In its relatively short history the King of Ohio contest has consistently produced surprise winners. In 2014 when the theme was IPAs, Half Wet Musk of the Minotaur from upstarts Hoof Hearted Brewing edged out Fat Head’s highly decorated Head Hunter to win the title. When the contest resumed in 2016 and the focus shifted to session beers, Raspberry Beret, a fruited Berliner Weiss from Cincinnati’s Streetside Brewery took home top honors, even though Streetside was so new they had yet to open their doors to the public. Last year when the revolving theme turned to stouts and porters, the smart money was on Jackie O’s, Hoppin’ Frog, or the high gravity gurus at Zaftig, but Yellow Spring’s Maxxdout American Stout, a 13.7% behemoth, was crowned king.
With this year’s focus on Belgian-style ales, Rockmill Brewing seems a natural favorite. The Lancaster brewery has been focusing exclusively on Belgian-inspired beers since opening in 2010. It’s location on a former horse farm, makes Rockmill a farmhouse brewery in the literal sense. They tout a water profile that is said to closely match the mineral-rich water of Wallonia where the saison style originated. Back in 2010 there were not many Ohio breweries that made Belgian styles, but to quote Bob Dylan, things have changed. These days breweries like Little Fish (Athens), Granville Brewing (Granville), and Staas (Delaware) all devote a significant portion of their portfolio to Belgian-style ales. Massillon’s Paradigm Shift Brewing was awarded a bronze medal at this year’s GABF for Neighbor Girl Tripel. Maize Valley Brewery in Hartville, received a silver medal at the 2016 GABF for their Belgian Dark Strong Ale, Monk in Public.
Over 60 breweries submitted beers for the contest. If you’re into Belgian beers like me, just looking over the entries was enough to trigger a Pavlovian-response. The beers were sorted into six different style categories. A total of 20 judges, including many with BJCP qualifications, professional brewers, beer writers and bloggers spent the afternoon with the enviable but challenging task of evaluating the beers and choosing a winner and runner up in each category. I was at the Blonde and Golden Strong table with Joe Easton, who writes the Craft Beer Joe website, and Dan Eaton who writes about beer and much more for Columbus Business First. The other tables were all headed up by BJCP certified judges.
Enough with the preamble, let’s get to the results:
Dark Strongs, Dubbels, and Stouts (11 entries)
- Winner – Abby XXXX a barrel aged quad by Toxic Brewing (Dayton)
- Runner up – Carpet Nap Quad by Yellow Springs (Yellow Springs)
Tripels (13 entries)
- Winner – Neighbor Girl by Paradigm Shift Brewing (Massillon)
- Runner up – Tripel OH Seven by Three Tigers (Granville)
Saisons (13 entries)
- Winner – Petite Saison by Rockmill Brewing (Lancaster)
- Runner up – Tres Saison by Akronym Brewing (Akron)
Blondes and Golden Strongs (7 entries)
- Winner – Daemonium by Royal Docks (Canton)
- Runner up – Stutz Belgian Blonde by Mad Tree (Cincinnati)
Sours (11 entries)
- Winner – Chelsette Sour Brown by Noble Creature Cask House (Youngstown)
- Runner up – Beipiaosaurus barrel aged over boysenberries by Urban Artifact (Cincinnati)
Wits and Pales (6 entries)
- Winner – Crazy Train Belgian Pale Ale by Fretboard Brewing (Cincinnati)
- Runner up – Doom Pedal White Ale by Fifty West (Cincinnati)
The winners moved onto the final table where Larry Reuter, Karen Bujak, Tom Morgan and myself weighed the merits of this elite field. Rockmill had made it to the final table, along with the GABF bronze medal winning tripel from Paradigm Shift Brewing. For a while it looked like we might pick another surprise winner, there was strong support for Noble Creature’s Chelsette, but in the end the perfection of the spicy, fruity, bottle conditioned Petite Saison prevailed. Ohio’s oldest Belgian beer specialists showed that they can hold their own with new kids on the block.
The good news for Ohio residents is that this year’s King of Ohio is not a hard to find specialty beer, but a staple in the Rockmill lineup. Do yourself a favor and go pick up a bottle of one of the best saisons this side of Wallonia.
Thanks to Smokehouse for hosting the event, to co-organizer Rick Armon (we missed co-founder Tom Aguero this year), and to all of the judges, stewards and other volunteers for their time.
I’ll finish with a few photos from the event, some courtesy of part time Pat’s Pints aritistic director Mark Richards.