At Great American Beer Festival, It Was All Winners, No Losers

Stereo Brewing's Rick Smets

Over the weekend, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver handed out awards for best beers in their entered categories. Orange County brought home 13 medals, counting one from Long Beach and one from Corona. Here’s a quick list of our OC winners (Brewery – Medal – Beer – Category – Entries):

  • The Bruery – Bronze – Mischief – American Belgo-Style Ale – 51 Entries
  • Unsung Brewing –  Bronze – Lumino – American-Style Lager or Malt Liquor – 65 Entries
  • Green Cheek – Bronze – West Coast IPA is Dead! – American-Style India Pale Ale – 311 Entries
  • Green Cheek – Bronze – Fools and Babies – English-Style Mild Ale – 55 Entries
  • Gunwhale Ales – Bronze – Hayshaker – Classic Saison – 90 Entries
  • Stereo Brewing – Bronze – Wall of Sound – Oatmeal Stout – 59 Entries
  • Stereo Brewing – Silver – Robot – Imperial Red Ale – 45 Entries
  • Beachwood Brewing (HB Location) – Silver – Udder Love – Sweet or Milk Stout – 56 Entries
  • riip beer co. –  Silver – Black the Riiper – American Black Ale – 47 Entries
  • TAPS (Corona Location) – Silver – TAPS Irish Red – Irish-Style Red Ale – 81 Entries
  • Barley Forge  – Gold – Grandpa Tractor – Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest – 67 Entries
  • Noble Ale Works – Gold – Nobility – Imperial India Pale Ale – 157 Entries
  • Beachwood Blendery (Long Beach) – Gold – Funk Yeah – Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale – 78 Entries

A link to all the winners can be found here.

Although all of these achievements are outstanding in their own right, the rest of the Orange County breweries (and all breweries, for that matter) should not be overlooked. There is something to be said about the nature of the competition and the end results. Just because a brewery does not bring home some hardware, doesn’t necessarily mean those beers are bad.

Stereo Brewing’s Rick Smets said while I was enjoying a Robot in honor of his win: “It’s great to see Robot finally get in. Robot has always received great tasting notes in competition and here in the tasting room. People love it. The judges love it. But you never know what other factors push it off the top three. It could be the environment or maybe the judge burped and decided your beer wasn’t good enough anymore. It doesn’t mean your beer sucks. It just means it didn’t place.” Comforting and insightful words, indeed.

With so many external factors to sway the perception of a judge, the fact that beers win multiple times is a testament to their consistency. Wall of Sound and Nobility are great examples of that. But with some notable snubs like Tustin Brewing Co. or Bottle Logic, is one going to assume their beers are bad? No, of course not. The fact of the matter is that more times than not there was another beer that was only slightly better, in the eye and palate of the judges. This is also a testament to the improvement of the overall quality product that is being produced and submitted. I can’t imagine the decision-making process to have five or six more beers of a particular style, nearly identical, perfect renditions, and having to choose only the top three. Does one think of the brewer? The hard work and dedication to create such a beautiful beer? It is unquestionably a difficult task these judges must undertake.

One extra tidbit. What if a brewery didn’t enter any beers in the competition? There were several thousand breweries that chose not to participate. The decisions not to participate vary by brewery and brewer, but there are some instances where they simply have no chance of winning due to the nature of their beers and the judging procedures. A good example of this would be Yorkshire Square in Torrance. They make exceptional cask-conditioned ale, but there is no logistically sound way to get their beers into judges table the way the brewer intended. Their beers are fantastic and stylistically correct, yet have little chance of winning any medals at the festival.

With that said, keep your head up, brewers. You are all winners. Cheers to OC beer and their hard-working brewers!

Editor’s note: Charlie Perez is an Advanced Cicerone® who covers the Orange County beer scene for the Booze Blog.

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