GABF Medal Winning Brewery # 1 – Twin Sisters Brewing Company

When I saw that a strawberry zwickebier had won Gold at this year’s GABF, I knew I would have to look into it. It came from Bellingham, Washington and the Twin Sisters Brewing Company.

Let’s see what else I would order next time I am in Northern Washington State.

Pilsner from Now On – “A brilliant gold Pilsner made in the classic Czech style. Spicy and fruity noble hop aromas. Smooth body and a crisp finish.”

Chap ESB – “Our Brew Boys’ take on a traditional ESB (Extra Special Bitter). With light hoppiness, aromas of marmalade, and soft caramel flavors reminiscent of pie crust and toast, this English pub-beer is the perfect ale for quaffing on a rainy day.”

Shift Bier Dortmunder – “Brewed in the traditional style, this pale lager is recognized for its firm bitterness, soft malt character, and unique minerality stemming from the hard water characteristic of the region. It’s slightly more malt-forward and higher in alcohol than its non-export counterparts but retains all the drinkability of a lower gravity lager. Dortmunder Export Lagers were historically a beer brewed for 19th-century German industrial workers, who would quaff it after long shifts at work.”

Bellingham Green IPA – “ A classic American IPA with firm bitterness, notes of citrus, pine, and resin. Crisp, clean finish.”


One of the event casualties of the virus was the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) which sucks for many reasons. It has been a reliable revenue stream for Denver area breweries, the Colorado economy and the Brewers Association (BA)  Due to the loss of their marquee event, the BA has had layoffs, most notably of the hard working and traveling Julia Herz who I have had the pleasure of hearing speak on a number of occasions.  

As that news hit, the GABF announced the 2020 version of their event which is a t-shirt and a passport. That passport “will have exclusive access to beery deals at participating festival breweries nationwide, and access to exclusive online content October 16-17. Online content will include Brewers Studio happy hours, tastings and interviews with brewers from around the country.”

I would love to see a behind the scenes of the judging. I know this year is not normal but I think it would be to get a peek at the process of one of the biggest aspects of the festival. I also think they should have a monthly countdown to next year’s event to keep GABF in people’s minds. 

Virtual GABF

The Great American Beer Festival (GABF), the big beer festival on the calendar is not going on as in the past. Instead of September 24-26 at the Big Blue Bear and in person in Denver, it will now be an “immersive online experience October 16-17.”

Though this sucks for the beer community and the breweries and bars in Denver that saw a big attendance boost, it was not a decision that comes as much of a surprise considering how 2020 is shaping up to be a year filled with bad news.

According to the Brewers Association, the virtual GABF is still in the planning stages but expect to see beer tastings, brewer interviews as well as food and beer pairing ideas possibly with a delivery of beer angle as well.

The good news is that the beer competition will take place in 2020. Will Pandemic beer be a style category?

I see this as a golden opportunity to try out crazy ideas and also how to incorporate more of the country into GABF since plane fare and time away is now off the table as an excuse not to go. And if all goes well with the re-openings, maybe smaller, mini GABFs can be held around the country. I vote for any wacky plan.

GABF Awards 2019

The votes have been tallied for 2019 and you can click HERE to see the winners from the Great American Beer Festival. Let’s rundown the Los Angeles medal view….

First though, let’s say upfront that only 2,295 breweries entered. California has 1,000+ breweries so this competition, though by far the biggest really only covers a percentage of beer in the US. Think of it as a snapshot in time.

Also, there are some weird categories. IPL is mixed with malt liquor. And some categories are only filled by 30 beers in total. And what makes a beer fit the “Emerging IPA” category?

On to LA, Claremont ring up gold for Station 101. Ambitious Ales bronze for their Friends-ian Central Perk coffee beer. King’s Brewing out in Rancho Cucamonga bagged two medals. Perennial favorites Beachwood and Firestone Walker each won but not as much as years past. Arrow Lodge and Ogopogo represented for Jungalo Juice and Boeman Witbier. Bluebird Brasserie won bronze for their excellent Stay Golden Belgian Ale. Gamecraft of Laguna Beach gave me another reason to finally visit with a medal in the coffee stout category.

What really made my day was Highland Park winning gold for Timbo Pils. Such a great beer. Also Evan and Brian at Green Cheek had a day with Gold for their Australian for Pale Ale and then a silver for Radiant Beauty in the ultra-competitive American IPA category. Well deserved.

What exemplifies the GABF awards are the apply moments and I leave for you with the one where Breakside Brewing of Portland was on stage, getting the glamour shot with Charlie Papazian when their name was announced as gold medal winner for another category. Brewer Ben Edmonds could not contain himself. He jumped up, bent over and was “in” the moment. That is what this whole revolution is about.

GABF Medal Winning Brewery # 3 – Wolverine State Brewing

I have saved the double winner for last. Ann Arbor’s Wolverine State Brewing picked up both Silver and Bronze this year.

SILVER – NZ Pils in the American-style Pilsener category
BRONZE – Raucher in the Smoke Beer category

In addition to those winners, I would add the following to my taster tray….

Wheelbarrow Weekend – “a refreshing Munich Helles made with oats & fresh-squeezed lemon juice.”

Tundra King – “This new addition to our IPL lineup is in contrast to many of our other IPLs and hop-forward lagers because it’s even more injected with hoppy and bitter goodness!”

Gulo Gulo – “India Pale Lager (I.P.L.) is hopped with Cascade, Chinook, Columbus, Warrior and Pilgrim hops. It is dry-hopped once in the fermenter and then a second time with whole-cone Cascade hops before packaging.”

Barista – “We brew this beer in collaboration with Roos Roast of Ann Arbor. Karl the Brewer used to be a coffee roaster before joining the brewing world and so we put him in charge of the coffee side.”

GABF Medal Winning Brewery # 2 – Smylie Brothers Brewing

Our second Medal Winning stop is bemusing, Smylie Brothers Brewing Co. in from the city of Evanston. SBBC won silver in the Fruit Wheat Beer category for Purple Line, a wheat ale brewed with hibiscus, blueberry and blackberry. This beer is no stranger to hardware as it also won GABF medals in 2015 and 2017 too.

So with that lineage, here is what I would sample in my “imagined” taster flight…

Helles Lager – “A Bavarian style pale lager. Crisp and clean, showcasing Pilsner malt. Lightly hopped with German noble hops.”

Gin Barrel Farmhouse Saison – “Our Farmhouse ale aged in Chicago Distilling Co.’s Finn’s Gin barrels.”

Simcoe Pale Ale – “An American Pale Ale hopped exclusively with Simcoe hops. Light and crisp malt body with pungent notes of pine, grapefruit and citrus.”

Grisette – “Light in body and low in alcohol, this saison is brewed with spelt, an heirloom variety of wheat. Floral aroma with notes of lemon and citrus. Very dry, crisp and refreshing.”

Smy Rye IPA – “Rye IPA brewed with Ekuanot and Citra hops. Aromas of citrus peel, melon and pine, with a crisp rye spice.”

GABF Awards Recap – The SoCal Perspective

The awarding of the medals happened in Denver yesterday at The Great American Beer Festival in a production better paced and funnier than the Emmy’s, the Brewers Association live streamed their awards for 2018. It took an “unpacking” team three + weeks to sort the 8,864 entries from 2,404 breweries so that medal worthy beers could be tabbed.

So let’s dive into the statistics and see how our corner of the beer world fared competitively.:
Smog City Kumquat Saison
Enegren Brewing Nighthawk Dark Lager
Trustworthy Brewing (formerly Verdugo West) Bear Temper Barleywine

Pocock It’s My Island Irish Stout
Bravery Brewing The Shroud Imperial Stout
6th & La Brea Skag Scotch Ale

Beachwood Blendery Funk Yeah!

Considering how many breweries we now have, that is a decent-ish showing. Orange County (especially Green Cheek) got called on stage more, as did San Diego naturally. With San Diego edging out our OC cousins barely but both in double digits. From here on in, it would be good to see our own mark of ten

One of my favorite breweries, Firestone Walker got two medals in kind of weird ways. They won silver in the brand new Collaboration category for their work with BarrelWorks on Pixie Dusted tangerine sour. And they won for Feral Brut, a beer not being released until next week.

Figueroa Mountain picked up a trio of wins on the day as well bringing their eight-year total to 23!

Favorite Beer Names:
Germophile Berliner Weisse from Rowley Farmhouse
Liquid AC Summer Ale from Karl Strauss

Other notes:
Two babies got the Papazian fist bump.
Winning Juicy/Hazy Beers were primarily from the south and Mid-West
One of the winners from Texas had. Beto Election Beer shirts on.
Loved that the Chuckanut Brewery has sub-named it’s two locations, North Nut and South Nut

But Will They All Stay Hazy?

I shouldn’t be surprised that plain old boring IPA has been dethroned by the “IT” beer of the moment. But the fact that 131 Hazy Pale Ales, 414 Hazy IPA’s and 161 Hazy Double IPA’s have been entered into Great American Beer Festival competition (706 total for those checking their calculators) is still mind blowing. The fact that American style IPA is way back at a mere 331 is crazy.

If I were judging (call me GABF!), I would run away from the three Hazy categories and head back to IPA which has been a gauntlet the last few years. The big question I have is, How long will the Hazy beers be sitting before judging and how will that length of time be factored into the judging. I mean, the category names have HAZY in them. My guess is that if I were coming from far away, I wouldn’t enter the category. It’s hard enough with the sheer volume of entries to break above the crowd but a super fresh option from Denver would have a definite home field advantage. As long as they have consistent haze of course.

Official competition statistics will be published after the GABF Awards Ceremony on Saturday, September 22.

Hazy, Contemporary, Australian and Gose

The Brewers Association (BA) released their updated Beer Style Guidelines for 2018. After review “Hundreds of revisions, edits, format changes and additions were made to this year’s guidelines, including updates to existing beer styles and the creation of new categories…” That last bit is the big news because three of those categories are a nod to the power of haze.

~Juicy or Hazy Ale Styles: The addition of this trio of styles include representation of what may be referred to as New England IPAs or West Coast Hazy IPAs. The styles will be identified in the guidelines and Brewers Association competitions as “Juicy or Hazy Pale Ale,” “Juicy or Hazy IPA” and “Juicy or Hazy Double IPA.”

~Contemporary American-Style Pilsener: The addition of this new category addresses marketplace expansion and provides space for sessionable craft brew lager beers with higher hop aroma than found in pre-prohibition style beers.

~Classic Australian-Style Pale Ale and Australian-Style Pale Ale: This split from one to two Australian-Style Pale Ale categories reflects tremendous diversity in the Australian craft beer market and authoritative input from the technical committee of the Independent Brewers Association. Classic Australian-Style Pale Ale can run slightly darker and typically exhibits relatively lower hop aroma. The Australian-Style Pale Ale category provides ample room for a range of somewhat paler, more hop aroma- and flavor-forward beers being produced today by hundreds of breweries in Australia.

Gose and Contemporary Gose: Predominantly technical tweaks were made to create more differentiation between these two categories.

I don’t have a great reason to not include new categories but it seems to be getting a bit nitpicky now. I would prefer that the categories were split differently. IPA, for example, could have sub-categories like regular, hazy, British, Australian, Session that had winners and the top of those could make up the best three. Split DIPA out with Imperial and do the same. This way you give shout outs to more beers while keeping the category count manageable. All I know now is that the yearly awards show just got even longer.

The 2018 Beer Style Guidelines are available for download HERE.