Amid a packed house at the Bellco Theatre in the bowels of the Denver Convention Center, representatives from most of the 1,500+ breweries entered anxiously waited as the winners of the 2015 Great American Beer Festival competition were announced Saturday morning.
With almost 100 categories to get through, the production was like the Emmy’s minus the inane filler jokes and saccharine victory speeches. Instead, GABF Competition Manager, Chris Swersey, read the winning names to a captive and applauding audience while Brewers Association President, Charlie Papazian, handed out fist-bumps and posed for pictures with the honorees.
Colorado did quite well taking home 36 medals. The state trailed only California (67) in total medal count. Oregon came in a distant third with 19 total medals while Texas (15) and Washington (13) rounded out the top five.
Interestingly, the top three states by ratio of medals to entries were Maine at 21% (14 entries, three medals), Rhode Island at 10% (10 entries, one medal) and North Dakota at 8% (12 entries, one medal).
Colorado’s total medal count was down slightly over recent years. In 2013, the Centennial State took home 46 medals with an impressive 19 golds, its highest overall total in the last decade. Last year, there were 39 medals including ten golds.
Outside of Denver (but not too far…), golds also went to AC Golden Brewing Co. (Ctayt, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout), Wiley Roots Brewing Co. (Super 77 Wheat, American-Style Wehat Beer), Coors Brewing Co. (Coors Banquet, American-Style Lager or Light Lager), Fort Collins Brewery & Tavern (Oktoberfest, Other Belgian-Style Ale) and Left Hand Brewing Co. (Fade to Black, Volume 1, Export Stout).
This was the third gold medal for Fade to Black in the Export Stout category having claimed top prize in 2010 and 2013. Left Hand also took a bronze each for Black Jack Porter (Brown Porter) and Sawtooth Ale (Ordinary or Special Bitter). The Longmont brewery was one of only four in the country to win at least three medals. They were in good company joining Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Sun King Brewing Co. and Port City Brewing.
Other Denver breweries collecting hardware were: Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales (Ramjet, bronze, Experimental Beer), Our Mutual Friend Malt & Brew (24 Frames Per Second, silver, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer) and Comrade Brewing Co. (Fresh Hop Superpower IPA, silver, Fresh or Wet Hop Ale). For Comrade, that’s two for two. Opened in April 2014, the brewery snagged a silver their first year, also for the Superpower IPA.
While this was the first medal for Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, owners James and Sarah Howat’s Black Project #1 took home a bronze in 2014 under the Former Future Brewing Co. moniker.
“It definitely had an immediate impact,” recalled Sarah, on that first award. “I think more than anything it put Black Project on the map. It gave us some recognition; people knew what we were doing. Then when we broke Black Project off of Former Future it spiraled from there.”
The next goal is to try and keep up with demand. Past Black Project releases have drawn lines prior to opening and sold out within the day. To do so, they’re looking into separate barrel-aging options, possibly subleasing space through Laws Whiskey House.
“It was already a great week and that was just the icing on the cake,” said Sarah. “You always hope for it, but you don’t expect it. Really the best ending to the week.”
For Our Mutual Friend, winning their first GABF medal (and, “first medal ever”) was definitely an “oh shit!” moment on a couple levels.
“The second thing I thought after, ‘holy shit!,’ was now we have to make a lot of it and it has to be just as good or better than now,” explained owner, Brandon Proff.
Their winning beer, 24 Frames Per Second, got off to an inauspicious start. Assistant brewer, Ryan Leavelle, had an excess of Colorado crystal hops that needed an outlet. They created a recipe, got the (red wine) barrels that day and completed the brew the next day.
“We had no idea how it was going to turn out,” admitted Leavelle. But, as the beer started to take shape, they realized they had something with legs.
“We entered [the beer in competition] knowing that regardless of the outcome of today that it was going to become a beer that we make forever because we really love it,” Proff related. “We were pulling samples from barrels and we knew we had something special.”
Black Bottle Brewery was also the recipient of their first GABF medal; a bronze for Friar Chuck in the German-Style Kolsch category. The victory was particularly emotional for the Fort Collins brewery as the beer was named after the owner’s dad who passed away in March.
“It’s real special for us to win a medal with that beer,” explained brewery GM, Steve Marrick. “It’s one of our full-time beers that we have that sells really well. I hope that helps out a little bit. But, for us, the medal has more sentimental value.”
In the end, 275 medals were bestowed (there was no gold awarded in the Pumpkin Beer category) to 242 breweries across 92 categories covering 145 different styles. The competition included 6,647 entries from 1,522 different breweries.
In an effort to allow every brewer that registered to compete, the number of entries allowable per brewery was set at five. Despite this cap, there was a 20% increase from 2014.
To accommodate the increased entries, the competition expanded to include the largest slate of judges yet with 242 experts from 15 countries and 155 competition volunteers.
A complete list of 2015 GABF medal winners is available here.