While brewing the morning coffee my phone gave a familiar ping. It was a text message from my old friend Rick Armon. His message reminded me that the Great American Beer Festival had announced its 2021 winners last night:
So the real Ohio story out of the GABF? This year was the first year Fat Heads didn’t medal since it started in 2009!
Many of us, including this writer, had grown accustomed to Fat Heads bringing some GABF hardware back to Ohio every fall. Even before Fat Heads came into existence owner Matt Cole had received multiple medals (8 by my count) when he was the head brewer at Rocky River Brewing in Cleveland . Over a twelve-year period Fat Heads received 25 medals, a whopping 27% of all the GABF medals awarded to Ohio breweries over that same time span. The high-water mark was 2016 when they received 5 medals and were chosen as the midsize brewing company of the year. It’s been an amazing run, but Fat Heads isn’t going anywhere and I’m sure they’ll be back on the podium in the not to distant future.
While it might have been an off year for Fat Heads, Ohio breweries had a strong showing overall. A total of thirteen medals are coming back to the Buckeye state, just off the record-setting pace of 14 medals, achieved in 2018 and 2019. Despite the cancellation of the public portion of the festival for the second year in a row (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), a staggering total of 9680 beers were entered into the competition, up 10% from the previous year. Among that sea of undoubtedly excellent beer only 3% or 290 beers were recognized with a medal, so, it’s fitting to raise a toast to those Ohio breweries that beat the odds to make it up to the podium.
- JAFB (Wooster) for Hefeweizen – German-style Wheat Beer (226 entries)
- Hoppin’ Frog (Akron) for Pentuple – Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale (101 entries)
- Brink (Cincinnati) for Father G’s Bees – Honey Beer (70 entries)
- Third Eye Brewing (Sharonville) for Higher Purpose – Sweet or Cream Stout (55 entries)
- JAFB (Wooster) for JAF IPA – American-style India Pale Ale (404 entries)
- Twin Oast Brewing (Catawba Island) for Meet Your Maker – Wood- and barrel-aged Strong Stout (186 entries)
- Eighty Three Brewery (Akron) for Berliner Nicel – Specialty Berliner-style Weisse (79 entries)
- Wolf’s Ridge (Columbus) for Daybreak – Coffee Beer (75 entries)
- Masthead (Cleveland) for Midwest Red IPA – Strong Red Ale (50 entries)
- Gemüt Biergarten (Columbus) for Golem Czech Pils – German-style Pilsener (210 entries)
- Sonder Brewing (Mason) for French 75 – Wood- and barrel-aged Sour (66 entries)
- The Brew Brothers (Columbus) for Toasty – English Mild or Bitter (62 entries)
- Hoppin’ Frog (Akron) for Frogiclaus Swiss-style Celebration Lager – German-style Doppelbock or Eisbock (60 entries)
It’s notable that three Columbus area breweries are on the list: Wolf’s Ridge, Gemüt Biergarten and The Brew Brothers. By my count this is the most medals won by Central Ohio breweries at the GABF to date, and the first time in recent memory (perhaps the first time ever) that multiple Central Ohio breweries have medaled. This is the third year in a row that Wolf Ridge’s coffee cream ale, Daybreak, has received accolades at the GABF. The medals are the first for both Gemüt and Brew Brothers. The bronze for Gemüt comes in a particularly competitive category, only four styles had more entries than the German Pilsener category (more on that below).
Winning two medals at the GABF is impressive, doing it in two of the most competitive categories is a rare feat, but that’s exactly what Wooster’s JABF accomplished this year. The American-style IPA category is always one of the most competitive and with 404 entries this year is no different. Only the Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale had more entries (427). With 226 entries the German Wheat Ale category was surprisingly popular this year. In addition to the two IPA categories, only fruited American Sours had more entries (249) than German Wheat Ales. Interestingly, hefeweizen seems to be a strong suit for Ohio breweries. In recent years, hefeweizens from Fat Heads (2020, Goggle Fogger) and Market Garden (2019, Prosperity Wheat) have also won gold.
Keeping with their tradition of brewing strong beers, both of Hoppin’ Frog’s medals went to high abv tipples. Not content with the dubbel-tripel-quadruple range of Belgian Abbey ales, they’ve dialed it up to 11 with Pentuple, a 15.1% behemoth they describe as a stronger version of a golden tripel on their website. This year’s showing is no fluke either, Pentuple took home a bronze medal from the 2019 GABF. Frogichlaus is obviously an homage to the world’s most famous strong lager, Samichlaus. The Hoppin’ Frog version clocks in at a modest 13.5%.
The gold medal for Brink Brewing’s Father G’s Bees in the Honey Beer category means that the Cincinnati brewery has medaled for five straight years, the longest current medal streak for Ohio breweries.
The gold medal for Third Eye Brewing‘s Higher Purpose in the Sweet or Cream Stout category marks the 4th year in a row that an Ohio brewery has won this category. Brink’s Moozie was awarded the gold in this category in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
As is always the case, California breweries led the medal count with 60 medals, followed by Washington (22), Colorado (21), Illinois (16), Oregon (15), North Carolina (15), Ohio (13), Texas (13), Florida (12) and Virgina (10).
 Check out Bill Babbit’s article on Beer Advocate for a recap of how Matt Cole founded Fat Heads.