This past Saturday medals were given out at the annual Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver. This year’s competition featured 9,497 entries from 2,295 breweries representing all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Of those entries 318 medals were awarded, spread across 283 breweries. I’m pleased to report that Ohio breweries brought home a record 15 medals, up one from the previous year. To reach the medal stand in this competition is an impressive achievement, when you stop to consider that only 3.3% of the beers entered were recognized.
Without further delay here’s a list of the Ohio-brewed beers that made it to the medal stand:
- Gold – Market Garden (Cleveland) for Prosperity Wheat – South German-style Hefeweizen (150 entries)
- Gold – Listermann (Cincinnati) for Scoring Discrepancies – Field Beer (104 entries)
- Gold – Brink Brewing (Cincinnati) for Moozie – Sweet Stout or Cream Stout (67 entries)
- Gold – Brink Brewing (Cincinnati) for Hold the Reins – English-style Mild Ale (40 entries)
- Gold – Fat Head’s (North Olmstead) for Bone Head Imperial Red – Imperial Red Ale (38 entries)
- Silver – Wolf’s Ridge Brewing (Columbus) for Clear Sky Daybreak – Coffee Beer (97 entries)
- Silver – Millersburg Brewing (Millersburg) for Alegria – American-style Sour Ale (42 entries)
- Silver – Rhinegeist (Cincinnati) for Quid – English-style Summer Ale (39 entries)
- Silver – Fat Head’s (Canton) for Hop Stalker – Fresh Hop Beer (40 entries)
- Silver – Taft’s Brewing (Cincinnati) & Against the Grain (Louisville) for Are You Pricklish – Collaboration Competition (70 entries)
- Bronze – JAFB (Wooster) for JAF IPA – American-style Strong Pale Ale (106 entries)
- Bronze – Fat Head’s (Canton) for Up In Smoke – Smoked Beer (60 entries)
- Bronze – Noble Beast (Cleveland) for Murder Ballads – Baltic Porter (51 entries)
- Bronze – Hofbräuhaus (Cleveland) for Schwarzbier – International-style Dark Lager (31 entries)
- Bronze – Hoppin’ Frog (Akron) for Pentuple – Other Belgian-style (30 entries)
Only two beers on this list, Hold the Reins and Moozie, both from Brink Brewing received accolades in 2018. Brink also repeated as the top Very Small Brewery of the Year, which recognizes the best showing for a brewery that produces less than 1000 bbl of beer per year. An impressive performance for the Cincinnati brewery by any measure. Fat Head’s continued their impressive streak of reaching the medal stand at every GABF since they opened in 2008. That’s 12 years in a row for those of you counting at home.
Ohio moves up the Table
Not only is 15 medals a high water mark for Ohio, the Buckeye state moved up from 6th place into a tie for 4th place in the overall medal count. It’s best overall showing at the GABF. The top states in order of finish are as follows:
- California – 68 total medals & 20 gold medals (72 medals in 2018)
- Colorado – 40 total medals & 13 gold medals (30 medals in 2018)
- Texas – 16 total medals & 8 gold medals (18 medals in 2018)
- Ohio – 15 total medals & 5 gold medals (14 medals in 2018)
- Oregon – 15 total medals & 4 gold medals (22 medals in 2018)
- Washington – 14 total medals & 3 gold medals (17 medals in 2018)
- Virginia – 13 total medals & 3 gold medals (8 medals in 2018)
- North Carolina – 12 total medals & 4 gold medals (13 medals in 2018)
- Illinois – 10 total medals & 4 gold medals (11 medals in 2018)
You can see that California and Colorado far outpace all other states, accounting for approximately one-third of all medals. Of course, with 841 craft breweries California has more breweries than any other state, followed by the host state of Colorado with 396. So, there is some logic to the empirical fact that these two states always finish in the top two positions.
Digging a little deeper into the proximity effect let’s compare four sparsely populated mountain states—Montana (7 medals), New Mexico (7 medals), Idaho (4 medals) and Wyoming (3 medals)—with four large eastern states—New York (7 medals), Pennsylvania (7 medals), Michigan (4 medals) and Massachusetts (1 medal). These four mountain time zone states, which are home to a total of 269 craft breweries, pulled in 20 medals, 10 of them golds. By comparison the four states from the eastern time zone have five times more breweries (1252) but managed only 19 medals and 5 golds. It’s hard not to conclude that part of this story is that breweries that are within a day’s drive of Denver might enter at much higher rates than their counterparts on the east coast. This is broadly consistent with an analysis by Bart Watson of the Brewer’s Association from last year, which showed that Mountain West and Southwest states participate at higher rates than the norm, while those from New England, New York and New Jersey participate in lower rates than you might expect.
How does Ohio manage to buck this trend? Of course, part of it must be because we have better breweries than our neighbors (including the state up north), but we should also acknowledge the efforts of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association (OCBA). For the past 2 years the OCBA has offered to collect and ship GABF entries for their members. Just over 50 breweries have used this service each year. While Ohio breweries can and do ship directly to Denver, I think it’s no coincidence that Ohio has fared so well over the last two years. You can’t win if you don’t enter.
Slow but Steady for Central Ohio
After last year’s GABF I wrote a story looking at the geographical distribution of Ohio breweries winning medals. The gist of that story is that breweries from Cleveland and the Northeast win a disproportionate share of the medals, while those from Central Ohio tend to under perform. I’ve updated the analysis with this year’s numbers in the table below. The numbers in parentheses are the total medals from Fat Head’s, which account for a non-negligible fraction of the total.
You can see from the table that it’s basically more of the same thing, although the Cincinnati area seems to be on the rise. This year’s lone Central Ohio medal was a silver for Wolf’s Ridge Brewing for their coffee-infused cream ale, Clear Sky Daybreak. I’m happy for head brewer Chris Davison and the whole team at Wolf’s Ridge for breaking through at the GABF. That beer has long been one of my favorite local beers and deserving of recognition in a competitive category that had nearly 100 entries.
A Look Behind the Numbers
I always find it interesting to look at the number of entries in the various categories. In fact, the categories themselves change from year to year, reflecting shifting trends in the brewing industry. One of the biggest changes came last year when three categories were added for juicy or hazy beers, and right off the bat “juicy or hazy IPA” became the most entered category. This year the juicy or hazy IPA category again attracted the most entries (348), followed by American-style IPA (342), Fruited American-style sour ale (215), German-style pilsner (183), and Imperial IPA (173). In both 2018 and 2019 the number of pale ales and IPAs entered in the hazy/juicy categories vs those in the more traditional American-style categories were nearly equal, 47% of the beers were hazy/juicy in both years.
You might be surprised to see German-style pilsner in the top five most entered categories, but this simply represents the ascendency of European-style lagers and lager/ale hybrids. Consider the following comparison of 2019 entries vs 2018 entries, which are in parentheses:
- German-style pilsner – 183 entries (159), up 15%
- German-style kölsch – 167 entries (149), up 12%
- German-style märzen – 165 entries (129), up 28%
- Munich-style helles – 138 entries (99), up 39%
- Bohemian pilsner – 123 entries (84), up 46%
- Kellerbier or Zwickelbeir – 96 entries (67), up 43%
By comparison the collective number of entries in the pale ale, IPA, Imperial IPA categories was up by 16% from 2018. I for one am happy to see that craft breweries have turned their attention to lagers.
If you look at the number of entries in the American-style sour ale category, 42, and compare it with the number of entries in Fruited American-style sour ale category, 215, one can safely conclude that Americans prefer their sour ales with fruit. Our nation’s predilection for adding fruit to our beer doesn’t stop with sour beers, American-style fruit beer (144 entries), fruited wheat beer (109 entries), and fruited wood- and barrel-aged sour beer (128 entries) were all popular categories. While we are at it, why stop at fruit. This year’s contest featured 119 herb and spice beers, 96 chili beers, 68 chocolate beers, 97 coffee beers (plus an additional 100 coffee stouts and porters), and 104 entries in the field beer category, which includes beers made with some kind of vegetable or other unconventional ingredient. (Listermann’s gold medal winning field beer, Scoring Discrepancies, is an imperial stout with peanut butter and raspberries). That’s over 1000 beers unabashedly thumbing their nose at the reinheitsgebot. If adding marshmallows and peanut butter is too conventional for you, there’s always the experimental beer category, which attracted 124 entries (the medalists were named Fungus Shui, Shibbleshabble, and Fluffernutter).
I can’t finish without giving some kudos to two Colorado breweries for their impressive showing in the über competitive IPA categories. Comrade Brewing, an unassuming brewery located in a strip mall in eastern Denver, not only won the gold medal in the American-style IPA category with More Dodge Less Ram, they also took home gold in the American-style strong pale ale for Superpower IPA. Impressive, assuming there’s no Russian collusion behind the stellar performance of this communist themed hop titan. The hazy IPA equivalent of Comrade would have to be Weldwerks Brewing located NE of Denver in Greeley, where the Rocky Mountains give way to the endless plains. Weldwerks is probably best known for the hazy IPA, Juicy Bits, and while Juicy Bits didn’t medal it’s siblings Extra Extra Juicy Bits and Itsy Bits took home gold and silver, respectively, in the hazy or juicy imperial IPA and hazy or juicy pale ale categories. I’ve visited both breweries and I can say their beers are worth the trip.