For the past couple of years, industry veterans have expressed concerns about the quality of the beer being made by new craft breweries, especially as the number of new breweries -- they are now opening at a rate of 1.5 per day across the country -- increases exponentially. But the newbies fought back over the weekend: Nine Colorado breweries that didn't exist at this time last year brought home ten medals from the 33rd annual Great American Beer Festival.
"I think we heard what they were saying and wanted to make sure we were doing quality beers," says Luke Smith of Aurora's Coda Brewing, which opened in May and just won a silver medal for Sleepyhead Passion Fruit Kolsch. "The new breweries are heeding that advice."
All told, Colorado claimed forty medals at the festival, ten of them gold and one for an amateur entry. That number was down from 46 last year.
The Brewers Association distributed 268 medals (plus three Pro-Am awards) among the 5,507 beers (plus 89 Pro-Am entries) that were entered into ninety different categories covering 145 beer styles. A total of 1,309 breweries entered beers into the competition from all fifty states, making this the largest contest GABF has ever held.
The big winners in Colorado consisted of perennial heavyweights: Left Hand Brewing, which won three medals; AC Golden, which took home two medals in addition to its second consecutive Large Brewing Company of the Year award; Dry Dock, which won two; and Coors, which won two.
Industry veterans including Ska Brewing, Oskar Blues, Steamworks, Avery and Rock Bottom also won medals. To see the entire list of winners from Colorado and elsewhere, check out the Great American Beer Festival website.
But the biggest news was the number of brand-new breweries that claimed gold, silver or bronze as the festival wrapped up on October 4.
"We were shocked," says Coda's Smith, who created the recipe for Sleepyhead a decade ago after returning from a trip to the border of France and Germany. The beer has been a favorite at the brewery and will likely become a permanent fixture there now. Winning was a particular honor, he adds, since Coda beat out fellow Aurora brewery Dry Dock, which took the bronze for its highly-acclaimed Apricot Blonde in the fruit beer category.
The other newbies to take home medals: Station 26 won bronze for its Colorado Cream Ale; The Post won silver for its Howdy pilsner; Lowdown Brewery took silver for its Pounding Pilz; Former Future took bronze for its Black Project #1 wild ale; Comrade won silver for Fresh Hop Superpower IPA; Crow Hop Brewing won gold for 'Rado's Red Ale; Platt Park Brewing (formerly known as Denver Pearl Brewing) took silver for Gumps, a Vienna-style lager; and Kokopelli Brewing won silver for its Pro-Am Spencer Pale Ale, brewed with Daniel Christensen.