The Great American Beer Festival is the premiere craft beer-drinking event of the year in the United States, but it’s also home to some fierce competition. While attendees strolled from booth to booth with sampling glasses in hand, a panel of 245 judges from 15 different countries poured over 6,647 entries from 1,552 different breweries to award medals in 92 individual categories. With the judging complete, owners and brewers from the various companies gathered in the Colorado Convention Center’s Bellco Theater to await the results. Here’s a recap of some of the bigger winners.
The conviviality of the brewing industry brought an extra level of excitement to the awards ceremony, as the representatives from each brewery were more than happy to cheer for fellow brewers from their own state each time a winner’s name showed up on the screen. As is usually the case, California took home the most bling from the festival with a whopping 67 medals in the style categories, and four out of the seven champion brewery awards. The next closest state in the competition was Colorado with 36 medals, followed by Oregon with 19. For efficiency’s sake, Maine took home three medals out of 14 total entries, which equals a 21% success rate.
As it has been for every year since 2002, the American-Style India Pale Ale (IPA) category featured the fiercest competition with a total of 336 entries, which accounted for 5% of all submissions. The gold medal in that classification went to Revolver IPA by BNS Brewing & Distilling in Santee, Calif., which is quite an accomplishment for a brewery that’s just a shade over two years old. Fat Head’s Brewery in Middleburg Heights, Ohio took the gold for Imperial IPA (208 entries) with Hop Juju, while Nebraska Brewing Company won Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer (179 entries) with Melange A Trois.
It’s worth noting that this year’s competition featured 38 winners from breweries that had never submitted an entry in the past. Three new categories were also introduced to the competition: Chili Pepper Beer, Session IPA and Mixed Culture Brett Beer. While judges usually award a gold, silver and bronze medal for each style, there was no gold medal awarded in the Pumpkin Beer category. A total of 242 different breweries won awards, and you can click here for a list of all of the winners.
With three medals in 92 categories, the bulk of the ceremony is understandably dedicated to the individual style winners. Peppered throughout the proceedings were announcements of brewery and brewer of the year awards in seven different categories. For the fourth time in 10 years, Firestone Walker took the prize for Mid-Size Brewery and Brewer of the year, while Pabst Brewing Company took the same award in the large category for the third time in five years. On the smaller side of things, Port City Brewing Company from Alexandria, Va. took the small brewery title, while Rip Current Brewery from San Marcos, Calif. won top honors for the very small classification.
In the brewpub world, the winner for Large Brewpub of the year appropriately went to Titletown Brewing Company from Green Bay, Wisconsin. TAPS Fish House & Brewery from Corona, Calif. scored the trophy for Mid-Size Brewpub of the year, and Melvin Brewing from Jackson, Wyo. won the competition for small brewpubs.
While there’s no official award for creative beer names, it’s always fun to listen to the audience to see which beers get the largest chuckle. Stone fruit provided some material for laughter, as guffaws went up for Chchchch-Cherry Bomb by Melvin Brewing and Cherry Busey from Sun King Brewing Company of Indianapolis, Indiana. The Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale category featured two big laughs from the crowd with Quad Dammit from Chicago Brewing Company in Las Vegas, Nev., and Van Dammit from Jailbreak Brewing in Laurel, Md. The biggest roar of the night definitely came in the Bock category when judges awarded a silver medal to Hailstorm Brewing Company of Tinley Park, Ill. for Rock Out with Maibock Out.