After festival medals handed out, is San Diego declining as a beer powerhouse?


Do the results of the 2017 Great American Beer Festival indicate that San Diego status as the “capital of craft” is slipping?

After all, the 15 medals San Diego County brewers took home from Denver last weekend is a drop from 2016’s 18. Last year also saw Karl Strauss crowned the nation’s champion mid-sized brewery. This year, that title went to Houston’s Saint Arnold.

Yet I have to believe that our pint glass is two-thirds full rather than one-third empty. A few reasons why:

  • The roster of winners included veteran breweries (AleSmith, Karl Strauss, Pizza Port, Stone) and newcomers (SouthNorte, OB Brewery, Second Chance). Established outfits are still pushing the envelope, while rookies are performing at a championship level.
  • Competition has never been fiercer - a record 7,923 beers were entered from 2,217 breweries representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • San Diego still punches above its weight. Brewers in this county of 3.1 million outscored the combined take from the states of Florida (population 20.6 million, eight medals) and New York (19.7 million, four medals).

Awards with Asterisks

Earlier this week, my colleague Daniel Wheaton listed the winning local beers and breweries. Two things about this roster caught my eye:

  1. Are beers brewed in other states”local beers,” if those distant breweries are owned by local concerns? This year, a bronze medal went to a fresh hop ale from the Nampa, Idaho, satellite of Vista’s Mother Earth Brew Co. Was this, as the San Diego Brewers Guild claimed, a victory for San Diego beer? This issue is bound to become thornier: Modern Times is opening a brewery in Portland, Ore., while Stone, Green Flash and Ballast Point all have Virginia breweries.
  2. San Diego’s 15 medals included two from Ballast Point, a gold for Manta Ray Imperial India Pale Ale and silver for Sour Wench Blackberry Ale. Yet the Guild ignored Ballast Point’s twin victories. Why? Because the Guild represents independent breweries - and Ballast Point is owned by New York’s Constellation Brands.

The List

In case you missed it, this year’s local - or “local” - GABF winners:


Orange Blossom Common, Karl Strauss Carlsbad, in the Honey Beer category.

Witty Moron, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Liberty Station, Other Belgian-Style Ale category.

Tabula Rasa Toasted Porter, Second Chance Beer, Robust Porter category.

Guillaime, Pizza Port Ocean Beach, Session Beer category.

Manta Ray, Ballast Point, Imperial India Pale Ale category.


Legally Red, Second Chance Beer, American-Style Amber Red Ale category.

Herd of Turtles, Bagby Beer, Baltic-Style Porter category.

Back in the ESSA, Mnkey Paw, English-Style Summer Ale category.

Z-Man Stout, Pizza Port Carlsbad, Export-Style Stout category.

Sour Wench Blackberry Ale, Ballast Point, Fruited American-Style Sour Ale category.

Hidden Gem, OB Brewery, German-Style Wheat Ale.


Fresh As It Gets, Mother Earth Brew (Nampa), Fresh or Wet Hop Ale category.

Blonde, Culture Brewing, Golden or Blonde Ale category.

AleSmith Wee Heavy, AleSmith, Scotch Ale category.

Agavamente, SouthNorte Beer, Specialty Beer category.

Did you know...

Tickets to the 2017 Great American Beer Festival sold out in four hours and 15 minutes - a leisurely pace compared to 2016, when every ducat was purchased within 67 minutes.