One of Oregon’s most decorated breweries just took home its biggest trophy to date—literally.
Barley Brown’s Beer, located about 300 miles east of Portland in Baker City off of Interstate 84, won the 2023 Keg Champion Award in the Small Brewery category.
Now, at this point in his career—more than two decades in—Tyler Brown is used to receiving all sorts of medals and ribbons in the mail when he can’t attend ceremonies in person. But getting a giant green keg announcing the brewery’s status as “Keg Champion” delivered to the brewery was a first.
“We received the biggest and heaviest award in our 25 years of winning awards,” Brown tells WW.
So what, exactly, is a Keg Champion? A brewery, restaurant or bar that is a leader when it comes to employing reusable steel kegs to serve beer in their establishment.
The awards were recently launched by the marketing-focused Steel Keg Association to promote, well, kegs—but to also emphasize their sustainability since the containers have a lifespan of more than 30 years. Not to mention the fact that a beer fresh from the tap always tastes more vivacious than one poured from a bottle or can.
“What an honor to win this award and to have our name listed alongside such iconic breweries as Allagash and Yuengling,” Brown said in a statement. “Barley Brown’s has been dedicated to craft beer since 1988. Our mission has always been to get people to seek out our beers at their local Pacific Northwest restaurants and bars. Now, more than ever, the hospitality industry needs customers to grab a seat at their local bar and visit with friends over a pint of draft beer.”
Barley Brown’s famously never packages its product, so fans are always on the hunt for taps of Pallet Jack IPA. And making the journey to drink one of the brand’s beverages from the source became something of a pilgrimage—hell, even a rite of passage—for beer nerds.
In fact, Brown only ever ended up canning his beers because of the pandemic, when bars and restaurants were prohibited from serving customers on the premises. Within days of the restrictions taking effect in March 2020, distributors canceled their orders, which meant that kegs bound for cities across Oregon ended up stacked ceiling high in the cooler.
Less than a week after the shutdown, Brown hired Boise River Canning—a mobile business that had done some one-off novelty packaging for the brand at Alefort. The first batches of cans went up for sale in front of the brewery under a pop-up tent, and people came out in droves, wiping out the pallet in five hours.
Canning got Barley Brown’s through COVID, but now it’s back to kegs. Commitment to the vessels has not only won the brewery another award—physically, the largest in the history of the food and beverage industry, according to the Steel Keg Association—but the nonprofit will also be donating $1,000 to the charity of Barley Brown’s choice.
There might just be one minor issue: Finding space for the giant green trophy in the taproom’s already-packed awards display case.
“We are so glad to celebrate Barley Brown’s during their 25th anniversary this year,” says Dan Vorlage, executive director of the Steel Keg Association. “They are Keg Champions, not only for their use of reusable kegs as a sustainability tactic, but also for how they use draft beer to further their mission to build a strong community. Nothing brings people together like draft beer!”
Here is a complete list of the winners:
National Restaurant: Buffalo Wild Wings
Regional Restaurant: Mellow Mushroom
Local Restaurant: Clyde’s Restaurant Group
Large Brewery: Yuengling Brewing
Mid-Sized Brewery: Allagash Brewery
Small Brewery: Barley Brown’s Beer
Draft Innovation: The Golden Mill
Related: For Decades, Barley Brown’s Beer in Eastern Oregon Famously Refused to Can Its Beer. Then the Pandemic Upended Its Business Model.