Awards were given out at the 2020 Great American Beer Festival last night. Given the dumpster fire that is 2020 you can be forgiven if you didn’t realize that the GABF was being held this year. I must admit I didn’t realize awards were being given this year myself until the award show was wrapping up. To be clear the in-person part of the GABF was cancelled this year, but over a 17 day period 125 judges sat down and did the gruelling work of sampling over 8000 beers spread across 91 categories.
Given the current state of affairs it is not surprising that the number of entries was down 7% from 2019 (8,806 vs 9,497). Fittingly, the number of medals was also down (272 vs 318) by a similar amount. After breaking into the double digits in the medal count in 2018 and 2019 (14 medals each year), Ohio breweries slipped back to 9 medals in 2020, comparable to their medal haul in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Nevertheless, the odds of winning a medal remained challengingly low (~3%). So it’s fitting to raise a toast to those Ohio breweries that beat the odds to make it to the (virtual) medal stand.
- Gold – Fat Head’s (North Olmstead) for Goggle Fogger Hefeweizen – German-style Wheat Beer (145 entries)
- Gold – Masthead (Cleveland) for Augenblick Light Lager – Munich-style Helles (131 entries)
- Gold – Wolf’s Ridge (Columbus) for Daybreak – Coffee Beer (72 entries)
- Gold – Brink (Cincinnati) for Moozie Milk Stout – Sweet Stout or Cream Stout (39 entries)
- Silver – Little Fish (Athens) for Cleft – Fruited Wood and Barrel-Aged Sour (111 entries)
- Silver – Noble Beast (Cleveland) for Murder Ballads – International Dark Lager (89 entries)
- Silver – Fretboard (Blue Ash) for Crazy Train – Belgian- or French-style ale (74 entries)
- Bronze – Lock 27 (Centerville) for Wolk – Belgian-style Witbier (72 entries)
- Bronze – Wolf’s Ridge (Columbus) for Buchenrauch – Smoke Beer (60 entries)
Several breweries in this list have had past successes at the GABF, most notably Fat Head’s which has medalled at every GABF since opening in 2008. That’s 13 years in a row for those of you counting at home. Brink Brewing continued their string of success, picking up at least one medal at every GABF since 2017, including the honor of being named Very Small Brewing Company of the Year in 2019. On the opposite end of the spectrum, these medals represent the first taste of success at the GABF for Little Fish, Fretboard, and Lock 27, although Little Fish has medaled three times at the equally prestigious World Beer Cup.
As far as the beer’s go there are several repeat winners in this list. This is the third year in a row that Moozie has been honored with a gold medal at the GABF, which must make it a strong contender for the best milk stout in the USA, if not the world. Daybreak received a silver medal in the coffee beer category at last year’s GABF, when it was still called Clear Sky Daybreak (perhaps a sign that air quality in the capital city is going downhill). Murder Ballads moved up one place from its third place finish in 2019, when it was entered in the Baltic-style porter category. Apparently Baltic porters got folded into the more generic international dark lager category in 2020. This is the first medal for Goggle Fogger, but not the first success for Fat Head’s in the German-style wheat category. Their Weizenbock AlpenGlow has medaled an impressive four times at the GABF, including gold medals in 2017, 2016 and 2014.
Geographically speaking the medals were more evenly spread across the Buckeye state than in past years, with three medals going to Northeast Ohio breweries (Fat Head’s, Masthead and Noble Beast), three medals to Southwest Ohio breweries (Brink, Fretboard and Lock 27), and three medals to Central and Southeast Ohio (Wolf’s Ridge and Little Fish). I’m particularly excited for my friends at Wolf’s Ridge and Little Fish. Over the past few months we’ve had Wolf’s Ridge head brewer Chris Davison on the Pat’s Pints Podcast, where we finished by dissecting rauchbiers and their award winning Buchenrauch, and Sean White of Little Fish Brewing in a two-part episode on barrel aged sour beers. Kudos to Chris and Sean and everyone at two of my favorite breweries on planet Earth, these awards are well deserved. Although I’ve brought home multiple cases of beer from Little Fish over the pandemic period, I’ve not been fortunate enough to try Cleft, which is described as a blend of three distinct sour blond ale barrels, aged for an average of 19 months in oak, then refermented on 3 pounds per gallon of Ohio peaches from Hirsch Farms. It sounds freakin’ delicious, so I hope they revisit that one. On the other hand, there seems to be an adequate supply of the award winning Wolf’s Ridge beers in retail outlets around Columbus (at least there was earlier in the week).
Before ending a few comments on trends that can be gleaned from the GABF awards. As always the IPA categories continue to be the most competitive. Only two categories attracted more than 300 entries, and it’s no surprise that those two categories are American-style India Pale Ale (355 entries) and Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale (377 entries). The winners of these über competitive categories were Perry Street Brewing in Spokane and Wren House Brewing in Phoenix, respectively. That both breweries are located in the western US is in line with the trends seen across the nine different American-style pale ale/IPA/fresh hop categories. Of the 27 medals awarded in these categories, a whopping 22 medals went to western breweries (CA 8, WA 7, OR 3, CO 3, AZ 1), three to midwestern breweries (IL 2, IN 1) and only two to east coast breweries (VA 1, NC 1). Part of this is an entry bias that tends to favor western breweries, but there may also be something to be said for being located near the countries key hop-growing regions.