Last Saturday brought the culmination of what hundreds of breweries had come to Great American Beer Festival to find out. Who wins? The awards ceremony kicked off at 10 a.m., consisting of hours of specialized categories and breweries rolling deep, parading posses of people across the stage to receive gold, silver or bronze medals. A total of 97 categories celebrated every type of beer imaginable, from pumpkin/squash beer (which only had ten entries total and only gave a bronze medal to BTU Brasserie of Portland, Oregon for their Buttah-Nut Gose) and smoke beer, to the most conventional American-style lager or malt liquor (PBR snagged gold, Coors Banquet silver). No Colorado Springs breweries placed, but Colorado represented well, receiving 38 honors. California was the most decorated state, clocking in at 68 medals. Find all the winners here.
If entries serve as an indicator of where craft beer is headed, IPAs stand tall but barrel-aged and sours seem to show where many breweries are tracking. Herb and spice (114 entries) as well as chili beers (112) also arrived with strong numbers implying the strides forward brewing is making with consideration to pairings.
Beyond those who walked away with shiny metal strewn around their necks, there remained a plethora of independent and recognizable breweries that put out impeccable beers during sessions held Thursday through Saturday, broken down into day and evening waves. Alcohol poisoning would probably take over if you actually came close to trying even half of what was available … but we must try.
Notable beers from outside of Colorado that we loved included:
• Or Xata from Bruery Terreux in Orange County, California. If you’re familiar with the Spanish/Latin American drink, horchata, it’s the alcoholic version of the delicious, milky beverage that compliments Mexican food better than any lager. A blonde ale brewed with potent vanilla beans, rice, cinnamon and a splash of lactose to create that creamy consistency. Taco Tuesday is a whole new day.
• San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing Company‘s Red Velvet Cake was life changing. When Ryan Hannigan, of Focus on the Beer directed us toward it, we weren’t expecting much. A red beer flavored with cacao, simple as that. Instead, it was an experience we won’t soon forget. An oatmeal stout that did exude chocolate but was earthy and balanced due to the beets, which also lend themselves to the exquisite red hue. When poured on nitro it creates a head like the cream cheese icing on a slice of cake.
• 512 Brewing Company from Austin, TX sold us on their Pecan Porter. Chocolate and black malts create a velvety smooth, full-bodied beer rounded out by nutty goodness. Organic, local pecans create a beautiful aroma and give great mouthfeel and texture.
• Deschutes Brewing of Bend, Oregon impressed us with their Smoked Gose. A truly different sour beer brewed with smoked malts and hickory salt offers up lots of pairing opportunities. With a light, tart citrus start and chewy smoke finish, it’s like beer that’s been tossed in a wood-burning oven with some German sausage beside it.
GABF was just surreal. A baptism by fire when it came to putting on our drinking caps and attempting to feel out where to go and what to taste. There are surely hundreds of beers that we weren’t able to get to but the most repeated phrase we heard over and over again by fellow drinkers was, “Haven’t had a bad beer yet!” We concur.
The sheer existence of this festival exhibits the vision Charlie Papazian, former nuclear engineer and founder of the Association of Brewers, had when he established GABF in 1982. At the awards, Governor John Hickenlooper honored Papazian for his tireless efforts for the culture of craft beer. Hickenlooper presented Papazian with a giant medal, erupting a roar of cheers and applause from the crowd.
[Images: Dionne Roberts]