The country’s premiere craft beer competition, the Great American Beer Festival, was held this weekend in Denver, Colorado, as is traditional. The massive three-day affair saw over four hundred fifty breweries sampling beer to almost fifty thousand guests. The judges on the competition side rated almost four thousand beers from 526 breweries.
The festival has grown significantly each year since 1983, when the only awards given were people’s choice, and Sierra Nevada swept two of the three (their pale ale and porter beat out Anchor‘s porter).
This year’s winners list(PDF) exhibits an intriguing trend: a great shake-up in the biggest categories by several freshman and sophomore breweries.
The largest category by far every year is American IPA. This year top honors were taken by Elevated IPA from newcomer La Cumbre Brewing Company in Albuquerque, New Mexico. La Cumbre was started last year by Jeff Erway and wife Laura, and stormed onto the scene with golds for American IPA, their international pilsener BEER, as well as a silver for their foreign-style Malpais Stout. None of these are easy styles to brew, so due credit must be given to Jeff. Next time I’m in Phoenix perhaps I’ll make a little trip over to Albuquerque.
The silver went to Oskar Blues Brewery for Deviant Dale’s. Oskar Blues, in Longmont, Colorado, basically single-handedly started the microcanning revolution, and I’ve been a fan of their beer for a while. They won a bronze back in 1999, but finally they are getting some significant recognition. Besides the silver for Deviant Dale’s, they picked one up for Mama’s Little Yella [Bohemian] Pils, as well as a bronze for the tasty Old Chub Scotch Ale.
Head Hunter IPA from Fat Head’s Saloon, in North Olmsted, Ohio, took third, down from second last year. They’ve only been around a couple years, but besides the two medals for Head Hunter they took silver in smoked beer in 2009, and this year won gold for their Baltic porter Battle Axe.
The imperial IPA category also saw a few freshman. Kern River Brewing Company in Kernville, California won with their Citra Double IPA. I’m a big fan of citra hops (I’ve made several beers that feature them) so I see why it’s a hit. This is their first medal.
Firestone Walker took the silver for Double Jack. This Paso Robles-based brewery is no stranger to awards at the Great American Beer Festival. They’ve won numerous Mid-size Brewery of the Year awards, including this year. They’ve taken home a lot of hardware, mostly in the IPA, pale ale (two this year), and strong pale ale categories, but this is their first win for an imperial IPA.
Bronze went to Epic Brewing Company out of Salt Lake City. Epic started only in 2008, but already they’ve picked up three medals, including a silver this year for fruit beer.
The real action was around the second largest category, barrel-aged strong beers. Four-year-old Nebraska Brewing Company in Papillion improved the showing of their Melange A Trois, a chardonnay-aged Belgian blonde, from an appreciable bronze to an impressive gold. They also picked up a bronze for their hefeweizen EOS. I see they have distribution in New York, so I’ll have to see if I can find them.
Bronze in the barrel-aged strong category went to Hoppin’ Frog Brewing Company in Akron, Ohio. for their Barrel Aged Naked Evil BBW. If you’ve heard of a Hoppin’ Frog beer, it probably was B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher, a two-gold-winning imperial stout. They also took a gold last year for their field beer.
But the big name around the festival was Sun King Brewing Company in Indianapolis. This year they took a whopping eight medals total, four of them golds.
Sun King was founded in only mid-2009 by two Indianapolis brewers, Dave Colt and Clay Robinson. They knew each other from a number of brewpubs around the city, and then worked together for three years at The Ram. While working there they hatched a plan for the first Indianapolis production brewery since 1948.
They took top honors for Buffalo Slumber, a Belgian strong, Wee Muckle, their Scotch ale, Ring of Dingle, an Irish dry stout, and their coffee beer Java Mac. These were accompanied by silvers for BBJ (Bourbon Barrel Johan), their barrel-aged strong, Wee Pogue, a regular-strength barrel-aged beer (possibly a descendant of Wee Muckle or their regular Wee Mac), and an international-style Popcorn Pilsner. Sun King won a silver and bronze last year, but neither of those repeated.
For the moment, Sun King beer is only available on tap and in cans within Indiana. It sounds like this is somewhere definitely worth a pilgrimage: a brewer’s brewery.