Written by Chris Morris for nj.com
What happens at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) says a lot about what’s to come for the beer industry. Who won what, what styles emerged as favorites – they all give craft beer fans a glimpse of their future refrigerator shelves.
So what happened at this years GABF? What does it all mean moving forward? Sadly, I can’t see into the future, but here are some of my takes from this year’s event.
1. Unfortunately, New Jersey had a poor showing. Only four local breweries made the trip out to Denver this year. Harvest Moon brought its Citra Double IPA and Sinterklaas Belgian Winter Ale; Iron Hill showcased Pinelands Pils and The Cannibal; J.J. Bittings featured Bad Boy Octoberfest, Dunkel Weiss, Knockout Bock, OnyXXX Stout, and Victoria’s Golden Ale; and Flying Fish showed off Abbey Dubbel, Exit 16, Exit 4, HopFish IPA, and won bronze in the Specialty Beer category with Exit 8.
I don’t think this accurately represents New Jersey craft beer, though. Some of New Jersey’s best are small, and can’t yet afford to make the long and expensive trip out to Denver. Had Carton, Kane, New Jersey Beer Co., Boaks, Cricket Hill, River Horse, and the others made it out, I think Jersey would have come home with a few more medals. That being said, it’s definitely an uphill battle if we want to compete with California, Colorado, Oregon, and the other states that dominate the craft beer industry.
2. Category 33 – America-Style Lager, Light Lager, or Premium Lager – has long been taken, well, not so seriously. The fact that Pabst Blue Ribbon took home the gold shows that this is still the case. Miller Lite and Keystone Light won silver and bronze, respectively, proving pretty much the same point.
3. A new category was added for 2012 – Fresh Hop Ale – which received 34 entries. Increasingly, breweries are growing their own hops and using them in the brewing process just hours, or even minutes, after harvesting them. The fact that this style is growing in popularity shows how much American taste buds are appreciating hop flavors (as is the growth of the IPA and Imperial/Double IPA, which had 203 and 128 entries, respectively, more than any other style). That the GABF added this new category due to more and more breweries doing their own harvest ales is a sign that we might still see more to come next fall.
4. In 2011, the Festival sold out in 10 days. In 2012, it sold out in 45 minutes. Many statistics over the past few years have showed that craft beer is a growing industry, but this is one of the more revealing ones.
5. The majority of this year’s medal winners were breweries that even most craft beer enthusiasts haven’t heard of. There’s just so many, spread throughout the country, that it’s difficult to keep track of them all, or even the majority of them. This year, the gold metal winner of the most competitive style, the American Style IPA, was just this – a brewery that even most craft beer fans haven’t ever heard of. The gold metal winner this year was Tap It Brewing Co., a brewery based out of San Luis Obispo, who most readers right now are hearing about for the first time ever. Know this: you aren’t alone.
There are a lot of breweries currently in the craft beer scene, and there are more starting up every day. Not only that, but what they’re making is some of the best beer out there, as evidenced by Tap It Brewing Co. A little-known brewery just won gold in the most competitive category, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
The future for craft beer is bright. Not only is the craft beer industry as a whole starting to take down the big guys (okay, the big guys still dominate, but the market share gets lower and lower every day), but even within the craft industry, the small guys are taking on the big guys, and they’re putting up a good fight. Small breweries took home a lot of medals this year, while some of the big ones (most notably Dogfish Head, Stone, Anchor, Anderson Valley, Oskar Blues, Flying Dog, Heavy Seas, Founders, Brooklyn, Weyerbacher, Victory, Pyramid) took home nothing. This isn’t a bad thing, in fact, it’s a great thing. It means new ideas, more innovation, and most important, more world-class beer.
Chris Morris runs his own beer blog Black Dog Brewhouse where he discusses everything beer. His articles can also be found at www.NJ.com/beer. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMorrisBeer or email him at Chris@BlackDogBrewhouse.com.