Monday, October 03, 2011

One last GABF '11 breakdown and wrap-up.

The 2011 Great American Beer Festival is in the books. After 30 years, the world's largest beer judging and consumer festival continues to astound with its ever-expanding scope and growth.

The numbers have grown staggeringly to official reports of nearly 4,000 beers, 526 breweries, 167 judges from 9 countries, and 86 pro-am entries.

From the official GABF website: "The Great American Beer Festival has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1982 as an offshoot of the 4th Annual National Homebrew and Microbrewery Conference. Nevertheless, if the name is any indication, its aspirations were great, and over 30 years, the event has grown from 800 attendees to 49,000, and from a 5,000 square foot festival hall to one close to 300,000 square feet."

And, beginning in 2011, "breweries located in the unincorporated, organized U.S. Territories of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands will be eligible to enter the GABF".

I vow to do what I can to break my three year absence next year. Until then, I watched from afar once again this year. For the benefit of those who cannot make it to Denver, the Brewers Association and The Brewing Network (and others, I imagine) continue to make it easier than ever to participate as if we were in the convention center — albeit, with a few less beers.

And, for all of the analysis (paralysis?) that I perform year after year, I've noticed that the Brewers Association has done more of the heavy lifting than ever before. See their wrap-up at this link.

So, what follows is a bit of regurgitation and some is with a bit of a twist. Nonetheless, the information age has certainly been embraced by the industry. Within minutes of the medal presentation, the website was updated and made publicly available.

My focus, of course, eventually focuses on the local (Philly) front. While the numbers may, in aggregate for the region, not look particularly as impressive as we might have hoped for, that should in no way take anything away from the awards that were won. I've made a few small notes by each award where I've found interesting observations. But, let's remember too, that judging at a festival of this size can be a funny thing. And for as objective (style guidelines, etc.) as the judging process strives to be, tasting at the end of the day is somewhat subjective, somewhat arbitrary, and somewhat at the mercy of (even the most talented of) the many judges involved.

Let's get on with it. The next time you see your favorite award-winning brewers (Kennett Brewfest, Newtown Brewfest, etc.), be sure to congratulate them for their well-deserved recognition.

At the 50,000-foot level, these last three years look much more similar than I was imagining while listening to the awards on Saturday. Certainly, I figured there'd be a more noticeable distribution of more winning breweries across more states than ever before. To the contrary, the number of winning organizations is approximately the same and, in fact, from three less states in 2011.

~ 84 categories, incl. the Pro-Am (2010 = 80 categories, & 2009 = 79 categories)
~ 165 organizations with at least one medal (2010 = 159 organizations, 2009 = 157 organizations)
~ 35 States with at least one medal (2010 & 2009 = 38 states)

~ The top 5 winning organizations in 2011 had 131 total medals or 52% of all medals presented (59% of all gold, 56% of all silver, and 55% of all bronze).
~ The top 5 winning organizations in 2010 had 136 total medals or 56% of all medals presented.
~ The top 5 winning organizations in 2009 had 131 total medals or 55% of all medals presented.

What does this mean? It seems that in 2011, with less states winning, there were a few less medals concentrated in the top 5 and instead distributed amongst the remainder. Yet, not enough to change the story of the last couple of years: There are two powerhouse states for winning medals; California and Colorado, rightfully so. A couple of mid-tier winners, usually WA, OR, IL, and PA. And, then, all the rest.

However, this year Indiana cracked into the top 5, thanks mostly to the contributions of Sun King. I think I might sort of kind of understand how the Large/Mid/Small brewery of the year awards get calculated, but how Sun King got excluded is still a crazy thought based on its 8 medal wins.

Here's the rundown of the top 6 states and every brewing organization with more than 3 medals.

~ California with 51 total medals. (16 gold, 22, silver, 13 bronze)
~ Colorado with 43 total medals. (17 gold, 13 silver, 14 bronze)
~ Oregon with 15 total medals. (4 gold, 4 silver, 7 bronze)
~ Illinois with 12 total medals. (3 gold, 3 silver, 6 bronze)
~ Indiana with 10 total medals. (4 gold, 4 silver, 2 bronze)
~ Washington with 10 total medals. (5 gold, 1 silver, 4 bronze)

~ Sun King from Indiana with 8 total medals. (4 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze)
~ Firestone Walker from California with 6 total medals. (4 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze)
~ Pizza Port Carlsbad from California with 6 total medals. (3 gold, 3 silver)
~ Boston Beer Co. from Massachusetts with 4 total medals. (1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze)
~ Boulevard Brewing from Missouri with 4 total medals. (2 gold, 2 bronze)
~ Chuckanut from Washington with 4 total medals. (2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze)
~ Pabst from Illinois with 4 total medals. (1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze)
~ Pizza Port Ocean Beach from California with 4 total medals. (1 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze)

In local news...

~ Weyerbacher Sixteen (style category: Specialty Honey Beer). A "Dark Braggot Anniversary Beer made with 1,440 pounds of honey per 40 bbl batch". Very cool.
~ Tröegs Troegenator (style category: Bock). Again? Yup, again. That makes 4 golds, 2 silvers, and a bronze between the GABF and WBC (World Beer Cup) since 2006.

~ Ithaca SuperFriends IPA (style category: American-Style Brett Ale)....Even though this was brewed in NY, I'm adding this to our local list here since Flying Fish's Casey Hughes participated in the collaborative brew with his "super friends".
~ Tröegs Sunshine Pils (style category: German-Style Pilsener)....Picked up a sixtel of this fine Pilsner just the other week; thanks, Nick :)
~ Stewart's Maibock (style category: Bock)....from the little state that could and does.
~ Rock Bottom-King of Prussia Nevermore (style category: German Style Schwarzbier). Brewer Brian McConnell continues to make some mighty fine beer at, some might say, one of the most unfortunate locations in the region. But, he continues to be recognized for doing it well.
~ Iron Hill Russian Imperial Stout (style category: Imperial Stout). Courtesy of this brewer named Bob Barrar; you may have heard his name before.

~ Iron Hill Grand Inquisitor (style category: Wood- and Barrel-Aged Stout). Way to go first-timer Vince Desrosiers from North Wales location for contributing to Iron Hill's continued success.
~ Iron Hill Vienna Red Lager (style category: Vienna Style Lager). Chris LaPierre adds to the Iron Hill heap with one of their "old reliables".
~ Fegley's Brew Works Arctic Alchemy (style category: Old Ale or Strong Ale). This beer's been around. Chris Bowen, renowned homebrewer and beer historian, originally contributed to this project.

Also, from farther abroad in Pennsylvania and Delaware, Erie Brewing picked up a bronze medal for its Derailed Black Cherry Ale (style category: Fruit Beer), Penn Brewing in Pittsburgh garnered a silver medal for its St. Nick's Brewer's Reserve (style category: German-Style Doppelbock or Eisbock) and bronze medal for its Penn Dark (style category: European-Style Dunkel), and Dogfish Head took home a silver medal for its Chateau Jiahu (style category: Specialty Beer) and bronze medal for its Midas Touch (style category: Specialty Honey Beer).

Furthermore, it should not go unnoticed that Gretz Beer Company took top honors for Craft Beer Distributor Recognition. Though, unless I'm missing something, even though many know what they're doing and know that they know what they're doing, their website far from suggests that they're communicating it well.

In other news:
~ Large Brewing Company & Brewmaster of the Year - Pabst Brewing Co. (Bob Newman)
~ Mid-size Brewing Company & Brewmaster of the Year (28 eligible) - Firestone Walker (Matt Brynildson) in Paso Robles, CA
~ Small Brewing Company & Brewmaster of the Year (45 eligible) - Chuckanut (Will Kemper) in Bellingham, WA
~ Brewpub Group & Brewmaster of the Year (8 eligible) - TAPS Fishouse (Victor Novak)
~ Large Brewpub & Brewmaster of the Year (18 eligible) - Pizza Port Carlsbad (Jeff Bagby)
~ Small Brewpub & Brewmaster of the Year - Pizza Port Ocean Beach (Yiga Miyashiro)

With one parting note, I'll once again voice my displeasure with the issue of not awarding certain medals. Once again, I kind of/sort of/maybe get that a gold is defined as "X", a silver is defined as "Y", and a bronze is defined as "Z". It sounds like the logic says if there is no beer in a category that is "X", then the medal should not be awarded. In this case, "X" for a gold medal is supposed to indicate "World Class", not necessarily better than all the rest.

I'm sure there are fine points and grey areas; but, let's take the only category without a gold medal this year: Bohemian Pilsner. Mama's Little Yella Pils from Oskar Blues received a silver medal which implies that it was better than all the other 41 beers entered in the category. But, yet it was not deemed good enough for gold. It's a level of subjectivity that I'm not comfortable with. And, with that dangling preposition, I'm done. And off to begin planning for a trip to next year's 31st annual Great American Beer Festival.

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