Oregon brewers did well at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) last weekend. The world’s largest beer competition awarded 19 out of 293 medals total to Oregon breweries and The New School was there to capture many of the celebratory moments. Oregon’s medal count was slightly below last year’s 21, but again featured other notable high watermarks, like Breakside Brewery tying for most medals won by any brewery this year with four, and Sunriver Brewing earning two golds and the prestigious Best Small Brewery and Brewer accolade. These weren’t the only success stories to come out of the 7,923 competition entries from 2,217 breweries in 50 states plus Washington, D.C., as well as some notable glaring losses.
In a ceremony at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, award-winning breweries received prestigious gold, silver and bronze medals in 98 beer categories covering 161 different beer styles (including all subcategories), establishing the best examples of each style in the country.
The competition took place in six sessions over a period of three days and was judged by 276 beer experts from 13 countries, including the U.S. In addition to commercial brewery entries, the judging panel also evaluated 118 Pro-Am entries. The competition was made possible with the help of 365 volunteers.
Oregon Breweries brought home 7 gold medals, 3 silver medals, and 7 bronze medals. The Portland Metro area won 8 medals, Central Oregon won 4 medals, the Willamette Valley won 3 medals and Mt. Hood/The Gorge won 2 medals.
Category 1: American-Style Wheat Beer – 39 Entries
Gold: Sweet As Pacific Ale, GoodLife Brewing Co., Bend, OR
The awards ceremony kicked off beautifully with a Gold Medal win in the very first category for Bend, Oregon’s Goodlife Brewing for Sweet As Pacific Ale. I heard a bit of confusion/controversy on this as the beer is marketed as a Pale Ale, but the brewery has been entering it as an American Wheat. It also won a recent Oregon Beer Growler tasting panel in the wheat beer category. It turns out it is a wheat beer, slightly hopped up, but was always intended as a wheat. Sometimes Pale Ale sells better? It doesn’t much matter, often brewers find that their beers fit better into different style categories than intended, after reading the Brewers Association’s formal style guidelines.
Category 2: American-Style Wheat Beer With Yeast – 52 Entries
Gold: Fuzztail, Sunriver Brewing, Sunriver, OR
The biggest news was Sunriver Brewing, up and comers ever since Brett Thomas became Brewmaster. The brewery has been quietly winning medals and gaining traction over the last few years, but the 2017 GABF shall be known as the real break out. With two Gold Medals and Small Brewing Co. and Brewmaster of the Year, Sunriver deserves national attention and this may mark just the beginning of a new all-star brewing team soon to be a household name among beer geeks.
Category 5: Belgian-Style Fruit Beer – 58 Entries
Silver: ZuurPruim, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Hood River, OR
Category 14: Rye Beer – 49 Entries
Bronze: Breakside Rye Curious?, Breakside Brewery, Portland, OR
Category 16: Session Beer – 40 Entries
Bronze: Stonefly Session Ale, Three Creeks Brewing Co., Sisters, OR
Category 22: Gluten-Free Beer – 33 Entries
Gold: Dark Ale, Ground Breaker Brewing, Portland, OR
Category 24: American-Style Sour Ale – 35 Entries
Gold: DAM Wild: Hops and Lemon Verbena, Flat Tail Brewing Co., Corvallis, OR
Flat Tail Brewing out of Corvallis, Oregon has been flying lowkey but enjoying success for the last few years, and the DAM Wild sour series has been great but not received the buzz it deserves. I have been a particular fan of the Dam Wild Pink Lemonade and recall enjoying the “Hops and Lemon Verbena” entry which won a Gold in the American-style Sour Ale category. Last year, Flat Tail won a Bronze for the DAM Wild Marionberry Pink Peppercorn in the Mixed-Culture Brett Beer category. Farmhouse/sour ales really seem to be Flat Tail’s underrated specialty, quite possibly better than most of the Oregon brewers that are much more well known for those styles.
Category 25: Fruited American-Style Sour Ale – 105 Entries
Bronze: Breakside Passionfruit Sour Ale, Breakside Brewery & Taproom, Milwaukie, OR
Category 26: Brett Beer – 71 Entries
Bronze: Touch of Brett Mosaic, Alesong Brewing & Blending, Eugene, OR
Category 36: American-Style Pilsener or International-Style Pilsener – 98 Entries
Silver: Sesión Cerveza, Full Sail Brewing Co., Hood River, OR
Bronze: Lemon Pils, Elk Horn Brewery, Eugene, OR
Category 41: German-Style Pilsener – 145 Entries
Gold: Zoigl-Pils, Zoiglhaus Brewing Co., Portland, OR
All medal wins are notable, but I took particular notice of Zoiglhaus Brewery’s Gold Medal for German-style Pilsner beating out such notable and previous award winners as Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils (Bronze in 2017.) This should help put the underrated Zoiglhaus on the map, with Pilsners back in the spotlight. I rarely hear Zoiglhaus’s Pils named among Oregon’s best, but now it shall grab its rightful place.
Category 59: American-Style Strong Pale Ale – 182 Entries
Bronze: Breakside Stay West, Breakside Brewery + Beer Hall, Portland, OR
Category 60: American-Style India Pale Ale – 408 Entries
Bronze: Breakside IPA, Breakside Brewery & Taproom, Milwaukie, OR
Breakside Brewery has been a big medal winner since winning the Gold Medal in the GABF American IPA category in 2015. It might be an even greater feat that the same beer medaled again this year, winning a Bronze medal. Furthermore, Breakside Brewery won four medals total this year at the GABF, as much as any other brewery, however with those entries coming from three different registered Breakside locations, so technically Texas’s St. Arnold Brewing won the most medals with three in the bag.
Category 63: Double Red Ale – 72 Entries
Silver: St. James, Coldfire Brewing, Eugene, OR
Category 64: Imperial Red Ale – 41 Entries
Gold: Cinder Beast, Sunriver Brewing, Sunriver, OR
Category 81: Specialty Saison – 81 Entries
Gold: Rye Saison, Base Camp Brewing Co., Portland, OR
Perhaps the strangest is Base Camp Brewing’s quiet emergence as Saison masters?? The Portland brewery is best known for its outdoorsy hiking, climbing, base camp-jumping style and flaming marshmallow Stout. However, with a Gold Medal at the 2017 Oregon Beer Awards for the Harvest Saison and now following that up with a Great American Beer Festival Gold for the Rye Saison, maybe the brewery should be making more farmhouse ales? Congrats to all that hard work paying off in surprising ways.
Outside of Oregon, our friends at Melvin Brewing had an even better year than last. Owner Jeremy Tofte was telling me ahead of the ceremony that he was worried about this years Fresh Hop Beer as the hops they received late were partially old and decomposed. He did not have to worry because the beer still took home a Gold, along with the Hubert MPA in the Strong Pale Ale category. That culminated in Melvin being named the “Brewery Group of the Year.”
Our neighbors to the north, Seattle’s Reubens Brews, had another great year, winning a Gold Medal for ‘Triumvirate IPA’ in the Australian-style or International-style Pale Ale category. Fremont Brewing (also of Seattle) nabbed the Silver Medal in the Fresh Hop category for ‘Field to Ferment’. Bellingham, Washington’s Chuckanut Brewing (which makes the best lagers in the country) also won Gold Medals for both Kolsch and Dunkel.
As important as all the medal winners are, let’s not forget who is missing. pFriem Family Brewers was again shut out, and perennial multiple award-winning all-stars like Barley Browns Brewpub, Pelican Brewing, and 10 Barrel Brewing also went home empty handed. These breweries are all making beer as good as ever, but I think this signals a changing of tastes and categories as a new wave of award favorites are hitting their stride.
Last but not least, perhaps Oregon’s most hyped brewery – Great Notion Brewing, did not win any medals but claimed the longest line and more than a few media and consumer mentions as a must-try stop in a packed festival convention hall.
2017 GREAT AMERICAN BEER FESTIVAL & COMPETITION STATISTICS
- 36thanniversary of the festival; 31st edition of the GABF competition
- Over 800 breweries in the festival hall
- 3,900+ beers served at the festival
- 60,000 attendees
- 4,308 volunteers (festival and competition combined)
- 2,217 breweries in the competition from 50 states plus Washington, D.C.
- 266 medal-winning breweries
- 293 total medals awarded
- 7,923 beers judged (not including 118 Pro-Am competition entries)
- 98 beer categories covering 161 different beer styles judged, plus the Pro-Am competition
- 276 judges from 13 different countries
- Average number of competition beers entered in each category: 81
- Category with the highest number of entries: American-Style India Pale Ale
- A gold medal was not awarded in the Fruited American-Style Sour Ale category
The 2017 Great American Beer Festival was sponsored by MicroStar Logistics, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews, CraftBeer.com, Dickie’s and Yard House. Additional sponsor information can be viewed on the festival website.
OVERALL COMPETITION HIGHLIGHTS
- Most medals won by a single brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. (3)
- Top three states by ratio of medals to entries by state:
o West Virginia – 12 entries, 2 medals
o Wyoming – 46 entries, 5 medals
o Connecticut – 39 entries, 4 medals
- First-time GABF competition entrants (self-identified during the registration process) numbered584. Of those first-time entering breweries, 36 won medals.
Since 2002, the most-entered category has been American-Style India Pale Ale (IPA), which saw 408 entries in 2017 compared to 312 entries in 2016. The top five entered categories and number of entries per category were:
- Category 60 American-Style India Pale Ale (408 entries)
- Category 61 Imperial India Pale Ale (221 entries)
- Category 58 American-Style Pale Ale (199 entries)
- Category 59 American-Style Strong Pale Ale (182 entries)
- Category 29 Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer (175 entries)