Colorado breweries took home 38 medals at the Great American Beer Festival Saturday, missing out on the major brewery-of-the-year prizes but showing a range of geographic and stylistic diversity seen in few other states.
Left Hand Brewing Co. of Longmont led the local medal count with three, while another three breweries won two each — Dry Dock Brewing Co. of Aurora, Grimm Brothers Brewhouse of Loveland and Ska Brewing Co. of Durango. Seven of the awards were gold medals, signifying that the breweries made the best beer in America in one of 93 separate categories judged at the festival.
Some of the awards went to beers and to breweries that have become known consistently as being among the best for their style. Coors Banquet took home a gold medal in the American-style lager/light lager category — a category the brewery has come to dominate in recent years.
Dry Dock won a bronze in the American-style fruit beer category for its Apricot Blonde — the third time the beer has medaled in the past four years.
Other breweries — particularly from Denver and the Denver suburbs — celebrated first-time wins. Some of those had waited for the better part of a decade to have Brewers Association President Charlie Papazian place the medal on their necks, while others, such as Spangalang Brewery in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, have been open for less than 6 months.
Many of the winners expressed a sense relief, along with joy, at getting their medals, despite intense competition. A total of 1,552 breweries entered a mix of 6,738 beers in the judging competition this year, setting records in both categories, noted officials from the Boulder-based BA, which organized the 34th annual GABF from Thursday through Saturday at the Colorado Convention Center.
Lone Tree Brewing Co. co-owners Jason Wiedmaier and John Winter noted that they’d come away empty-handed at their first three GABF competitions after opening in December 2011 and had begun to feel frustrated. That emotion turned to jubilation on Saturday as they won a silver, behind Coors Banquet, in the American-style lager category for their Mexican Lager.
“Everyone kept telling us we were making good beer — all our friends and customers,” Winter said. “To finally have it validated after four years, it’s pretty cool.”
Added Wiedmaier: “You can’t not put your heart and soul into it and not be bummed when you don’t get something.”
Tom Bell, co-owner of Elk Mountain Brewing Co. in Parker, echoed that sentiment. Bell took home a first-ever silver medal for his Wild Wapiti Wheat in the South German-style Hefeweizen category, seven years after he opened his brewery and 20 years after he interned for the now-shuttered Tabernash Brewing Co. when it won a medal in the same category.
“It’s been seven years coming,” Bell dryly said after the win.
Former medalists who came away empty-handed on Saturday acknowledged that there was a sense of disappointment when they don’t win awards — even if just 33 of the state’s roughly 310 breweries were able to pick up hardware. Wit’s End Brewing Co. had a breakout year in 2014, winning medals for its Jean-Claude Van Blond at both the GABF and the World Beer Cup and helping it generate a major increase in interest among retailers for its beer. But owner Scott Witsoe confessed he was a little down that he didn’t follow that up with any 2015 awards.
“This is why you are competitive,” Witsoe said of both himself and craft brewers in general. “It’s great that we have that feather in our cap, and no one can take that away. But when you know what it feels like to win, you really want to do it again.”
Here are the Colorado brewers that came away with medals on Saturday, with the beers that won them and the categories in which they won.
- AC Golden Brewing Co. of Golden: Ctayt (wood- and barrel-aged strong stout)
- Coors: Coors Banquet (American-style lager or light lager)
- Fort Collins Brewery & Tavern: Oktoberfest (Dortmunder or German-style Oktoberfest)
- Left Hand: Fade to Black, Vol. 1 (export stout)
- Prost Brewing of Denver: Weissbeer (South German-style Hefeweizen)
- Spangalang: Spangalang Table Beer (other Belgian-style ale)
- Wiley Roots Brewing Co. of Greeley: Super 77 wheat (American-style wheat beer)
- Avery Brewing Co. of Boulder: White Rascal (Belgian-style witbier)
- Bootstrap Brewing Co. of Niwot: Wreak Havoc (imperial red ale)
- Brewery Rickoli of Wheat Ridge: Statik (barley wine-style ale)
- Coda Brewing Co. of Aurora: Via Chicago (American-style pale ale)
- Comrade Brewing Co. of Denver: Fresh Hop Superpower IPA (fresh or wet hop ale)
- Elk Mountain: Wild Wapiti Wheat (South German-style Hefeweizen)
- Glenwood Canyon Brewing Co. of Glenwood Springs: No Name (English-style brown ale)
- Grimm Brothers: Fearless Youth (European-style dark/Munchner dunkel)
- Lone Tree: Lone Tree Mexican Lager (American-style lager or light lager)
- Odd 13 Brewery of Lafayette: Atahsaisa (pro-am competition)
- Our Mutual Friend Malt & Brew: 24 Frames Per Second (wood- and barrel-aged sour beer)
- Ska: Mexican Logger (American-style or international-style pilsner)
- Steamworks Brewing Co. of Durango (German-style kolsch)
- Telluride Brewing Co.: Whacked Out Wheat (American-style wheat beer)
- Trinity Brewing of Colorado Springs: Red Swingline IPA Primitif (Brettanomyces beer)
- WeldWerks Brewing Co. of Greeley: WeldWerks Hefeweizen (American-style wheat beer with yeast)
- Black Bottle Brewery of Fort Collins: Friar Chuck (German-style kolsch)
- Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales of Denver: Ramjet (experimental beer)
- Broken Compass Brewing of Breckenridge: Coconut Porter (field beer)
- Cannonball Creek Brewing Co. of Golden: Featherweight Pale Ale (American-style pale ale)
- City Star Brewing of Berthoud: Night Watchman (robust porter)
- Denver Beer Co.: King Ink (American-style black ale)
- Dry Dock: Apricot Blonde (American-style fruit beer)
- Dry Dock: Pilsner (German-style pilsner)
- Fate Brewing Co. of Boulder: Citra IPA (pro-am competition)
- Grimm Brothers: Snow Drop (historical beer)
- Left Hand: Black Jack Porter (brown porter)
- Left Hand: Sawtooth Ale (ordinary or special bitter)
- Liquid Mechanics Brewing Co. of Lafayette: Altbier (German-style altbier)
- Pug Ryan’s Brewing Co. of Dillon: Peacemaker Pilsner (Bohemian-style pilsner)
- Ska: Ska Face (wood- and barrel-aged strong beer)