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GABF Report 2: Top brewery honors for Baker City, Devils Backbone, Firestone Walker and Sandlot

gabf_medalsTop 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.

Baker City logoThis 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.”

devils-backbone-brewing-logoThe 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-logoFirestone 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.

KegLabel_2013_EditableSandlot 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).

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A trove of medals for American brewers at European Beer Star competition

Judges at work at the European Star Beer competition in Nuremberg, Germany.
(Photo courtesey Private Brauereien Bayern)

American craft brewers came away big winners at the recent European Beer Star competition, Europe’s biggest beer competition.

Twenty-one American craft breweries won 37 medals, including 14 gold (up from 12 in 2011) in 22 different categories at the competition, one of the world’s most-recognized beer competitions.

The best showing at the competition, now in its ninth year, was by Pelican Pub & Brewery, of Pacific City, Ore., with two gold and two silver medals. The 16-year-old beachfront brewery, along with Brewery Ommegang of Cooperstown, N.Y., was among the few entrants to win multiple medals. Ommegang won one gold, one silver and two bronze medals in various Belgian style categories.

“We are delighted to have won four medals  at this year’s European Beer Star. It is a competition we have done well in over the past few years but this is the first time we have come away with this many medals,” said Ommegang brewmaster Phil Leinhart. “It’s a testament to everyone who works here at Brewery Ommegang.”

The winners were announced on Nov. 14 at the Brau Bevialebeverage industry trade show in Nuremberg, Germany

American gold medal winners included:

•Belgian-style sour ale: Samuel Adams Stony Brook Red, Boston Beer Co.

• Belgian-Style Tripel: Ommegang Gnomegang, Brewery Ommegang
• Dry Stout: Tsunami Stout, Pelican Pub & Brewery
• English-Style Bitter: Calico Amber Ale, Ballast Point Brewing Co.
• English-Style Golden Ale (Summer Ale): Twilight Summer Ale, Deschutes Brewery
• English-Style Pale Ale: Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Deschutes Brewery
• German-Style Schwarzbier: Samuel Adams Black Lager, Boston Beer Co.
• Imperial India Pale Ale: Double Jack, Firestone Walker Brewery
• India Pale Ale (IPA): Union Jack, Firestone Walker Brewery
• Sweet Stout: Left Hand Milk Stout, Left Hand Brewing Co.
• Ultra Strong Beer: Stormwatcher’s Winterfest, Pelican Pub & Brewery
• Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer: Imperial Eclipse Stout-Grand Cru 2011, Fifty Fifty Brewing Co.

To be sure, there was plenty of competition. Judges tasted 1,366 European-style beers from 45 countries on all continents in October. The competition, limited to 50 beer categories of European origin, was launched in 2004 by Private Brauereien Bayern – the Bavarian private breweries association and – and the German and European federations.

The judges, a collection of 102 brewmasters, beer sommeliers, and specialized journalists from 25 countries, spent two days blind tasting entries. Beers were evaluated on the basis of purely sensory criteria familiar to all beer consumers: color, aroma, foam, and, of course, flavor.

Brau Beviale 2012 attendees sample medal-winnng brews at Winners Night.
(Photo courtesy Privaten Brauereien Bayern)

In addition to style medals, Firestone Walker Brewery, of Paso Robles, Calif., received gold for its Double Jack in the Consumers’ Favorites category, a publicly judged blind tasting of 50 gold medal beer by visitors at the Brau Beviale. The consumer’s silver went to Kronenbrauerei Alfred Schimpf in Neustetten, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, for its South German-style hefeweizen hell, Schimpf Hefe Hell, and the bronze to Weiherer Rauch produced by Brauerei-Gasthof Kundmüller in Viereth-Trunstadt, Bavaria, Germany,

“It is a great honor to be recognized by the judges of the European Beer Star for beers with big American hop character. This competition brings in some of the very best brewers in the world and is judged by a heavily weighted European panel of experts,” said Matthew Brynildson, Firestone Walker’s brewmaster.

“Our collective results send out a strong message that our beers are world class and changing the way the rest of the brewing community is thinking about better beer,” Brynildson added. “The interest in American brewing and American hops is at an all time high and professional judges are awarding these beers top honors.”

German breweries won gold medals in almost all typically German beer categories, a first for the competition, according to the organizers.

“The European Beer Star has become broadly established,” Roland Demleitner of Private Brauereien, said in a press release. “Our award has long become an accepted quality seal, which explains why the competition is getting tougher from year to year!”

Belgian breweries won just eight medals, only three of them gold. Interestingly, an Italian brewery, Birrificio del Forte in Pietrasanta, won gold for its Belgian-style strong ale; a Japanese brewery, Konishi Brewing, of Itami City, won gold with its Belgian-style witbier; and a Spanish brewer, Bolets Petras, of Barcelona, won gold in the Belgian-style dubbel category.

Also, a Chinese brewery, Hainan Asia Pacific Brewery, took gold for its mild lager, while Israel’s Golan Brewery in Katsrin won a silver in the doppelbock category. Africa’s Namibia Breweries in Windhoek won silver for its mild Lager and German Leichtbier, or low-alcohol beer.

A complete list of winners is available for download.

Hav you had any of the winners? Let us know.

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