TPFWebLinkWe Americans love us some competition. Super Bowl, Oscars, Tonys, Car & Driver’s Car of The Year, Kentucky Derby, The National Hollerin‘ Contest, March Madness,The World Famous St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail-Eating Championship (I swear to God), Radcliff Days World Hard-Boiled Egg Eating Championship (Swear to God, Part 2), The Purdue Bug Bowl’s Cricket Spitting Contest (again…),  The Virginia State Yoyo Contest…well, you get the picture.  It’s a basic human impulse: “I have this thing and you have that thing, so which one is better?”

I don’t like the whole “Mine’s bigger than yours” aspect of beer lists and festivals and competitions...and why do I suddenly feel like Andy Rooney right now? But, I’ve had to come to some accommodation with the idea of beverages as combatants, mainly because, as one friend of mine said to me just before the last GABF, after interrupting me mid-tirade, “Look, I and a lot of other people enjoy GABF, and you’re being a tiresome a-hole about it.

Point taken.

But the objective reality will not go away:

There is NO SUCH THING as the “best” as represented by any competition.

GABF-gold-medal-150x225Here’s an example: GABF, 2013…624 U.S. breweries were present in the festival hall, 46 more breweries than 2012. But, as of the festival date, there were 3,147 brewery licenses issued in the US and more than 2,400 breweries in actual operation. That means 2,523 breweries had no beers poured at the festival – almost four times the number that attended. What are the chances that some of the beers produced by those 2,523 breweries were, in fact, better than what was judged at GABF? I submit: pretty darned good.

But what does that do for breweries, wineries, and distilleries in the Pacific Northwest who enter competitions as a means of drawing attention to their work? Should they just adopt my Crusty Fool attitude and heap scorn all over GABF? Of course not…because a medal at GABF works exactly the same way as an Oscar for Lupita Nyong’o: she instantly became a Hot Commodity and her fee for her next film probably tripled. That little gold sticker from GABF or one from most major beverage contests, affixed to your local brewery/winery/distillery’s stuff, brings in $$$…and, even for an old bomb-throwing, counter-culture radical like myself, $$$ trumps all. I like brewers…and winemakers and distillers and the people who work for all three, and I want desperately for them to grow and prosper. And that, for better or worse, involves greasing up and bending over at these cattle parades.

And, my friend was right: I was being an old curmudgeon about it. So, I hit upon the idea of just celebrating the benefits and ignoring the hypocrisy. Which led me to this:

wbc_goldI began to wonder, while watching a live stream of the World Beer Cup awards ceremony, just how many beverages from our three-state ‘hood up here in The Soggy Corner (WA, OR, ID) actually won awards in 2013 and the budding 2014. My very next thought was: How many won Gold, Platinum, Best of Class, or Best in Show?

What you’re about to read here was the result of a wildly non-linear person making a genuinely half-assed attempt at the sort of scientific method you’d see if you gave a blowfish or a gerbil or a Clemson football fan a computer and said “Here, research this“. I basically just googled beer, wine, and booze shows, contests and competitions – omitting any that were obviously one guy in his underwear, in his Mom’s basement – and laboriously copied and pasted all the gold, platinum, Best in Shows, etc. into one master file. By NO means are these all the top awards won by Northwest beverage producers in ’13 and ’14. Determining that exact number would require actual effort and systematic research and you might as well ask a mollusk to do it. If I had that brand of stringency and drive, I’d have a real job. But the impression I got was immediate and damned impressive.

I tabulated the following contests involving beer, wine, and spirits, weeding out all but the top prizes, for producers in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho:

World Beer Cup 2014      Great American Beer Festival 2013      World Drinks Awards

North American Brewers Association       US Open Beer Championships

The International Brewing Awards Champions 2013       Brussels Beer Challenge

New York International Beer Competition       Denver International Beer Competition

Craft Beer Awards International Competition       World Whiskey Awards/World Drink Awards

San Francisco World Spirits Competition        San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

San Francisco International Wine Competition       San Diego International Wine Competition

Desaigns by dreamstime.com

Desaigns by dreamstime.com

Just in the past year and four months, Northwest producers of beer, wine, and various kinds of booze have rung up an astounding 248 let me repeat that; TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY-EIGHT(!) – Gold, Platinum, Best of Class, Best in Show, Best in the World, America’s Best, Double Gold, and Producer of the Year awards. That’s just in major competitions and completely skipping all local, state, and regional shindigs. In most of the events shown, entries were open to any producer on the planet. It also leaves out all the scores bestowed by Wine Advocate, BeerAdvocate, RateBeer, Wine Spectator, Steven Tanzer, Wine Enthusiast, Draft Magazine, Wine & Spirits, Sip, Decanter, and all those websites run by three or four guys who see themselves as the only real beer/wine/hooch authorities, while their friends see them as pedantic dorks who are about a couple more unsolicited reviews away from a fantastic beating on the kidneys with big sticks.

The normal ratio, according to what I found by gathering all the medal types, was about 2.65 Silver and Bronze to every gold medal or higher, which would mean that the Northwest, in this 16 month window, racked up over 800 medals in the three beverage categories. I paid no attention, to address your next question, as to how this stacks up with other regions because, honestly, I don’t care. There is a certain level of competition I can get aboard with and that exceeds it. And, just as honestly, it doesn’t matter. FYI, California, in all categories, racked up waaaaay more awards than the NW but that should come as no shock to anyone who understands even a iota of the beverage trade. The PNW was a solid second, however, and is that cause to celebrate? I submit that it certainly is.

Here are just a few of the highlights:


     Small Brewing Company & Brewer of the Year,  Pelican Pub & Brewery, Pacific City, OR/Darron Welch & Steve Panos

     Gold: Cucumber Crush, 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Bend, OR

     Gold: Brouwers 8, Flyers Restaurant and Brewery, Oak Harbor, WA

     Gold: Pipewrench, Gigantic Brewing, Portland, OR

     Gold: Mother Lode Golden Ale, Laurelwood Brewing Co., Portland, OR

     Gold: Scottish Ale, Two Kilts Brewing Co., Sherwood, OR

     Gold: 2009 Old #1 Barley Wine, Scuttlebutt Brewing Co., Everett, WA*

     Gold: Turmoil, Barley Brown’s Brew Pub, Baker City, OR

     Gold: Black Flag Imperial Stout, Beer Valley Brewing Co., Ontario, OR

     Gold: Winter Bock, Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, Seattle, WA

(As a quick aside, Scuttlebutt Brewing Old Number One Barleywine also won the 2014 Cole’s Ninth Annual Barleywine Competition, beating out names like AleSmith, Stone, Smuttynose, Elysian, Deschutes, Rogue, Moylan’s, and Cigar City. If you haven’t tried this magical; stuff, DO IT, if you like Barleywine at all!)

20131004183154_WBA13_logo_WB_GoldWORLD BEER AWARDS:

    World’s Best Oatmeal Stout 2013  –  Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout

    World’s Best American Brown Ale 2013 –  Full Sail Amber     

    World’s Best Bitter up to 4% 2013 –  Deschutes River Ale     

    World’s Best Golden Pale Beer 2013  – Rogue Single Malt Ale  

US-Open-Beer-ChampionshipUS OPEN BEER CHAMPIONSHIPS – Top 10 Breweries 2013

     #6. Reuben’s Brews – Seattle, Washington 

GABF 2013  GOLDS: 

     Lovely  Bend Brewing Co.     Aged Beer    

     Pallet Jack IPA   Barley Brown’s Brew Pub     American-Style India Pale Ale     

     Ching Ching      Bend Brewing Co.        American-Style Sour Ale 

    Shredders Wheat    Baker City Brewing Co.   American-Style Wheat Beer

     Bohemian Pilsner   Ninkasi Brewing Co.   Bohemian-Style Pilsener

     Cent’s and Censability   Old Town Brewing Co.   Fresh Hop Ale 

     German Sparkle Party Berliner Weiss    10 Barrel Brewing Co.    German-Style Sour Ale

     Harvester Brewing IPA No. 1      Harvester Brewing    Gluten-Free Beer

     Hand Truck       Baker City Brewing Co.     International-Style Pale Ale

     Hellshire III        Oakshire Brewing    Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer 

    Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year

        Pelican Brewing Company Pacific City, OR

        Brewer/Brewery Team: Darron Welch and Steve Panos

    Very Small Brewing Company & Very Small Brewing Co. Brewer of the Year

        Baker City Brewing Company Baker City, OR

        Brewer/Brewery Team: Marks Lanham and Eli Dickison



          Fort George Brewery | Astoria, OR, USA


          Fort George Brewery | Astoria, OR, USA



          World’s Best Varietal Vodka 2014


          World’s Best American Blended Whiskey 2014


     Grand Teton/DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL Potato Vodka   Idaho, USA

     Soft Tail Spirits/DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL  Vodka  Washington USA

     Koenig Distillery “Famous”/DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL  Handcrafted Vodka  Idaho USA

     Martin Ryan Distilling & Bull Run Distilling “Aria”/DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL  Portland Dry Gin  Oregon USA

     Rogue Spirits/DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL  Pink Gin  Oregon USA

     Westland Distillery/DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL  American Single Malt Whiskey  Seattle USA

     Ransom/DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL  The Emerald Whiskey  Sheridan, OR


     MARYHILL WINERY  2010   Indira, Proprietor’s Reserve    BEST OF CLASS

     TSILLAN CELLARS   2010   Malbec Estate Lake Chelan    BEST OF CLASS

     COLLEGE CELLARS OF WALLA WALLA   2012   Carmenère  Walla Walla Valley    BEST OF CLASS

     MARYHILL WINERY   2010   Cabernet Franc Proprietor’s Reserve Columbia Valley    BEST OF CLASS



    White Blended Wines

          Best of Class     Basel Cellars     2012     Columbia Valley    Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc

     Chardonnay – $40.00 & Over – 2014 Award Winners

          Best of Class     Woodward Canyon  2012    Washington

     Gewürztraminer – 2014 Award Winners

          Gold     Pacific Rim Winemakers & Rainstrom Winery      2012     Columbia Valley

     Riesling – RS<1.49 – 2014 Award Winners

          Best of Class     Swiftwater Cellars    2012     Columbia Valley     No. 9

     Riesling – RS>1.5 – 2014 Award Winners

          Best of Class     Grace Lane     2012     Yakima Valley

     Chenin Blanc – 2014 Award Winners

          Best of Class     Malaga Springs Winery   2012     Washington

     All Other White Varietals – 2014 Award Winners

          Best of Class     Mount Baker Vineyards    2012     Puget Sound     Mount Baker     Madeleine Angevine

     Dry Rose – RS<1 – 2014 Award Winners

          Best of Class     Barnard Griffin    2013     Columbia Valley     Rose of Sangiovese

     Sangiovese – 2014 Award Winners

          Best of Class     Marchesi Vineyards       2012     Columbia Valley      Emma

     Italian Blends – Up to $24.99 – 2014 Award Winners

          Best of Class     Locati Cellars    2010     Milton-Freewater, OR      Innovation

     Malbec – 2014 Award Winners

          Best of Class     Swiftwater Cellars     2010     Columbia Valley      SWC


     Kiona Vineyards/ Best of Class Red Rhone Blend   Cyclops    Red Mountain

     Four Graces Winery/ Critics Platinum 2011 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills

     Citation Cellars/ Critics Platinum   2003    Pinot Noir Oregon

     Col Solare Winer/  Critics Platinum    2009     Red Wine    Columbia Valley

     DeLille Cellars/ Critics Platinum    2010    D2

                                  Critics Platinum    2010    Chaleur Estate Rouge

                                  Critics Platinum    2010    Harrison Hill Red Blend

                                  Critics Platinum    2010    Cabernet Sauvignon, Lot 1



Pelican Brewing Folks Clean Up at WBC/Photo by http://brookstonbeerbulletin.com/

Pelican Brewing Folks Clean Up at WBC/Photo by brookstonbeerbulletin.com/

The truly remarkable thing about the results of these contests – and the thing that really does make me genuinely happy and hopeful – is the diversity of producers. Many brewers and winemakers I know don’t bother entering contests because they feel that all the medals will go to the established producers; as though seniority were part of the judging criteria. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the CBA’s World Beer Cup, just as an example, 271 awards were handed out at the closing ceremony and 253 different breweries won something. There, for me, is the real cause for celebration. Think of that: out of 271 possible prizes, only 18 were won by breweries taking multiple awards. Even at GABF, that bloated cluster-f___ of a festival, the vast majority of all medals were the single one for the recipient. What this means is that brewing is healthy and progressing at a truly significant pace everywhere, not just at the anointed Old Guard but even in nascent start-ups and those in their first five years. The most any brewery won at GABF was three medals and only two breweries did that.

beerfest_needle_featureIn the final analysis, it just feels good to know that your work has been recognized and appreciated. Nothing about that is not good. In fact, you can make the case that The Pour Fool really is nothing but that sort of positive reinforcement for makers of beer, wine, and booze that manage to stand out from the teeming hoards. The only real drawback, past the enormous irritation of attending events like GABF, is created by us, the drinking public, when we use the awards to try to say that whatever didn’t win is unworthy and those who did must somehow be the “best”. Barring the creation of a festival in which every single beer or bottle of wine or fifth of booze is tasted by an unimpeachable panel of the top experts in the world – and, just as importantly, by regular folks whose palates operate simply on What Tastes Good –  “best” has to remain qualified with the disclaimer “..out of the beverages entered and tasted in that place, at that time“. Claiming anything like a universal and all-encompassing “best” is a matter of self-deception and ridiculous hyperbole.

For the Northwest producers of adult beverages, though…a tremendous score sheet like this just reinforces what a (literal) Gold Rush of top-quality brewed, fermented, and distilled beverages we in WA, OR, and ID have to enjoy.


To Submit a Beverage to The Pour Fool:

Send Samples to:   Steve Body/The Pour Fool   2887 152nd Ave. NE   Redmond, WA  98052








Speak yer piece, Pilgrim.

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