Thursday, October 06, 2011

GABF Wrap: Colorado Shines

By now, you've probably heard the stats on Colorado's props from the Great American Beer Festival, and they are impressive. Thirty-nine medals go to 29 breweries, including 15 gold medals. The state places second in overall medals and golds only to California. Pandemonium ensues.

But before we shut the door on the recaps of this year's magnificent gathering of American brewers, it's worth delving a little deeper on some of the honors that were garnered - and a few that weren't.

*Great Divide, Avery, Left Hand and Trinity make make most of the short lists for the best breweries in Colorado. It is worth noting, however, that none took home a medal this year. That is partly due to the fact that these four breweries simply don't make beers that fit easily into any of the 83 categories in which beers are judged. ("And the medal for best imperial stout infused with Belgian yeast is ... Belgian Yeti, the only one made in America.") But is it shocking all the same. And it tells you something about the state when it can garner 39 medals without any tallies from these big four.

*Two other omissions worth noting are the lack of medals for Bristol's Laughing Lab Scottish Ale and Steamworks' Steam Engine Lager, the two most honored beers in state history, with 15 combined medals. Without rifling through my notes, I can't remember the last time neither medaled. Both are still great beers; sometimes it's just not your year.

*Colorado's big winners, meanwhile, were Dry Dock and Oskar Blues, which took home three medals each. Dry Dock, which scored with its Hefeweizen, Coffee Milk Stout and Pro-Am Kriek, is making a habit of this, tying or leading the state in medals for the third year in a row. Oskar Blues, honored for its Old Chub, Mama's Little Yella Pils and Deviant Dale's (which needs to be canned) is certainly worthy as well.

*Copper Kettle Brewing opened in April and Denver Beer Co. cut its ribbon just in August. Yet, both walked away with medals in their first half-years of existence. Copper Kettle scored gold among herb and spice beers with its Mexican Chocolate Stout and Denver Beer a bronze in specialty beers with its Graham Cracker Porter. Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland, which opened last fall, also was a medal winner at its first GABF, taking gold among altbiers for its Little Red Cap.

*Colorado breweries took the gold and bronze in the pro-am category. C.B. & Potts Westminster had the best collaboration brew with its Before Capone pre-Prohibition pilsner and Dry Dock nabbed bronze for the aforementioned Kriek. This is no coincidence. No other state in the country fosters such an atmosphere of amateurs working with pros, and it's beginning to show.

*Bash Coors all you want, but four of its breweries - Blue Moon, SandLot, AC Golden and the main house all won medals for various creations. And none went to anything in the American lager or light lager categories.

*All of the medals were well earned, but several were exceptionally good choices. New Belgium's Le Terroir snagged the gold in American-style sour ale, as it should - no beer out there combines Belgian technique and American hopping quite as well. Odell's Friek, which mixes sour beers from three differently aged barrels, walked away with a richly deserved gold among wood- and barrel-aged sour beers. And the Funkwerks Saison that took silver for French- and Belgian-style saisons is delicious without being overwhelming.

*Best name out of all the winners: The SandLot's Move Back, the gold-medal recipient among dortmunder or German-style Oktoberfest beers. As brewer Tom Hall told me for my book, it's dedicated to all the Chicago Cubs fans who moved to Denver but complain that Chicago is a much better city.

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