forgotten just how awesome that beer is. And the aroma – how can you get better?
Brewpub Meal of the Year:
I got really cheap at brewpubs this year and hardly ate out at all. I’m really having to think here. The occasional pizza was probably it. Except for the time I said “No, I won’t just get a pizza and a burger.” You have to pick your spots when doing this at brewpubs because too many of them mail the food in. But there are a couple that don’t. Bistrot Victoria in La Baie, Quebec certainly doesn’t. They make some excellent sausages. But the beer is mostly average. The winner was a pretty damn good crabcake at LaConner Brewing in Washington, accompanied by their rare Framboise. Seek out both.
Drain Pour of the Year:
Whether it is my habit of picking up at least one swill on any beerhunting expedition or just being hard up for new beer to try at home I always find a bunch of bonafide drain pours. I’m not one of those guys who pours a 2.6 down the sink either. I mean beers so bad you can’t imagine it being worse. For me, though, it wasn’t the nastiest beer that would win, but the most fascinatingly craptastic, Cold Spring Lager. A throw-in on a trade with presario, this beer is an education in failure.
Vintage Beer of the Year:
I think most of these were consumed after I was too drunk to enjoy them…but that barrel-aged Leviathan wasn’t.
Beer Style of the Year:
Back in the PNW – it’s got to be IPA. I had more of these than I had welfare lagers. And there are so many really good ones in Washington State especially. Hops, baby, it’s all about the hops.
Beer Glass of the Year:
At the Hops on Props beer fest in Seattle they had a private tasting with dinner and a presentation by mattbob. One of the beers there was Tripel Karmeliet and this being a civilized event you got the glass, which you were allowed to keep. With a good portion of my glassware still in Toronto, I leaned on a few quite heavily but none moreso than this one. Greatness.
New Beer of the Year:
LaConner Bottleworks IPA
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I got a kick out of Kirin Namakuro, my first ever happo-shu, probably a much bigger kick than was deserved.
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