Colorado tastes great at the Great American Beer Fest

We know Colorado makes lots of beer – typically more than any other state in any given year. That’s always worth bragging about when bellying up to a bar in, say, California or Texas.

Quantity’s fine, you say, but how about quality? Well, the results of the just-wrapped Great American Beer Festival confirm what beer lovers here know to be true: We’ve got the most AND the best.

Brewers from the Centennial State garnered a total of 45 medals, beating out California’s 39 and more than doubling Oregon’s 22. Colorado did it with fewer total entries than California, too – 459 compared to 594.

California’s “Yeah, but …” is this: The Golden State nabbed the most gold medals, 17 compared to Colorado’s 10. Fair enough. But here’s how I’d counter that: If you use a weighted scoring system – that is, count each gold medal as three points, a silver as two and a bronze as one – Colorado comes out ahead in total score.

Washington and Pennsylvania – well-known for their beer-loving folk, too – were the only other states in double-digits with medals.
Colorado also made an impressive showing in awards for Brewery and Brewer of the Year. Coors Brewing and David Ryder took honors in the large category, while Aurora’s Dry Dock Brewing and its whole team won the small category. The state could have enjoyed a sweep if the mid-size winner, Flying Dog Brewery, hadn’t relocated to Maryland from Denver a couple of years ago.

Some might note that the festival, which drew 49,000 attendees to the Colorado Convention Center for a sold-out weekend, is presented by a Boulder-based trade group, the Brewers Association. Any home cooking involved in the tallies? Actually, the 132 judges who took on the task of judging the 3,308 beers came from 10 countries around the world. So Colorado – and the rest of the breweries from across the country – can take pride in knowing their medal winners truly are representative of the best in America.

Other notes from the weekend:

– Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper dropped in to a media lunch on Friday, where journalists heard the association’s Julia Herz speak on industry trends. The founder of Wynkoop Brewing, the city’s oldest brewpub, talked up the area’s beer credentials.

“It’s not just about the amount of beer we produce in Colorado,” he said. “Beer is part of our DNA. This city is the perfect host for this event.�
The mayor enjoyed a few courses of the meal, and listened intently to a presentation by a Bend, Ore., brewer on the concoction she made by using a bygone method: dunking hot rocks into unfermented beer to cook it. A geologist before he got into the brewpub business, Hickenlooper couldn�t resist taking the microphone again and explained why the choice of rocks is crucial to the chemistry.

– Coors and all its many enterprises, big and small, accounted for most of the Colorado medal-winning beers. Some, like A.C. Golden’s Dunkel, are experimental, with no plans for marketing – yet. Others, like Coors Banquet and Keystone Ice, are ubiquitous. Familiarity needn’t breed contempt, though: Those last two were judged the best examples of their styles (American-style specialty lager and American-style lager or premium lager, respectively).

– Upslope Brewing, the festival newbie featured in this column last time, enjoyed a great rookie outing with two bronze medals. One came in the pro-am competition, which paired homebrewers with commercial brewers in creating new brews. Congratulations to homebrewer Brian Patterson and brewmaster Daniel Pages for their third-place finish in a crowded field of 73 entries (a new record).

– Other Colorado breweries that nabbed gold medals: Avery, Dry Dock, Durango, Glenwood Canyon, Left Hand, Miller (MillerCoors), the SandLot (Coors Field brewpub) and Trinity. For a searchable list of winners, go to the Brewers Association Web site:

– Finally, mark your calendar: Next year’s fest is scheduled for September 16-18. Tickets go on sale in June.

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