By Bobby Bush
For several reasons, I’ve abstained from attending the Great American Beer Festival,
held each autumn in Denver, since a hurried trip in 1997. It’s the country’s only
all-encompassing beer festival, including breweries from nearly all states (47 this year) and
of all sizes, from tiny micro to multi-plant mega-macro.
In 1982 the first GABF was held in a hotel in Boulder. Forty-four beers, brewed
by 22 breweries, were served to 800 attendees. For the gala 20th anniversary celebration,
Denver’s Convention Center welcomed about 20,000 people this September 27, 28 and
29. That’s off 15% from last year, but considering post-terrorist attack traveling
uncertainty, 20,000 is still a lot of beer drinkers.
In four sessions staged over three days, about 1,500 different beers from 325
breweries were available in one ounce samples. Breweries were grouped alphabetically
within geographic regions, facilitating search-and-drink tactics. All beers served, plus
another 500 from 120 non-attending breweries, were entered in a blind tasting
competition. Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded in 55 categories ranging from
non-alcoholic beer to American-style India Pale Ale to Barley Wine-style Ale. Judging, by
a large panel of certified beer judges, took all of three days. The well-attended award
ceremony was held during the Saturday afternoon session reserved for professional
brewers and members of the American Homebrewers Association.
Southern breweries held their own this year, actually pulling in one more medal
than last year. Four gold, seven silver and five bronze medals were claimed by our good
ol’ boy brewers. Last year’s tally was five gold, four silver and six bronze. 1999’s
medallion output was a dozen. Virginia brought home the most awards with six, followed
by Tennessee with three, Florida and South Carolina with 2 each and Georgia, Mississippi
and North Carolina with one. Winning awards in multiple categories were BrewZZi
Brewpub in Boca Raton FL, Capitol City Brewery in Arlington VA and Starr Hill Brewing
in Charlottesville VA. Bosco's of Memphis TN, Coast Brewing of Biloxi MS, New South
Brewing of Myrtle Beach SC, Rocky River Brewing of Sevierville TN, Starr Hill of
Charlottesville VA, Sweetwater Brewing of Atlanta GA and the aforementioned BrewZZi
have all won medals at previous GABFs.
Congrats to all the winners, and especially the beleaguered brewers of The South:
Gold medals went to Tupper’s Hop Pocket Pils - Old Dominion Brewing, Ashburn VA, in
the German-Style Pilsener (34 entries) category. New South Lager - New South Brewing,
Myrtle Beach SC, in the American-Style Specialty Lager (24) category. Sweet Georgia
Brown - Sweetwater Brewing, Atlanta, in the American-Style Brown Ale (46) category.
Boca Alt - BrewZZi, Boca Raton FL in the German-Style Brown Ale / Düsseldorf-Style
Altbier (36) category.
Silver medallions were awarded to: Import/Export Buis - BrewZZi, Boca Raton
FL, in the European-Style Pilsener (14) category. Capitol Kolsch - Capitol City Brewing,
Arlington VA, in the German-Style Kölsch / Köln-Style Kölsch (42) category.
Hoppyhour IPA - The Mash House Restaurant & Brewing Co., Fayetteville NC, in
English-Style India Pale Ale (24) category. Thoroughbred Red - Aiken Brewing Co.,
Aiken SC in the Irish-Style Red Ale (29) category. Nut Brown Ale - Blackstone
Restaurant & Brewery, Nashville, in the English-Style Brown Ale (44) category. High
Desert Imperial Stout - Sweetwater Tavern, Centreville VA, in the Imperial Stout (36)
category. Wee Heavy Ale - Capitol City Brewing, Arlington VA, in the Strong Scotch
Ale (25) category.
And bronze trinkets for Southern breweries (only) went to: Sunset Amber - Coast
Brewing, Biloxi MS, in Vienna-Style Lager (29) category. Starr Hill Amber Ale - Starr
Hill, Charlottesville VA in the Irish-Style Red Ale (29) category. Midtown Brown -
Boscos Brewing, Memphis, in the American-Style Brown Ale (46) category. Heidelberg
Hefeweizen - Rocky River Brewing, Sevierville TN in the German-Style Wheat Ale (84)
category. Dark Starr Stout - Starr Hill, Charlottesville VA, in the Classic Irish-Style Dry
Stout (17) category. For the entire list of winners see www.BeerTown.org.
With such tough competition - in numbers and experience - any GABF medal is a
badge of respectability. See www.BeerSouth.com for my festival photos.
My GABF experience, this time, was much more than just the festival. Press
credentials gained access to private parties and special tastings. But that is another story.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush