Oregon’s Lag at GABF Not to Be Worried About


On Friday, the second day of the Great American Beer Festival, 20-some-odd media members from around the country boarded a charter bus. We were going on a quick trip to two of Denver’s lesser known breweries – our tour had us going to Beryl’s Beer and Factotum Brewing companies.

On our way to the first location, the informative tour guide was running down the beer scene for the inquisitive tourists on the bus. During his explanation, he took a moment to pause.

“Really, the beer in Denver rivals some of the bigger beer cities, like Portland.”

The handful of Oregon beer journalists, or those familiar with Portland, scoffed. And the tour guide noticed, quickly taking a step back but not backpedaling.

We Oregonians have the natural inclination to believe Oregon has the best craft beer, hands down. There are stats and figures to back it up, mostly showing economic gains across our state either partially or fully influenced by the beer industry.

Brewers anxiously awaiting to see who has the best beer of them all

Brewers anxiously awaiting to see who has the best beer of them all

And yet, the state was eclipsed by multiple breweries in the 2015 Great American Beer Festival. 10 Barrel–now a branch of AB-InBev–won two medals; state sweetheart Barley Brown’s won two as well (but pulled in two golds, edging out 10 Barrel’s two bronzes); and local GABF staple Bend Brewing Company took home a bronze and silver.

In total, the state of Oregon took 19 medals with 7 golds. Not a bad number, consider our brothers to the north pulling 13 medals with 6 golds.

But, look at the host state of Colorado: 36 medals went to Colorado with 7 golds (one was to Coors Banquet – take it or leave it). Other states did quite well also–California won 67 medals total with 22 golds, while Texas won 15 with 9 golds.

None of these numbers are staggering, mind you. California’s population and brewery density is well known, and Texas has been building a respectable beer scene for a while.

But, for Oregon being the hub of the craft beer scene, I think it’s imperative to look beyond quality, because at this point, we’ve earned that. The history of Oregon’s breweries speaks for itself, inspiring and growing pioneers across the country. Where Oregon stands tallest is the culture grown around beer.

Look at Portland–not only is it home to some of the most creative and consistent breweries, but some of the country’s most well respected tap houses and bottle shops are also here. Innovation is around each corner, from the portable kegerator/growler uKeg to handmade six-pack holders for the bicycle commuters. Bend–which (though contested) boasts the highest number of breweries per capita–is also home to Drink Tanks insulated growlers, brew barge on-water bars, and the Growler Guys convenience store growler fill stations that revolutionized how customers drink to go.

So, to all those asking what is happening to Oregon beer, I tell you this:

  1. The GABF isn’t the end all be all of beer. Really, with this beautiful fermented beverage, it’s about what you think about it. RPM is one of the most popular IPAs in the region, yet it’s never won an award. Be your own judge.
  2. Don’t be the person who says that they will only drink Oregon beer. Granted, supporting your local brewer and brewery is an awesome thing. But, if you’re looking for a good pint, don’t narrow your scope – you’ll find plenty of great beers out there.

References of great Colorado beer:

I traveled with Visit Denver and independently around the River North (RiNo) area, and was thoroughly impressed with not only the quality, but the general vibe of each brewery I visited. Here are a couple of the favorites that you may not have heard of before (i.e., you won’t find Crooked Stave or Great Divide on here):

Big, bright patio area at Beryl's beer

Big, bright patio area at Beryl’s beer

Beryl’s Beer Company

Cleverly named after the mineral, Beryl’s Beer was an instant surprise. As the first place that the tour took us, I, being a snobby beer journalist from Bend, assumed we would get a hit and miss taplist. I was very surprised, however, when it came down to it–the beer was great across the board. The “Beryl aged” series, which ranged from the traditional dark-beer-in-whiskey to a golden in tequila barrels and some sours, were all very well balanced–in fact, they had one of the best Brett beers I’ve had lately. If Northwest brewers are known for their use of hops, Colorado brewers should be known for their mastery of sour beer. The vibe, a warehouse with outdoor patio area, was laid back. You won’t go here to end the night, but it might be one of the better places to start the night.

Mockery Brewing taps

Mockery Brewing Company

The brewery at the top of the RiNo district, this one was a little hard to find. But, once there, there are plenty of unique beers to try–I don’t recall trying a standard pale ale. I did have an oaked southern hemisphere black pale ale, which was surprisingly drinkable and unique. I also went for the strange Salted Scotch Ale (think lightly burnt salted caramel). While these beers weren’t my favorite all around, I have to give them credit for trying some fun things and harboring a welcoming atmosphere.

A surprisingly delicious strawberry Berliner Weiss from Ratio

A surprisingly delicious strawberry Berliner Weiss from Ratio

Ratio Beerworks

If Beryl’s is the place to start the night, this might be the place to end it. A little grungy/punk vibe greets you to the bar, where a list of palatable beers sit waiting for you. I tried the strawberry Berliner Weiss, which I would typically never go for in the fear of getting an over sweet, syrupy bomb. But, this one was perfectly balanced on our 70 degree day. People were playing yard games on the patio and generally enjoying the world around them. If I head back to Denver, I’ll be sure to stop in here again.

Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company

Well, you’ve got to include these guys now, considering the brewery took home a silver in wood- and barrel-aged beers. The space was small and quaint, probably accented by the fact that many tourists ran that way post medal ceremony to give the beer a try. I worked through a flight and really enjoyed what they had to offer. Here’s the cool part: the brewery malts its own barley from local Colorado suppliers and brings in as many Colorado hops as possible. While that’s not the most cost effective method, it’s what the owners wanted to do, and they are doing it.

Did I miss any? Hit the comments below and let me know.

Branden Andersen
Branden Andersen

Branden Andersen, AKA The Beer Detective, has been working in the craft beer industry since he turned 21. Starting as a blogger (www.thebeerdetective.wordpress.com) and moving through publications as a featured writer, he now works for Worthy Brewing Company in Bend, OR while freelancing for multiple publications on the side.


  • Jeff Alworth
    Jeff Alworth
    Wed Oct 7, 2015 3:46 PM

    The issue, of course, is winning percentage. How many of the breweries that entered won medals–that’s the real question. Some folks did some pretty good sleuthing last year and discovered that we did pretty well in terms of winning percentage.

    • Branden Andersen
      Branden Andersen
      Mon Oct 12, 2015 5:25 PM

      Interesting point, Jeff. That would be fun to look into.

    • JR
      Thu Oct 8, 2015 8:58 PM

      Does Boneyard submit their beer (RPM) to the GABF?

      • Samurai Artist
        Samurai Artist
        Fri Oct 9, 2015 4:41 AM

        I believe so. They have been there the last 3 years.