Top honors at this year’s Great American Beer Festival went to a tiny Oregon brewer, Baker City Brewing Co., Virginia’s Devils Backbone Brewing Co., California’s Firestone Walker Brewing Co. and Denver’s Sandlot Brewing, each of which medaled in multiple categories.
The winners emerged from a record field of 745 breweries and brewpubs, which together submitted 4,809 beers to the competition.
This year for the first time, the Brewers Association, which sponsors the competition, added a new award: Very Small Brewery, which went to Baker City and its brewers Marks Lanham and Eli Dickison. Baker City, in Baker City, Ore. (population 9,828 and close to Hell’s Canyon), is the production brewery for Barley Brown’s Beer, a nearby restaurant. Baker City won two gold medals for its American-style wheat beer, Shredder’s Wheat; its international style pale ale, Hand Truck. It also won silver for its foreign-style stout, Don Vanuchi “The Killer.”
The Small Brewing Company award went to Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. Basecamp , of Roseland, Va., along with head brewer Jason Oliver. The brewery, established in 2008, won two gold medals for its American-style dark lager, Old Virginia Dark and Azeal, it’s Belgian- and French style ale. It also took silver its American-style pilsner, Gold Leaf Lager and its German-style sour, Berliner Metro Weiss. A bronze medal went to its Baltic-style porter, Danzig.
Firestone Walker Brewing Co., of Paso Robles, Calif., on California’s Central Coast, and its brewer, Matt Brynildson, won Mid-Size Brewing Company top honors. Firestone Walker Brewing is a pioneering regional craft brewery founded in 1996 and specializes in iconic pale ales and vintage barrel-aged beers. This year, the brewery took three gold medals, for its German-style pilsner, Pivo; English-style IPA, Taproom IPA, and its American-style black ale, Wookey Jack. It also won silver in the American-style IPA category with its Union Jack.
Sandlot Brewing, the brewery at Denver’s Coors Field and the producer of Blue Moon beers and a host of others and is a unit of brewing giant MillerCoors won the Large Brewery of the Year award along with its brewers, Tom Hail, Bill Hasse and Addison Horine. This year’s medal haul included gold for Second Hand Smoke in the smoke beer category, bronze for Goat Rancher in the bock category and gold for Move Back in the Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest category. Move Back has medaled four times over the years.
The winners were announced in a packed ballroom in the festival’s home, the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, on Oct. 12. A PDF list of the winners is available at the GABF web site.
The GABF, which claims to be the largest commercial beer competition in the world, awarded 252 medals to some of the best commercial breweries in the United States. This year, 24 first-time entrants won awards from among 230 first-time entrants.
This year’s competition saw its biggest-ever panel of judges Two hundred and one beer experts from 11 countries evaluated 4,809 entries. Awards were presented in 84 beer categories covering 138 different beer styles (encompassing subcategories).
“GABF is easily the most rigorous commercial competition I have judged in to date,” English beer writer Des de Moor tweeted. “Those beers worked for their medals.”
The awards, among the most coveted in the brewing industry, have been compared to winning the Super Bowl or the Olympics and winning a medal often translates into higher sales for the winners.
The GABF awards are judged by industry professionals from around the world ho work together in small groups and, without knowing the brand name, taste beers in each specified style category.
Since 2001, the most-entered GABF category has been American-Style India Pale Ale (IPA), which saw 252 entries in 2013. It was followed by Imperial India Pale Ale (149 entries); Herb and Spice Beer (134 entries); American-Style Pale Ale (124 entries) and American-Style Strong Pale Ale (120 entries).