2018 GABF Winners

It’s that time of year again, the GABF competition awards.  Once again, I was able to livestream the awards ceremony while I was at work.  Even more exciting is that the brewery I work for (Portland Brewing) won a medal!

Oregon and North Carolina both represented themselves very well this year.  Here we go!

Starting with Oregon:

10 Barrel Brewing – Bend, OR
Silver Medal – American Style Stout
Gold Medal – Berliner-Style Wiesse
Gold Medal – Fruit Wheat Beer (103 entries!)

Goodlife Brewing – Bend, OR
Gold Medal – American Style Wheat Beer

Sunriver Brewing – Sunriver, OR
Silver Medal – American Style Wheat Beer with Yeast
Bronze Medal – Imperial Red Ale

Widmer Brothers Brewing – Portland, OR
Bronze Medal – American Style Wheat Beer with Yeast

Worthy Brewing – Bend, OR
Silver Medal – Australian Style Pale Ale

Alesong Brewing and Blending – Eugene, OR
Bronze Medal – Brett Beer
Silver Medal – Brett Beer
Silver Medal – Experimental Beer (112 entries!)

Omission Brewing – Portland, OR
Gold Medal – Classic English Style Pale Ale

Portland Brewing – Portland, OR
Silver Medal – Classic English Style Pale Ale

Wayfinder Beer – Portland, OR
Silver Medal – Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest

Pelican Brewing – Pacific City, OR
Silver Medal – English Style IPA

pFriem Family Brewers – Hood River, OR
Silver Medal – German-Style Pilsener (159 entries!)
Gold Medal – Mixed Culture Brett Beer
Mid-size Brewing Company of the Year

Ground Breaker Brewing – Portland, OR
Bronze Medal – Gluten-Free Beer

Oregon City Brewing Company – Oregon City, OR
Bronze Medal – Mixed Culture Brett Beer

Lompoc Brewing, 5th Quadrant – Portland, OR
Gold Medal – Robust Porter

Three Creeks Brewing – Sisters, OR
Bronze Medal – Session Beer

Great Notion Brewing – Portland, OR
Silver Medal – Specialty Beer

22 overall medals + Midsize Brewing Co. of the Year. Big jump over last years 16 medals, not surprising to see Portland and Bend dominate the list.  6 Gold, 10 silver, 6 bronze.

Now for North Carolina,

Crank Arm Brewing – Raleigh, NC
Gold Medal – American Belgo-style Ale

Brown Truck Brewery – High Point, NC
Silver Medal – American Belgo-style Ale

Appalachian Mountain Brewery – Boone, NC
Gold Medal – American Style Lager or American Style Malt Liquor

Triple C Brewing – Charlotte, NC
Bronze Medal – English Style Summer Ale

Hillman Beer – Asheville, NC
Silver Medal – Extra Special Bitter

BearWaters Brewing Co. – Canton, NC
Gold Medal – American Style Fruited Sour (149 entries!)

Wooden Robot Brewing – Charlotte, NC
Gold Medal – Fruited Wood and Barrel-aged Sour Beer (102 entries!)

D9 Brewing Co. – Cornelius, NC
Bronze Medal – Gose

Divine Barrel Brewing Co. – Charlotte, NC
Silver Medal – Historical Beer

Carolina Brewery, Chapel Hill – Pittsboro, NC
Silver Medal – Oredinary or Special Bitter

NoDa Brewing, NE – Charlotte, NC
Gold Medal – Pumpkin/Squash or Pumpkin Spice Beer

Little City Brewing – Raleigh, NC
Bronze Medal – Session IPA

Little Brother Brewing – Greensboro, NC
Gold Medal – Southern German Style Hefeweizen (152 entries!)

13 total medals for NC, which is one less than last year’s 14, however this year was a higher quality of medals.  6 gold (up from 3), 4 silver (up from 3) and 3 bronze (down from 6), and taking home gold in some really big categories! It’s nice to see Charlotte coming on to the scene.  Lots of good beer from the Queen City.

Others:

I noticed a couple of non Oregon and NC breweries that caught my eye in the medal ceremony mostly because it was places we had been to before.

New Belgium Brewing (Fort Collins, CO) took home two medals, a Gold in Collaboration for Transatlantique Kriek, and a Silver in American Style Cream Ale for Dayblazer.  We tasted both of those beers when we toured the brewery in Colorado, and hopefully will get to tour their Asheville facility on our upcoming East coast trip.

Washington State had a pretty good showing as well with 17 total medals.  Several breweries just across the border won medals including Loowit Brewing, 54-40 Brewing, and recent sensation Grains of Wrath Brewing.

I also want to shoutout to my fellow North American Breweries partner Genessee Brewing who won a silver medal in Chocolate Beer for their Pilot Brew House Chocolate Scotch Ale.

 

“Tasting” Beer

It is almost without fail.  I tell someone I work in the quality lab at a brewery and the response is a chuckle and something along the lines of “So you just sit around and drink beer all day, yeah?” Above and beyond the fact that there is a lot more involved in beer quality, there’s a distinction that I think gets lost on the public.  The difference between drinking beer and tasting beer.

Often, when I taste beer at my job, the purpose is to make sure the beer is holding up well over the course of it’s shelf life.  So, we’re talking about beer that’s been bottled 90 to 120 days.  Not bad, but it’s not fresh.  Some beers hold up better than others and that’s exactly what we’re testing for.  Another common occurrence at work is tasting a beer that’s been intentionally spiked with an off flavor.  Sometimes they tell us, sometimes they don’t.  This accomplishes two goals. If the spike is known, the idea is to give us an idea this is what <insert off flavor> tastes like.  Some, like clove or banana are not that bad.  Some, like papery, solvent or metallic are not at all pleasant.  If this spike is not disclosed than the goal is to see how many people pick it up and at what levels.  This is called threshold testing.  Some people can’t taste certain things like diacetyl and that’s OK, but as someone running a sensory program you want to know those kinds of things.  If 9 out of 10 people ding a beer for diacetyl and the one who doesn’t is known to be diacetyl blind, then that’s pretty much 100%.  That’s not to say test panels can’t be fun, but they are work, and also a very small portion of the overall program.

Judging beer, as a BJCP judge has been a very similar experience.  When I told people I judged beer competitions the same reaction of “Wow, that must be great to just sit around and drink beer all day.”  While I really enjoy judging, a good portion of the beer that crosses your table is not very good. That’s not meant to disparage those who enter the competitions, rather the main point of a competition is to get feedback.  You want to know how true your beer is to the style you were going for, but also if there are any major flaws in it.  Some people will enter a beer that they know has an issue but they can’t put their finger on it.  A more experienced brewer or an experience judge may be able to figure out the problem and offer a possible way to correct it.  As I’ve mentioned in past posts, someone told me that pro beer was the same way, more bad than good.  Two years of judging Best of Craft Beer have pretty much proven that true.

The flip side of this is an “ignorance is bliss” approach.  Some people don’t want to know about flaws and off flavors.  Perhaps they like a certain flavor that a hardcore judge would find offensive.  Maybe they just want to sit back and enjoy a pint.  There’s nothing wrong with that! I’ll admit, judging has messed with me a little when I’m just sitting around drinking a beer.  As long as the flaw is not so horrible to make the beer undrinkable I try to turn that part of my brain off and just enjoy it.  Sometimes that’s easier said than done.

So the reality is “tasting” beer is not nearly as glamorous as it may seem, especially if you’re confusing it with drinking beer. But it’s not without it’s merits.

Whether you drink, or taste, enjoy! Salut!

Best of Craft Beer Awards 2018

This past weekend I returned to the Best of Craft Beer Awards judging in Bend, OR.  This year my wife joined me and served as a steward, helping run the competition.  This event continues to grow, surpassing 2,000 entries this year, and they announced that it is now the third largest competition in the country only trailing GABF and the World Beer Cup.  In 2016, the World Beer Cup had over 6,500 entries, and GABF in 2017 had nearly 8,000 entries.  BoCB has some catching up to do, but still impressive to be third largest.

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Last year it was extremely cold, with 3+ feet of snow on the ground.  Thankfully this year it wasn’t nearly as cold and there wasn’t as much snow.  Although, we did wake up Saturday morning to a surprise of snow on the ground from overnight.  It was only an inch or so, and over the course of the day it melted, but still a bit shocking to see this out of the hotel window.

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This year I judged an interesting range of styles.  Before lunch on Saturday I judged American Style IPA, British Bitters and then Double/Imperial American IPA.  After lunch I judged Northeast Style IPA (new category this year), Brett Beers and then Wood and Barrel Aged Strong Beers.  Needless to say, I was pretty beered out by the end of the day.  Sunday was a much calmer day.  I judged medal rounds for Fruited Berliner Weisse, Belgian Table Beers and Wood and Barrel Aged Dark Beers.  I don’t know if I paid that much attention last year to which flights were preliminary, semifinal or medal rounds, but this year I got to judge at least one semifinal and 4 medal rounds.  When they announce the results I’ll get to see which beers I awarded those medals to!

And of course this year ended again with the granddaddy of all bottle grabs.  All of the leftovers have to be destroyed (they can’t be resold since they are industry samples) and well, nothing says they can’t get “destroyed” in someones belly.  Stewards get a head start to grabbing bottles, so my wife already grabbed some nice stuff before I got out there.  With two of us picking, and more trunk space, we ended up with a tad more bottles than I brought home last year.

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Represented on the table are beers from 14 U.S. States (Mass., Washington, North Carolina, Hawai’i, California, Oregon, Virginia, Nevada, Utah, Texas, Indiana, New York Michigan and Colorado).  Also, two bottles from Bogotá Beer Company which I originally mistook as being from Mexico, but is actually from Colombia.  Very excited to try my first South American beer.

We already have specific plans to share some of this (because no way can we take care of all of it..) including some gluten free beers we grabbed specifically for friends.  Needless to say, we’re going to have some very happy friends in the next couple of weeks! Now, off to go find some room in the cellar…..

Cheers!

Best of Craft Beer Awards 2017

Last weekend I had the honor of judging the 2017 Best of Craft Beer Awards in Bend, Oregon.  I had been invited last year, but wasn’t able to make it due to a prior commitment (judging another competition actually).  This is the fourth year of the competition, which has steadily grown.  Wanting to recognize craft brewing but use actual blind judging rather than a people’s choice or “best of” list, similar to GABF and World Beer cup, is the goal of the event.  Based on shipping and judging location the contest was heavy with Pacific Northwest and California beers, but there was a good number from the Midwest and East Coast, including a couple from North Carolina.

The judging was held at the Mt Bachelor Resort in Bend.  The weather was cold, but the hospitality was quite warm.  They fed us breakfast and lunch both days during the judging and took care of pretty much anything else we would need.

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This was my first experience in judging commercial beer and it was both similar and different to judging homebrew.  The first way that it was different was instead of one sample at a time, they brought us flights of ten to twelve all at once.  They also had very short, checklist style scoresheets.  No long winding feedback here, just a few words and on to the next sample.  It was rapid fire judging.  The beers with obvious flaws were weeded out right away and then we would debate amongst the good ones which deserved to move on to the next round.

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The second major way it was different was the sheer number of styles.  The BJCP recently updated their style guidelines up to 32 styles, but this competition uses the Brewers Association styles (same ones GABF uses).  The BA has over 160 styles, which if you’re curious you can find HERE. These guidelines are much more narrow than BJCP, and since this is commerical beer a lot of it is based on alcohol percentage and IBU (bitterness), something that is usually not known for homebrew.  For example, two of the styles I judged were American Style IPA and American Style Strong Pale Ale.  What’s a Strong Pale Ale you ask? Well, that’s a beer with slightly more alcohol and bitterness than a Pale Ale, but not as much as an IPA.  Plus some overlap.  Confused? Without being told, these two styles would be indistinguishable, but Strong Pale Ale ranges from 5.6%-7.0% Alcohol and 40-50 IBU, while American IPA ranges from 6.3%-7.5% alcohol and 50-70 IBU.  Stuff like Pliney the Elder at 8.0% and 100IBU? That’s a different category.

Beyond that it was pretty much just like judging homebrew.  Taste the beer, give it a score, write some feedback, move on.  One of the things several people remarked to me as a similarity to homebrew was that there would be just as much bad beer as good.  Shockingly they were right. It startled me how many of the beers were bad, and I don’t just mean low quality or something I didn’t like.  These beers had serious production flaws that indicated they had been rushed, not given enough time, bottled too soon or crashed (chilled) too soon.  Off flavors like diacetyl and acetaldehyde that the yeast will eventually get rid of but it needs time.  On the first day I judged 49 samples, most of them before lunch.  Thankfully the second day I only judged 16.

After the judging, they brought out the half empty bottles (which would get dumped anyway) so that we could taste some of the samples from categories we hadn’t judged and also see the labels and find out what we had just judged blind.  Some people would match up entry numbers and walk around with a bottle letting people try it and saying “This took first place in stout, you gotta try it!” I took a few sips of things, but realized quickly at the end of the first day that I was “beered-out”.  No matter what bottle I picked they all started tasting the same.  Starting the day on IPAs and finishing with sours, my palate was wrecked.

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Just as a demonstration of the widespread nature of the competition, I went back and looked at my Untappd check-ins over the course of the two days and I logged 25 unique beers from 12 different states.  Representing Wisconsin, Alaska, Mass., Colorado, California, Oregon (of course), Minnesota, Texas, Missouri, Washington, Nevada and North Carolina.  Counting the bottles I took home, you can add Ohio and Alabama to that list as well.

There were at least 12 members of my homebrew club, the Oregon Brew Crew in attendance as judges and stewards so there were plenty of people I knew there.  Other none OBC judges I recognized from other competitions as well.  You start to get to know people when you see them 6-7 times a year.  That’s the fun part of being a judge!

At the end of the event was what had enticed a lot of people to make the trip, the bottle grab!  Commercial breweries often send twice the amount of beer needed for a competition, for fear of breakage, spillage, etc, so there was a lot of unopened bottles left at the end.  Since the beer was donated for samples it can’t be resold and is expensive to ship back, so rather than dump it down the drain, they lay out the boxes and let the judges have at it!

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A lot of people took home three and four boxes worth, but I decided that I didn’t need that much at home, and to try to move it, carry it all wasn’t worth it, so I limited myself to one box and tried to be very particular about what I picked.  I’ve tried about half of them and they’ve all been good. So far all winners.

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My small, but impressive, personal haul.  Beers from all over, including California, North Carolina, Alabama, Colorado, Washington and more. The two cork and caged bottles are Sugar Creek from Charlotte.  I visited there on our massive east coast trip a year ago, so I had to grab those when I saw them.  Can’t get those out here normally for sure.  The wax topped bottle is a Bourbon barrel aged Stout, so I managed to snag at least one “fancy” beer as well.

Overall, this was a great event and I had a lot of fun.  The first day felt like “work” based on the sheer number of samples, but otherwise it was OK.  Looking forward to doing it again next year! The 2017 awards results are posted HERE.

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