In a pilsner competition featuring some of the most respected lager brewers in the Northwest, the inclusion of Deschutes Brewery drew more than one sideways glance.
But in the end, it was the Bend brewery that took home the hardware Sunday afternoon, winning Pilsner Fest, The Bitburger Challenge, at North Portland German beer bar Prost.
The competition featured eight breweries — four from Oregon and four from Washington — battling to see who could create the best German-style pilsner. Each created and brewed a recipe that was judged over the three-day festival, with equal weight given to public balloting and an eight-person panel of industry experts.
Deschutes won both the public vote and the panel’s vote.
“I’m just blown away,” said Jake Harper, the head brewer at Deschutes’ Portland brewery. “I just can’t even believe it. … It’s amazing, even to just be involved with such lager-forward breweries — wow.”
Dan Hart, Prost co-owner and the man who conceived of and organized the event, said Deschutes was by far the most controversial participant, with people frequently questioning him about the selection of a large brewery not particularly known for German styles.
“I tell you, though, every time I go into one of their public houses, I order one of their pilsners,” Hart said after the competition. “And I think they make some of the best one-off pilsners I’ve ever had. That’s why I included them. … This doesn’t surprise me.”
The competitors include Breakside Brewery, Deschutes Brewery, pFriem Family Brewers and Wayfinder Beer from Oregon, and Chuckanut Brewery, Aslan Brewing, Reuben’s Brews and Georgetown Brewing from Washington.
Taking third place was pFriem, of Hood River, with Portland’s Wayfinder named runner-up, shutting out the Washington breweries from the medals.
Prost hosted the festival along with Bitburger, the German brewery founded more than two centuries ago. Two representatives from Bitburger, co-owner and managing director Jan Niewodniczanski and brewmaster Stefan Hanke, were part of the judging panel.
“When I first heard the idea for this event, I thought, that’s crazy, no way,” said Niewodniczanski, a seventh-generation owner of the venerable brewery. “But then I thought, well that might be the craziest thing we should ever do!”
He also had high praise for Portland and the Northwest.
“I love it here. I love Oregon, from the outdoor life to the beer scene,” Niewodniczanski said. “I’d move here if I didn’t have a brewery to run in Germany.
“Plus, this has been one of the best parties of my life.”