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It’s costly and time-consuming for craft brewers to attend and participate in the prestigious competition at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). But for some, it’s also a reason to celebrate.
Coloradans at this year’s event brought home 40 medals, the state’s biggest haul since 2013, when local beer makers snagged 46 bronzes, silvers, and golds. In 2019, nearly one-third of the medals—13—were golds.
Only California accumulated more medals, 68, with 20 of them golds.
Colorado dusted Golden State breweries, however, in categories that kick-off the wildest rounds of cheers. Only seven breweries among the 800 at the festival win Champion Breweries awards. Colorado secured two of them. California? Zip.
Comrade Brewing Company in Denver won the Small Brewing Company of the Year award, a tough accolade to claim due to the volume of competition. And Westbound & Down Brewing Company in Idaho Springs walked away with the award for Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year.
“I had a wicked hangover today. We celebrated all weekend,” says Marks Lanham, Comrade’s brewmaster, during an interview this week. “It’s great for the brewery. I’m sure we will see people in here we have not seen before, and we’ll try to win them over as new customers.”
Comrade took home two golds. The brewery’s More Dodge Less RAM won in an exceedingly difficult category: American-Style India Pale Ale, which had 342 entries this year. Only the Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale category received more submissions, at 348. Its Superpower IPA also received top honors in the American-Style Strong Pale Ale category. “Over the years, we have become a solid IPA brewery,” says Lanham. “The style is still very popular, whether it’s clear or hazy. The other day we had 12 different beers on our board that we called IPAs.”
India pale ales have dominated craft brewing for decades, but other styles have gained popularity. The number three category in terms of submissions this year, for example, was Fruited American-Style Sour Ale, which was not a power category just a few years ago. But IPAs still dominate (there are seven styles represented in the GABF competition).
“I think IPAs today tend to be a little bit lighter in body, lighter in color,” says Lanham. “And now with the Hazy IPAs, they have almost gotten away from bitterness entirely. Hops are mainly used for flavor and aroma.”
One of Westbound & Down’s award-winning beers, Westbound Double IPA, also falls into the land of the hoppy. Its other GABF triumph, Double Barrel Louie, took home a silver medal in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer category.
“It’s nice to bring this award back to Colorado. It’s been 10 years since a Colorado brewery has won,” said Westbound’s general manager Marcel Templet. “We are very stoked.”
Unlike Comrade, which is a straight brewery, Westbound is a brewpub, with a full restaurant kitchen. Part of the four-year-old brewpub’s team went to the University of Colorado Boulder and modeled the beer program after Avery Brewing, back when it was in an east Boulder light-industrial park and patrons spilled out into the alleyway.
“I was a home brewer, and I loved [Avery] because they did every style, and they did every style well,” says Westbound’s head brewer Jake Gardner. “They were making some of the best sour beers in the country. Winning so many medals. Doing it all. And that’s how we approach our beer—we do it all.”
Other Colorado Gold Medal Winners
Echo Brewing, Erie
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Denver
Good River Beer, Denver
Zuni Street Brewing, Denver
Holidaily Brewing, Golden
Bootstrap Brewing., Longmont
BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery, Boulder
WeldWorks Brewing, Greeley
Twisted Pine Brewing, Boulder
Deuces Wild Brewery, Colorado Springs
Denver Beer Company, Arvada
See a full list of winners here.
2019 GABF by the #s
Breweries at the Festival: 800
Beers at the Festival: 4,000
Breweries in the Competition: 2,295
Beers in the Competition: 9,497
Medals Awarded: 318