The Great American Beer Festival, lovingly known as GABF by beer lovers, is the creme de la creme of beer competitions. Along with World Beer Cup, the festival is considered the top of the pyramid for awards and medals in the craft beer universe.
At this year’s competition, a whopping 8,000 beers were entered by more than 2,000 breweries around the country. Out of 98 designated style categories, a mere 293 beers were awarded medals (gold, silver, and bronze). San Diego took home an impressive 14 medals this year, including awards in the categories of session, German-style wheat, honey and specialty. However, the drop from 18 last year, with only one official IPA win, prompted some critics to ask if the craft beer capital of the country was slipping.
PACIFIC caught up with San Diego Brewers Guild President Jill Davidson to find out more:
There was a notable absence of medals for San Diego brewers in the IPA categories both in 2016 (1 IPA medal) and 2017 (1 IPA medal). Has San Diego lost its edge for being the IPA mecca?
Jill Davidson: Not at all, it’s not indicative of the quality (of) IPA (that) we brew here. There were 408 entries in the IPA category and judges from all over the country. Right now, the the Northeast style IPA, a more hazy style, is popular. The IPA palate is evolving, and the quality of IPAs are elevating around the country. It’s exciting and it keeps our community on our toes.
San Diego seems to fare well in heavier varieties like porter, stout, and scotch ale (like AleSmith’s Wee Heavy), which almost seems counter-intuitive to our sunny, warm weather. Thoughts?
I think it shows the dexterity of our brewers. It proves we can brew those classic varieties true to style. AleSmith is remarkable to win year after year, that exceptional consistency is amazing.
Both last year and this year, San Diego took home medals for sour beer (this year Ballast Point Brewing took home Silver for their Sour Wench Blackberry Ale). Is this a trend you see happening on the local scene?
Absolutely. It’s a nod to Belgian breweries and there is a romanticism there. There is also a certain vulnerability involved. You are letting bugs take over your product, and with so many wild factors, it requires an enormous skill set. I think that sours are definitely here to stay. It’s also a great sequel for wine drinkers, so there is a lot of potential. With kettle sours everywhere now, it’s demonstrating the power of that style.
We saw veterans like Karl Strauss, Pizza Port, Ballast Point, Stone and Alesmith take home medals, but also saw a few lesser known winners in the group, like OB Brewing, Second Chance and SouthNorte. This seems like exciting hope for new breweries on the scene.
With 5,000 breweries in the country, and 8,000 entries at GABF, our veterans are still winning, and that proves we are the real deal. Marty Mendiola, the longtime brewer from Rock Bottom, and his new brewery Second Chance being recognized is wonderful. It’s the evolution of a brewer to go out on their own and it’s a beautiful thing. We are reproducing great brewers and that makes us a successful beer civilization.
What do brewers do when they win? Do they party?
Oh yes! The Cruise Room for Greyhounds and Appaloosa for Sazeracs. That’s where everyone goes at the end of the night on Saturday.
What do you see as the next big wave in local craft beer culture?
Session beers, traditional styles like pale ales and Germans, and Baja collaborations.
What tips would you give to breweries opening up and hoping to medal at GABF someday?
Have as many people taste your beer as possible. Enter them in competitions and look at all of the judge’s notes. And never be afraid to ask for help.