The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) was once again recently held in Denver, Colorado, from September 16th through 18th. It is the largest beer festival in the United States. And it was the largest beer judging competition ever held to date, with over 3,500 beers judged. 49,000 attendees sampled over 2,200 beers from 455 breweries serving in the festival hall. Having helped organize beer festivals, I shudder to think of what must go into planning a festival attended by almost 50,000 people.
As I did earlier this year after the World Beer Cup, I’d like to highlight how Southeastern breweries fared in the competition. In a nutshell, our region is making progress, but we have a long way to go.
Of the ten states I think qualify as Southeastern (unlike the NCAA, I think North Carolina belongs in the geographical region), four cannot claim any 2010 GABF medals at all. Another four only received one medal each, and only North Carolina and Tennessee can claim multiple medals (two and three, respectively).
Compare that with the state that’s home to the most GABF medals this year, California, which came away with fifty-two of them. Ponder that one for a minute. Our ten-state region received nine medals while the lone state of California received fifty-two. That’s more than 1/5th of the total of 236 awarded across the U.S., all going to one state. (The most populous state in the union, of course, but one state nonetheless). California is to craft beer what the Southeast is to college football. Colorado is a close second with forty medals. After that, there’s a big dropoff between second and third place with Oregon clocking in at nineteen medals.
Close to home, the really good news is that Alabama’s own Back Forty Beer Company won silver for their Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale. That was in the Specialty Honey Beer category. Gold in that category was won by Blue Moon Honey Wheat and bronze went to Samuel Adams Honey Porter, so Back Forty is hanging with some heavy company there. Twenty-four entries competed in the category.
Florida beer geeks surely weren’t surprised to learn their beloved Cigar City Brewing in Tampa won a silver for its Humidor IPA in the Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer category. Cigar City has been the object of rabid accolades from Tampa natives for a couple years, and beer geeks from other parts of the country had begun to wonder if the liquid could really live up to the hype. I’d say the Floridians have been vindicated.
And many Birmingham residents are familiar with Yazoo Brewing, just a quick hop up I-65 in Nashville. Yazoo also nabbed a silver medal. They were recognized for their smoked imperial porter, a beer named Sue. Although many Yazoo beers are widely available in Birmingham, they apparently have not yet been able to produce enough Sue to send it this way. I’m confident it will eventually show up here, and I look forward to trying it.
It’s interesting that another Tennessee brewery, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Chattanooga, took home bronze in the same category. Their winning brew was a German-style rauchbier. Perhaps Southerners’ love of smoked meats carries over into beer. The same Gordon Biersch location also won silver for their eisbock, making them the only Southeastern brewery to win more than one medal at GABF this year. I’ve never visited that location, but I’m starting to think I should.
Only three Southeastern medals were gold, and two of those went to breweries in North Carolina. One to Foothills Brewing in Winston- Salem for their Bourbon Barrel-aged Sexual Chocolate imperial stout, and one to Lone Rider SweetJosie, an American brown ale. The third gold went to Moon River Brewing’s Rosemary Swamp Fox out of Savannah, Georgia.
Alabama is currently in the embryonic stages of a brewing renaissance, with three breweries having opened here in the last six years and four more to be in operation before next year’s GABF rolls around. Perhaps in a year or two the Heart of Dixie will be be a force to be reckoned with at prestigious beer judging competitions.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.