Nagel: Four Beery Takeaways From GABF 2020

Photograph courtesy of Great American Beer Festival

I miss events. For a beer lover, there’s no greater event than the Great American Beer Festival that happens every fall in Denver. There’s typically a bag half-full of brewery shirts and the other half filled with “room beers”… as if brewery tours, a four-hour session of the festival with 4,000 beers to choose from, and a nightcap at Star Bar, Falling Rock Tavern, or Bierstadt for a famous Slow-Pour Pils aren’t enough.

The pinnacle of the event for the brewers is the awards ceremony, where some 8,806 beers from 1,720 breweries are judged in 91 categories. Normally judging takes place the week of the event over the course of three days. This year, the competition spanned over three weeks because of the pandemic.

Although winning a medal is a huge honor that can mark a brewery in history, breweries that don’t win anything seem to shake it off as a stepping stone. Here are my takeaways for this year’s awards:

Takeaway one: Many of O.C.’s breweries have struggled during COVID-19. Some have reduced staff, cut production, and some have closed for good. It’s somewhat of a miracle the competition took place at all, considering the World Beer Cup (in April 2020) opted to distill most of the competition entries and donate the end product to making hand sanitizer for frontline workers. If there’s one takeaway here, it’s to please support your local brewery.

Takeaway two: Orange County breweries nabbed 12 medals this year, one fewer than San Diego, and one more than Los Angeles county. With only a third of the breweries of San Diego, and less than half of Los Angeles, O.C. breweries consistently prove the beer scene here is destination-worthy.


Takeaway three: First-time winner Docent Brewing in San Juan Capistrano came out huge with two gold medals for Super Tonic Coffee Stout and Hefty Fee Session IPA. For whatever reason, Orange County brewers win in these highly aromatic beer styles, such as Karl Strauss in Anaheim for its Golden Stout (silver), as well as riip beer co in Huntington Beach for The Riizzo Coffee Stout and Black the Riiper Black IPA (silver). Last year, O.C. was awarded two medals for Coffee beers as well, each using Portola Coffee Labs custom blends and roasts.


Takeaway four: German-style beers are gaining popularity due to their crisp lightness and drinkability. O.C. breweries took home four bronze medals with their Americanized versions, including Fullerton’s Bootlegger’s Brewery for Funfest (Dortmunder/Festbier) and Placentia’s Stereo Brewing for Summer Sun (fruited American-style Berliner-Weiss). On the darker side, Laguna Hills’ Gamecraft Brewing won its second medal in as many years as for Umbeereon German-style dark lager (Schwarzbier). TAPS Brewery & Barrel Room in Tustin won for B.A. Dunkel; TAPS has won 26 medals at the festival since opening its brewpubs 1999, most of which for German-style beer, including the non-barrel-aged Dunkel winning in 2019. Prost!

Complete Orange County Results:


  • Docent Brewing, Super Tonic Coffee Stout, San Juan Capistrano
  • Docent Brewing, Hefty Fee Session IPA, San Juan Capistrano
  • Chihuahua Cerveza, Rico American Lager, Costa Mesa
  • Golden Road, Get Up Offa That Brown Brown Ale, Anaheim
  • riip beer co, Tangible Passion, Belgian-style ale, Huntington Beach


  • riip beer co, The Riizzo Coffee stout, Huntington Beach
  • riip beer co, Black the Riiper, Huntington Beach
  • Karl Strauss, Golden Stout, Anaheim


  • Stereo Brewing, Summer Sun Fruited Sour, Placentia
  • Gamecraft Brewing, Umbeereon German Dark Lager, Laguna Hills
  • Bootlegger’s Brewing, Funfest Lager, Fullerton
  • TAPS Brewery & Barrel Room, B.A.Dunkel, Tustin

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