Great American Beer Festival, 2011

The world's largest beer judging and consumer beer festival closed in Denver with 165 brewing organizations taking home 250 medals for brewing excellence. Photo: Brewers Association

EASTERN SHORE, MD—The 2011 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is in the books. After 30 years, the world’s largest beer judging and consumer beer festival continues to astound with its ever-expanding scope and growth.

Early fall each year on the beer calendar is marked by brewers celebrating their award-winning beers at GABF. The beer judging began in 1983 when the only three awards presented were under the title ‘Consumer Preference Poll’. The first two places were awarded to Sierra Nevada Brewing Company from Chico, California (Pale Ale and Porter, respectively) while Anchor Brewing Company from San Francisco, California took third place for its Porter.

Today, the GABF has grown into a judging and tasting festival has been held annually at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

The Brewers Association, of nearby Boulder, organizes the massive undertaking that this year boasted nearly 4,000 judged beers, 250 awards in 83 beer style categories, 165 winning brewing organizations from 526 participating covering 35 states, 167 judges from 9 countries.

According to association, in 30 years, the event “has grown from 800 attendees to 49,000, and from a 5,000 square foot festival hall to one close to 300,000 square feet.”

The modern craft brewing industry is generally agreed to have its roots along the west coast from Washington and Oregon in the pacific northwest to California and Colorado. As such, a greater number of awards are won each year in these particular states.

Though, to be fair, in recent years as the industry has experienced double-digit percentage growth, the diversity of beers available in states not historically accustomed to such beers has grown and resulting awards can be found from the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions to parts of the Midwest and deep South. For example, Sun King from Indiana garnered the most awards of any brewery in the 2011 competition with eight total medals.

Dozens of award-winning breweries from the mid-Atlantic region have walked across the stage at GABF in the past ten years. However, curiously in the last two years, there was a drop in total number of awards to brewers in the mid-Atlantic states from New York to Virginia.

This, of course, is to take nothing away from those that did win this year. Some of the more notable brewery accomplishments this year include:

Starr Hill in Crozet, Virginia was the big winner from the mid-Atlantic region as they took home three awards, including one in the smoke beer category. They nabbed a silver for their Smoke Out and, in doing so, beat out the most awarded craft beer in GABF’s 30-year history, Alaskan Brewing’s Smoked Porter, which was awarded a bronze medal.

Tröegs Brewery of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (soon to relocate to Hershey) has a doppelbock named Troegenator that scored yet another gold medal. For those keeping score, that now makes four golds, two silvers, and a bronze between the GABF and WBC (World Beer Cup) since 2006. Mighty impressive for a wonderful beer.

Another gold for the region came from the Lehigh Valley’s Weyerbacher Brewery in the Specialty Honey category. For its sixteenth anniversary, the brewers whipped up a “Dark Braggot Anniversary Beer made with 1,440 pounds of honey per 40 bbl batch” and called it Sixteen. It is certainly a unique beer which may still be found in limited supply on retail shelves.

Other interesting bits of GABF news from mid-Atlantic breweries:

  • Iron Hill’s Bob Barrar continued to validate his nickname, “the medal machine”, winning his fourteenth total medal, including 10 gold medals.
  • Midas Touch, arguably one of Dogfish Head’s most interesting beers amongst its portfolio of beers with interesting stories, won again making it a gold, two silver, and two bronze medals at GABF since 2004.
  • Breweries like Brooklyn, Clipper City/Heavy Seas, McKenzie Brew House, Stoudt’s, and Victory accustomed to past GABF success came home empty-handed this year.
  • Following is a complete list of mid-Atlantic awards at GABF 2011. For a list of all award winners, follow this link over to the official website. Congratulations go out to all of this year’s winners and we look forward to more of the same in the coming year.

    Blue Mountain Brewery of Afton, Virginia- brewer Taylor Smack

  • Summer Lovin’ (Gold in the category: English Style Summer Ale)
  • Blue Reserve (Silver in the category: American-Belgo-Style Ale)
  • Brewery Ommegang of Cooperstown, New York- brewer Phil Leinhart

  • Witte (Gold in the category: Belgian-Style Witbier)
  • Devil’s Backbone of Roseland, Virginia- brewer Jason Oliver

  • Tommy Two Fists (Silver in the category: Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest)
  • Dogfish Head of Milton, Delaware- brewer Tim Hawn

  • Chateau Jiahu (Silver in the category: Specialty Beer)
  • Midas Touch (Bronze in the category: Specialty Honey Beer)
  • Erie Brewing Company of Erie, Pennsylvania- brewer Shawn Strickland

  • Derailed Black Cherry Ale (Bronze in the category: Fruit Beer)
  • Fegley’s Brew Works of Allentown, Pennsylvania- brewer Beau Baden

  • Fegley’s Brew Works Arctic Alchemy (Bronze in the category: Old Ale or Strong Ale)
  • Flying Dog of Frederick, Maryland- brewer Matt Brophy

  • Horn Dog Barleywine (Gold in the category: Barley Wine-Style Ale)
  • Gordon Biersch of Rockville, Maryland- brewer Kevin Blodger

  • Gose (Bronze in the category: German-Style Sour Ale)
  • Great Adirondack Brewing Company of Lake Placid, New York- brewer Paul Fryman

  • Great Adirondack Kölsch (Silver in the category: German-Style Kölsch)
  • Iron Hill of Maple Shade, New Jersey- brewer Chris LaPierre

  • Vienna Red Lager (Bronze in the category: Vienna Style Lager)
  • Iron Hill of Media, Pennsylvania- brewer Bob Barrar

  • Russian Imperial Stout (Silver in the category: Imperial Stout)
  • Iron Hill of North Wales, Pennsylvania- brewer Vince Desrosiers

  • Grand Inquisitor (Bronze in the category: Wood- and Barrel-Aged Stout)
  • Ithaca Brewing Company of Ithaca, New York- brewer Jeff O’Neil (in collaboration with Flying Fish’s Casey Hughes in New Jersey, Captain Lawrence’s Scott Vaccaro in New York, Ommegang’s Phil Leinhart in New York, Southampton Publick House’s Phil Markowski in New York, and High Water Brewing’s Steve Altimari in northern California.)

  • Super Friends IPA (Silver in the category: American-Style Brett Ale)
  • Mad Fox Brewing Company of Falls Church, Virginia- brewer Bill Madden

  • Kölsch Kellerbier (Gold in the category: Kellerbier/Zwickelbier)
  • English Summer Ale (Bronze in the category: English-style Summer Ale)
  • Penn Brewery of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania- brewer Andy Rich

  • St. Nikolaus Brewer’s Reserve (Silver in the category: German-Style Doppelbock or Eisbock)
  • Penn Dark (Bronze in the category: European-Style Dunkel)
  • Rock Bottom of Bethesda, Maryland- brewer Geoff Lively

  • Brown Bear Brown (Bronze in the category: Scottish-Style Ale)
  • Rock Bottom of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania- brewer Brian McConnell

  • Nevermore (Silver in the category: German-Style Schwarzbier)
  • Starr Hill of Crozet, Virginia- brewer Mark Thompson

  • Jomo Lager (Gold in the category: Vienna-Style Lager)
  • Monticello Reserve Ale (Silver in the category: Indigenous Beer)
  • Smoke Out (Silver in the category: Smoke Beer)
  • Stewart’s Brewing Company of Bear, Delaware- brewer Ric Hoffman

  • Maibock (Silver in the category: Bock)
  • Tröegs of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania- brewer Andrew Dickson

  • Troegnator (Gold in the category: Bock)
  • Sunshine Pils (Silver in the category: German-Style Pilsener)
  • Weyerbacher of Easton, Pennsylvania- brewer Chris Wilson

  • Sixteen (Gold in the category: Specialty Honey Beer)
  • Read more of Bryan’s work at After Hours in the Communities at the Washington Times.


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    Bryan Kolesar

    Bryan Kolesar has been tracking down great beer for over twenty years. From the most hard-to-find delicately balanced low alcohol beer to the big monsters weighing in at over 10% ABV, he has yet to find a style that does not have a story to tell and a taste to share. Though, when pushed, Kolesar has historically staked a claim to the Saison style as one of the most versatile and his favorite.

    In 2005, Bryan co-founded The Brew Lounge blog/website as a canvas to illustrate the best of the craft brewing industry and to document his own travels within it. Though he has lived in Philadelphia and is currently headquartered in the city's western suburbs, Kolesar shares a wealth of information and images that he collects from his travels around the world and some of the best beers that he has tasted along the way.

    In 2010, Kolesar came aboard the Communities section of The Washington Times to contribute stories from across the craft brewing industry as it continues more than ever its explosive growth amongst increasingly more of the mainstream alcohol-consuming public. 

    While the beer - its tastes, aromas, and incredible pairing opportunities with food - is often the beginning of a story, he often finds it more interesting to dive into the stories behind the people, places, and events associated with the final product. 

    Locally around Philadelphia, he has been named a Beer Writer of the Year finalist multiple times, hosted beer/running events during each annual Philly Beer Week, served as a Philly Beer Geek judge, paneled local beers for submission into the Great American Beer Festival competition, judged beer and food competitions, been featured in local publications chronicling the beer scene, and been named the "Best Beer Guy" of 2008. 

    In addition to his beer-y pursuits, Kolesar works a professional career in the business world by day and dabbles in distance running, cooking, homebrewing, gardening, photography, and is a staunch advocate for animal rescue/adoption. He lives with his wife, Patty, of fifteen years and has been a long time, mostly suffering, supporter of local Philadelphia sports.

    Contact Bryan Kolesar

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