Great American Beer Festival Awards Recap

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During the Renaissance, scientists and clergy staged passionate debates on the subject of the center of our universe. Scientists like Nicolaus Copernicus argued for a universe with the sun at the center, while religious fundamentalists maintained that scripture dictates a universe that revolves around Earth. In craft beer circles (stay with me here), advocates articulate similarly-passionate arguments -albeit with fewer stake burnings—as beer drinkers from different cities lay claim to the center of the craft beer universe. Those arguments take a break every fall, as Denver becomes ground zero for craft beer during the three days of the Great American Beer Festival.

With the 2014 Great American Beer Festival in the rearview mirror, it’s time to take a look at what happened in Denver during the beer-centric weekend. At the festival, more than 700 breweries combined to serve samples of more than 3,500 different beers to 49,000 attendees over the course of the event’s four sessions. While the attendees skipped from booth to booth in an effort to maximize their number of one-ounce pours, serious business unfolded elsewhere in the Colorado Convention Center.

While the Great American Beer Festival is an excellent way to experience new and exciting brews, it’s also the premiere craft beer competition in the United States. Over the course of the weekend, 220 judges from 10 different countries evaluated 5,596 different beers for gold, silver and bronze medals in 90 categories. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. So how did your favorite brewery fare?

Four different breweries tied at the top of the medal leader board. From Oregon, Barley Brown’s Brewpub and 10 Barrel Brewing Company each snagged three medals while Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Company and Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company from Virginia scored hat tricks as well. For a more Olympic-style state medal count, California led the competition with 46 medals, Colorado finished in a close second with 39 and Oregon took third with 22.

The fiercest competition took place in the American-style India Pale Ale category. Since 2002, this category has always featured the most entries, and breweries submitted 279 different beers for consideration in 2014. Oregon’s Breakside Brewery took the gold for their Breakside IPA, Chicago’s Half Acre Beer Company took silver for Hekoya IPA and Columbus Brewing Company from Ohio won the bronze medal for Bodhi IPA. For a more detailed look into the different medals by style, check out the Great American Beer Festival Website.

Aside from the style competition, the Brewer’s Association also hands out awards for breweries and brewpubs of the year. In the brewery competition, Colorado’s AC Golden (a subsidiary of MillerCoors) took the award in the large category, Virginia’s Devil’s Backbone took the mid-size category, New Mexico’s Marble Brewery took the small category and Montana’s Draught Works took the very small category. For brewpubs, California’s Beachwood BBQ & Brewing took the large brewpub category, Nevada’s Brasserie Saint James took the mid-size category and Michigan’s Bastone Brewery took the small category.

As the weekend drew to a close, and the keg levels slowly reached empty, breweries and attendees looked forward to next year’s festival. The 2015 Great American Beer Festival is certain to be the biggest ever, as the Brewer’s Association acquired 90,000 additional square feet of space. For planning purposes, next year’s festival is September 24-26, so start your liver training regimen now.