Well, the 2013 Great American Beer Festival awards ceremony just wrapped up and once again, Stone Brewing Co. did not win any medals. You won’t get any sour grapes from me, we don’t always try to brew strictly to the GABF style guidelines (which are critical criteria to win medals), and I certainly wouldn’t advocate changing any of our recipes in an attempt to win. But I won’t lie, it is a little disappointing, because I do believe in the quality and taste of our beers and our approach to brewing innovative and interesting beers. But I always say: “if you win a medal, it is fantastic, shout it from the rooftops! But if you don’t win a medal, it’s not a negative reflection on your beer, because for a variety of reasons there are many excellent beers that simply don’t win medals.”
If you are not familiar with the judging process at the GABF, it goes something like this:
First, the judging panel is made up of professional brewers, beer writers, and industry affiliates who all have extensive experience with sensory analysis and great knowledge of beer styles. These are all people that I have tremendous respect for. Everyone on the panel has an exceptional palate, and their varied experiences work well when it comes time to come to a consensus on the beers they are judging. A lot of these folks have been judging for many, many years, myself included, though I took a break this year. It’s a very fatiguing experience, seriously, it’s 2 1/2 days of carefully evaluating sometimes up to 150 beers. It’s fun, but really intense, especially when the judges don’t agree on what beers are the best at the table. This year there were over 200 judges from 11 different countries!
Judges are typically assigned to 6 or 7 person table, and you stay with that table for a session of 2-3 rounds of judging. There are 5 of these sessions total over 3 days. Often the judges will split the table down the middle, and each side will get 6-12 beers. If it is the first round in the style category, the judges on each side must select 3 to move to the next round, which, depending on the style and the number of entries, may not be the final round where medal winners are chosen. For the first round only, judges must fill out a detailed judging sheet and indicate whether your beer was selected to move forward. I review these judging sheets in great detail when they come back to the brewery, and I take solace in the fact that most of our beers do get passed on for more judging, despite rarely making it to medal status. Rarely do I see negative comments on our beers.
With close to 5000 beers having been entered into the competition this year, winning a medal at this event is a really nice feather in your cap. As a long time GABF Beer Judge, I can honestly say that the quality of beers being entered increases every single year. It used to be easy to pick three medal winners, now it’s often hard to choose 3 beers from the first round just for passing on to the next round-the beers are that good. And deciding which style to enter your beer in is its own art form-it can be tricky. I remember Stone Pale Ale finally won a medal a few years ago, when we switched it from the American Pale Ale category to the Special/Strong Bitter category.
Some of my brewer friends that I am really happy for as I review the results and write this:
Matt Cole at Fat Heads Brewery near Cleveland OH. Matt is one of my favorite people in this business, and his Head Hunter IPA has won several GABF medals over the years. This year he won 3 medals, a gold for his Hop JuJu Imperial IPA ( a VERY difficult category), and his Scharzbier and Fresh Hop Ale also medaled. I am so happy for Matt, he’s one of the best brewers in the country and a very good friend. I have had the pleasure to brew with Matt a few times, twice at his place-rye beers each time, and once at Stone, where we brewed a Texas Brown Ale.
Matt Brynyldson, whom I have known for a long time, and have collaborated with (El Camino UnReal with Shaun O’Sullivan), again won the mid-size brewer of the year award by getting 4 medals this year. Matt wrote the forward to my book on IPA, and is such a brewing talent and good guy, and Firestone-Walker kicks ass at this event every year. Way to go Matt!
Julian Shrago, whom I got to know several years ago at the Southern California Homebrewers festival, took the plunge and went professional at Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, and is brewing some really fantastic beers. I see him a few times a year, mostly up at LA-area beer events, and love what he’s doing. And apparently the GABF judges do as well, as he won a staggering 5 medals and was awarded the best mid-size brewpub brewer of the year. Congratulations Julian!
Alexandra Nowell at Kinetic Brewing in Lancaster CA won two medals this year! For their session beer and their kolsch. I got to know Alex earlier this year when we brewed a session IPA when she was at Drake’s in San Leandro. She’s a very talented brewer, and is brewing great beers at Kinetic.
Tonya Cornett at 10 Barrel Brewery in Bend won another medal, this time a Gold for their Berliner-Weisse. We just collaborated with Tonya and Megan Parisi to brew Suede, an amazing floral-accented and roasted Imperial Porter, brewed with jasmine, calendula, and avocado honey. Tonya has won many medals over the years, she is just an exceptional brewer.
Our friends Peter, Vicky, Todd and Bill at Alesmith won another couple of medals this year, one for their Old Numbskull Barley Wine, and for Decadence 2012. One of my favorite breweries in San Diego, and they usually do very well at the GABF.
I’m happy for Brock Wagner at St. Arnold’s in Houston for winning two medals this year. I’ve judged with Brock a bunch, and he’s been to our brewery a few times. Seems like we talk about brewing equipment a lot! He brews great German style beers and his Helles and German Wheat Ale won this year.
Wicked Weed in Asheville, NC won a gold for their Serenity Brett Ale. Brothers Luke and Walt are amazing brewers, and I got to know them on on a trip to Asheville this past spring. They have a really cool approach to brewing, and they are a lot of fun. And they haven’t even been open a year yet! I hope to see them again soon.
Our friends at Pizza Port also rocked it, with their Ocean Beach location getting 3 medals and Solana Beach getting one. I love Pizza Port, we go to their Carlsbad location a lot, and it’s absolutely my favorite place to get a great beer and some really tasty pizza.
Ben Edmunds from Breakside in Portland, OR, who I just saw in London, won 2 medals this year. He is one of my favorite Portland brewers, we met presenting at a barrel aging symposium last year during Portland Beer Week.
Matt Van Wyk from Oakshire in Eugene also presented at that barrel aging symposium, and appropriately, won a gold in the wood and barrel aged beer category.
San Diego pioneering craft beer bar owners Scott and Karen Blair (Hamilton’s, Small Bar, etc) and their brewer Cosmo at Monkey Paw won a gold medal in the American Strong Ale category with Bonebus. Awesome!
It’s hard to win more than one medal at this event, and here are some congratulations for those not already mentioned that pulled this off: John Martin, who owns Drake’s and Triple Rock (and is one of my oldest friends in the beer business) whose breweries combined got 3 medals, Dick and David at Elysian won 2, Dan at New Glarus also won 2, fellow judge and SoCal brewer Victor Novak at TAPS won 2 medals- for his Helles and his Schwarzbier. He does well at this event every year. Steven at Boulevard won 2 medals, John at Troegs also won 2. Andy and Jim at Four Peaks won 2 medals. Ted Rice at Marble in New Mexico won 2, Figueroa Mountain Brewery won an amazing 5 medals from their 2 locations.
Congrats also to my good friends Shaun and Nico at 21st Amendment, Jamie at Ninkasi, Jason and Jim Ebel at Two Brothers, Spike at Terrapin, Tomme and Gwen at Lost Abbey, Rich and his team at Bear Republic, Brian O’Reilly at Sly Fox, the team at Iron Hill, Doug, Brendan and Scott at Odell, and Phil at Ommegang for winning medals this year. Well-deserved!
And for Stone, better luck next year!