(Denver, CO) – It was a record-breaking year for the Great American Beer Festival. Attendance. Smashed. Number of beers in the competition. Blown to smithereens. Volunteers were up 15% this year. More breweries, more beers being poured, more judges. There is less than a half hour until last call- the last sample will be poured and another GABF will come to a close. While the fest is where the party is at, Saturday is always all about the awards ceremony for the brewers in attendance. Some will go home shrouded in gold, silver, or bronze but most will come away empty-handed. Here is a breakdown of the awards.
The big winner on the day was a California brewery, Pizza Port Carlsbad, bringing home the bacon seven times and being named the Large Brewpub of the Year. The brewery is easily the most decorated in recent memory, having added five medals last year as well. The big difference between the two years? None of last year’s medals were gold though four of the seven were this year. Of all the medals, the brewery’s biggest victory came in the Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale when its Revelations Golden Ale toppled 69 other entrants.
Head Brewer, Jeff Bagby, is no stranger to success at beer competitions. He won his first solo GABF medal for Sweet Spot Hefeweizen with Oggi’s Pizza and Brewing Co in 2003. According to his bio on the Pizza Port website, that next spring, “Oggi’s and Left Coast Brewing received the 2004 World Beer Cup Small Brewery of the Year award and Jeff contributed two of the three beers that won medals at this competition.”
Flying Dog Brewery was named the Mid-size Brewery of the Year as it was awarded four medals on the day. Three of them were golds: Gonzo Imperial Porter, Dogtoberfest, and Horn Dog Vintage 2007 with Dogtoberfest winning gold for the second consecutive year. The Maryland-based brewery also earned a silver in the second most heavily contested category of the day (and of all-time): Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer. The brewery’s Barrel Aged Gonzo finished second only to Arcadia Brewing‘s Cereal Killer Barleywine, beating 108 other entries.
Washington’s Chuckanut Brewery owned the German-style categories all day long, winning gold for its Dunkelweizen and Vienna Lager and taking silver for its German Pilsner and Schwarzbier. The wins led to the brewery being named the Small Brewpub of the Year.
Devil’s Backbone Brewing grabbed four medals for Virginia: a gold and three silvers but got shut out from a brewery title. This was likely due to those categories having fewer than 30 entries. Dry Dock Brewing took the title of Small Brewing Company of the Year instead, claiming a gold and two silver medals in three more highly-contested German-style categories.
Several other breweries claimed three medals. One of them, Firestone Walker Brewing, won a gold medal again for Union Jack in the American IPA category. The brewery beat 133 other entrants this year which is the most number of beers ever entered into a category, breaking its own record of beating 103 other American IPAs last year. One of Russian River Brewing‘s two medals also came in that category with Blind Pig IPA placing for the second year in a row. An impressive feat for both beers.
The awards can be a mixed bag; for the few that win, many more are rejected. That is not to say that those that do not medal are bad beers, the competition is just that fierce. With only 234 professional beers earning medals out of 3,308 entered, the rejection rate is 93%. Because of this, it is inevitable that a brewery, or several of them, get left out in the cold. This year, a couple of the notable breweries not winning awards were The Bruery and Alaskan Brewing.
The Bruery began operations early last year. A significant buzz has surrounded them in craft beer circles since their start with features in publications like The L.A. Times. The brewery has expanded its distribution faster than most young operations- but this was not to be their day. In a tweet today, they compared their situation to something Doogie Howser might have faced, a young brewery trying to claim its place among its long-established peers.
Alaskan Brewing, on the other hand, is a seasoned veteran in the competition. They went home empty for the first time since 1999 and only for the second time since the Brewers Association moved to the competition format from the old Consumers Preference Poll in 1988 (more history here). Still, the brewery’s Smoked Porter holds the record for most decorated beer with 17 medals over the last two decades. Expect both breweries to bounce back next year.
California and Colorado have finished 1-2 for the last several years, developing a bit of a rivalry in the process. Colorado finally ruled the roost this year, however, taking the title away from California for the first time since 1999. The Centennial State, also the state where the event is hosted, broke the Sunshine State’s record for most beers medaling with an impressive 44. The two states accounted for over 1/3 of all medals awarded.
As far as other states go, Oregon came in 3rd as it did last year, improving from 19 to 22. Washington more than doubled its medal count from 6 to 13. Pennsylvania dipped to 12 from 14. Arguably, the most improved state was Virginia who surprised with eight medals after earning only one last year and two in 2007.