I was off enjoying my wife's company on a beach--with some 16 Mile Brewery and New Glarus beers in attendance.
The GABF is always a pack of mixed emotions for me. On the one hand, the publicity and promotional value of the Festival to both the individual breweries and the craft beer industry as a whole cannot possibly be discounted. On the other hand, most of the "best" American beers I have had the blessed fortune to run across in our country simply either don't make it to the GABF in the first place or get pushed aside by other competitors.
I've spoken with local and regional brewers across the nation about the GABF, and I almost always get a mix of resignation and delight. If they go, they like the concept, and they like what results. As more than one brewer has told me while sweeping their arms towards the display case or wall full of medals from the GABF and other competitions, "You can't tell me that there's no promotional value in those medals. Of course it's worth the trouble of getting it into the GABF!"
On the other hand, other excellent brewers and breweries are simply hamstrung by the logistics and the expense of getting their beer to Denver. Think about it: If you were entering a brewing competition, would you just hand off your kegs or growler to some no-name UPS agent or freight shipper? Heck, no--you'd personally escort those kegs or growlers to Denver if you could, with a list of dry-ice vendors between here and Denver to replenish your car's cooler.
According to the official statistics, 516 breweries from 48 states and the District competed for medals in 79 categories (plus a "Pro-Amateur" category) with 3,448 actual beer entered (plus 75 additional "Pro-Am" entries). The Brewers Association itself claims that "Over 1,500 breweries are responsible for the beer brands made in the US with more than 90% of these fitting the small and independent craft brewer definition." This page puts the number of potential entrants at 1,640. Even if we cast aside the rare (but no doubt extant) brewery doing nothing but brewing, say, Guinness or Bass for North American consumption, or duplicate Miller or Budweiser or Coors plants, we'd still have way over 1,000 brewpubs and breweries. So, right off the bat, a good half or more of American brweweries aren't participating in the GABF.
By my rough count, 52 of the medals went to California breweries, and 40 to Colorado breweries, with an additional 26 to breweries in Oregon and Washington. And even these are wide open to flexible interpretation--for example, Shmaltz Brewing, started in New York City by Jeremy Cowan, is listed as being from San Francisco, California, where some of the beers are now contract-brewed.. I would certainly love to see the GABF rotated to various cities (Baltimore again, Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, etc.) if only to level the playing field for competitors.
Then there's the issue of the categories or styles selected. Fellow bloggers Tom Cizauskas and Martyn Cornell have already addressed the subject recently. To which I will add a quote from Clipper City/Heavy Seas founder Hugh Sisson, repeated by fellow "brewer" Volker Stewart: "Are you really going to tell me that there are a couple of hundred IPAs submitted and only three of them deserve medals?" (For the record, there were 142 entries in Category 47, "American-Style India Pale Ale," which is in and of itself, of course, an oxymoron,
Stewart follows with these observations:
[The three-medals-per-category is] a huge drawback to the GABF judging IMHO. I find the World Beer Cup multiple-medal system much more "fair" (although I understand that some folks feel that this "cheapens" the medals...)Another comment from Oliver Breweries/Pratt Street Ale House Head Hunchback Stephen Jones:
I only submitted to GABF once, sending growlers across the country in 1998. What was enlightening to me was how incredibly subjective the judging was - the wide range of reactions from the same growler was surprising. My favorite line included that I mis-submitted what was clearly a spiced wheat beer (even though there was not a hint of wheat or spice in the beer I sent).
We at Oliver’s haven’t submitted anything to the GABF during my tenure here. I must admit I’m not a big fan of the BJCP style guidelines but I guess at some point we may look to send some beer out there.
More comments from Lew Bryson here.
So whadaya think? Does the GABF guide you to good stuff or simply give you reason for kvetching?
A personal aside: I see that a second location opened by a pre-existing brewpub in Arizona, Lumberyard Brewing in Flagstaff ( a sister to Beaver Street Brewery), has won a gold and a bronze, the former for Imperial Red and the latter for the American-Style IPA........ and they just opened weeks ago............