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Apr 16, 2014

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GABF brewers' diaries

Tomme Arthur

Pizza Port Solana Beach - Sept. 20

Saturday afternoon in Denver can be the loneliest day of the week of activities at the GABF, and at the same time it can be the most rewarding should one of the beers entered be awarded a medal. As I have been a professional brewer for over 7 years now, I have been on both sides and I can say for certain that one is most definitely better than the other.

With this being said, the one comment that we always hear about winning an award at the GABF is that it is one large crapshoot. I used to think this was the case, but that was before I joined the ranks of the judges who are forced to decide. Now, it is my opinion that all of the beers awarded medals are worthy choices and sometimes some great beers get left behind by the slimmest of margins.

As a brewer who doesn't send many traditional styled beers the one thing that I have had to learn (the hard way) is that some of our beers just don't fit. This is most definitely an issue when it comes to judging beers. Sometimes, categories are narrowly defined and beers are entered from the fringe. We have to accept that there may not be a place for this beer and IF we want to send it, we have in years past had to pigeon hole it and hope for the best.

In the past three years, the Association of Brewers has done an excellent job of morphing categories into new ones and eliminating bad ones, enabling brewers who make odd and somewhat interesting beers to find a better slot for their beers. There is now a whole category dedicated to barrel aging, there is also an Imperial India Pale Ale category and there are now 6 different Belgian beer categories. Less than three years ago, there were only 2 categories for all these beers. Clearly these changes are for the better.

So, how come on Saturday some people who make great beer still don't get to walk across the stage? I know that in years past, I have sent good examples of our beers. This year as I said earlier, I think we are sending excellent examples. Often, when a final round judging gets down to the last 6 beers, any minute detail can detract from a great beer, such as a bottle having too little carbonation or even too much CO2. Sometimes, two bottles of a beer are needed and one will show a defect that the other did not. These are all things that can happen to a beer.

Remember that packaging beer is difficult at best without great equipment compounding this problem can be quality control issues, shipment concerns and more. When they are all factored together, it takes an amazing amount of skill and hopefully some luck to win.

Perhaps the greatest satisfaction I take in not winning (we never say losing - just being there is a win for us) is that there are so many great breweries who year in and year out are not winners at the GABF. To the best of my knowledge, I don't think that Dogfish Head Brewery has won a GABF medal. Yet, they have an amazing presence. I also know it has been like 10 years since Avery Brewing graced the stage, yet you won't see me putting down a bottle of their beer. The moral of the story is that every year, we all come back from Denver. Some of us have a little more medal to deal with when going through security than others but just as well, we all still go through security.

The best part of going to Denver for me remains the people that I am able to communicate with, from my brewer friends to the public at large. A medal is something that hangs on a wall. It doesn't make friends, it doesn't share stories and it most certainly won't be buying me a beer on Saturday night. It does however mean for one shining moment, you got to walk accross a stage, shake Paul Gatza's and Charlie P's hands after hearing the best words in the business - "And the medal goes to..."

See you in Denver.

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