Saturday, October 01, 2011

Winners at the 2011 GABF

The awards at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival have been announced.

This was the 30th iteration of the GABF, organized annually in Denver, Colorado, by the Brewers Association —a trade association for small American breweries. Think of the competition as the Oscars of American beer, and the winners, as among the best in their profession.

Three medals —gold, silver, bronze— were awarded in 83 'styles.' In addition, overall recognition was given in the categories of Small Brewery, Medium Size Brewery, Large Brewery, Small Brewpub, Large Brewpub, and Brewpub Group. Awards were also given in a Pro-Am Competition.

From the festival press release:

The 2011 Great American Beer Festival® (GABF) competition drew an impressive field of competitors, with 2011 topping last year's entries by 11 percent. GABF remains the largest commercial beer competition in the world, with 3,930 beers vying for medals (compared to 3,523 entries in 2010). Competition entries were received from 526 breweries from 48 states plus Puerto Rico.

YFGF —this blog— is mid-Atlantic-based. So, first, I'll offer felicitations to the seven DMV winning breweries at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival: that is, those in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area.

In Maryland, three medals were won by three breweries: one Gold, two Bronze. In Virginia, eight medals were won by four breweries: three Gold, four Silver, and one Bronze. D.C.? Next year! Local overall bragging rights go to Mark Thompson at Starr Hill, in Crozet, Virginia. Congratulations!

  • GOLD
    • Category #25: Kellerbier or Zwickelbier
      Mad Fox Brewing Company (Falls Church, Virginia)
      brewmaster: Bill Madden
      Kolsch Kellerbier
    • Category #34: Vienna-Style Lager
      Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet, Virginia)
      brewmaster: Mark Thompson
      Jomo Lager
    • Category #45: English Style Summer Ale
      Blue Mountain Brewery (Afton, Virginia)
      brewmaster: Taylor Smack
      Summer Lovin'
    • Category #83: Barley Wine-Style Ale
      Flying Dog Brewery (Frederick, Maryland)
      brewmaster: Matt Brophy
      Horn Dog Barleywine
    • Category #15: Indigenous Beer
      Starr Hill Brewing Company (Crozet, Virginia)
      brewmaster: Mark Thompson
      Monticello Reserve Ale
    • Category #17: American-Belgo-Style Ale
      Blue Mountain Brewery (Afton, Virginia)
      brewmaster: Taylor Smack
      Blue Reserve
    • Category 26: Smoke Beer
      Starr Hill Brewing Company (Crozet, Virginia)
      brewmaster: Mark Thompson
      Smoke Out
    • Category #31: Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest
      Devils Backbone Brewing Company (Roseland, Virginia)
      brewmaster: Jason Oliver
      Tommy Two Fists
    • Category #45: English-style Summer Ale
      Mad Fox Brewing Company (Falls Church, Virginia)
      brewmaster: Bill Madden
      English Summer Ale
    • Category #58: Scottish-Style Ale
      Rock Bottom Brewery (Bethesda, Maryland)
      brewer: Geoff Lively
      Brown Bear Brown
    • Category #64: German-Style Sour Ale
      Gordon-Biersch (Rockville, Maryland)
      brewer: Kevin Blodger

National winners

Congratulations, of course, to all the winners! Breweries competed within 83 styles divided among Ales, Lagers, and so-called 'Hybrid' styles. The Ales were further divided into 41 subcategories, the Lagers into 18, and the 'Hybrids' into 26, Prius' excluded. That's a total of 168 style designations. The full list of styles can be viewed here, and as a downloadable pdf file here.

Three medals were awarded in each parent category only — Bronze, Silver, and Gold— thus for a total of 248 medals, plus 3 in a Pro-Am competition, in which a brewery and a homebrewer cooperate. (If the math doesn't quite add up, it's because there was no Gold awarded in Category #29, Bohemian-style Pilsener.)

Best-of show honors were awarded to six breweries based on some sort of algorithm combining brewery size, total medals won, number of competitors in those medals, and the strength of the medals (i.e, Gold being best):

  • Small Brewing Company / Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year
    Chuckanut Brewery (Bellingham, Washington) / Will Kemper
  • Mid-Size Brewing Company / Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year
    Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Paso Robles, California) / Matthew Brynildson
  • Large Brewing Company / Large Brewing Company Brewer of the Year
    Pabst Brewing Company (Woodridge, Illinois) / Bob Newman
  • Small Brewpub / Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year
    Pizza Port Ocean Beach (San Diego, California) / Yiga Miyashiro
  • Large Brewpub / Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year
    Pizza Port Carlsbad (Carlsbad, California) / Pizza Port Brew Guys
  • Brewpub Group / Brewpub Group Brewer of the Year
    TAPS Fish House & Brewery (Brea, California) / Victor Novak

In Conclusion

One hundred and sixty-eight style designations? To borrow from another sport: "You can't be serious!" YFGF is not alone is dismissing this creeping style inflation (and consequent dilution). As only one datum: What exactly is an International-Style Pale Ale?

Since there are only 3 awards given in each category, without numerical scores determined, many deserving beers (and deserving breweries) are slighted. I see no reason not to publish scores. The point of the GABF is to celebrate and to promote American breweries. Ignoring all those non-top-three beers — many of which would be potentially high-scoring— is a disservice to those beers, and more importantly, to the industry, which the Brewers Association, the sponsoring association, ostensibly represents.

It's not merely quality of a beer or skill in brewing that's rewarded. It's cleverness in gaming the system —not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that. Though any one brewery might win, the odds favor those breweries that enter as many categories as possible, that brew beers to match judges' style expectations, and that enter beers in categories that are ill-defined or that have fewer participants.

Be that as it may be, an award at the Great American Beer Festival does indeed give a brewery bragging rights as tops in its field (at least for a year) and indicates a level of brewing acumen, acknowledged by the judgement of its peers. For all the rest: wait till next year!

Finally, congratulations must be offered to the Brewers Association, and all the volunteers involved. The logistics of running such a mammoth celebration and competition are staggering. And special recognition must be offered to Charlie Papazian, the founder of the Brewers Association, the American Homebrewers Association, and the Great American Beer Festival. Thirty years ago, he had a crazy dream, and made it real.


  • An interactive list of all winners can be viewed at the GABF website: here.
  • A downloadable pdf file: here.
  • A simpler list, published by here.
  • Some additional metrics, complied by Jay Brooks: here
  • The 2012 GABF has been scheduled for 11-13 October, in Denver, Colorado, of course.

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