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Pedal to the Medals

San Diego brewers bring home a pile of awards from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado.


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Photo by Brewers Association

Recently, San Diego brewers had been on a bit of a downward trend in terms of medal counts at the GABF (Great American Beer Festival), which is the most prestigious American beer event in the country. Last week, though, local brewers won a total of 20 medals (6 gold; 2 silver; 11 bronze), which was an increase over last year and the year previous.  

Winning a medal at GABF is no small thing in the brewing world. This year, 1,500+ breweries submitted more than 6,000 beers for consideration in 92 categories. Given the stiff competition and the prestige that’s involved, a total of 20 medals is a very nice haul from GABF (the breakdown was 19 medals from locations within San Diego county and 1 medal from the Karl Strauss brewpub in Costa Mesa). To put this tally in context, it took the entire state of Oregon to win 19 medals! Furthermore, of California’s 67 total medals, 30% came from San Diego alone!

Winning lots of awards is great, but what’s really nice is that this year’s winners include breweries of all sizes, and brewers both well-established as well as relatively new. Veterans, such as The Lost Abbey, Stone, Pizza Port, Karl Strauss, Green Flash, and Ballast Point all won medals (as they tend to do each and every year) and some medium-sized operations, such as New English and Societe made notable splashes by winning golds in the Coffee Beer (Zumbar) and Session IPA (The Coachman) categories respectively. Most exciting, though, were big wins from little breweries, some of whom have only been open for a few years and had never before competed at GABF. The relatively new Santee brewery, BNS Brewery & Distilling Co., pulled out an impressive coup by winning gold for their Revolver IPA in the American-Style IPA category, which had 336 entries and was the most competitive category at GABF. Breakwater Brewing Co., which brews on a tiny system in Oceanside, won a bronze for their Imperial IPA (Teahupo’o). El Cajon’s URBN St. Brewing Co., which has been open barely a year, won a bronze in the French-Belgian Style Saison category with their Saison, and South Park Brewing Co., a small operation that only began brewing early this year, came home with a silver medal in the Oatmeal Stout category (Scripps Pier).

One of the biggest prizes of the event went to San Marcos-based Rip Current Brewing Co., which won a silver medal for their Scotch Ale (Black Lagoon) and a gold for their Bock (Break Line). These wins, and the overall quality of their offerings, also earned Rip Current the Very Small Brewery of the Year Award, which recognizes America’s best brewery that produced 1,000 barrels or less in 2014.

If you’d like an opportunity to taste some of these award-winning beers, you may have to do a little homework. Some are widely available in bottles and on tap at good craft beer bars; you should be able to find medal winners such as New English’s Zumbar, Karl Strauss’s Winadandsea, and Green Flash’s Le Freak at your local bottle shop (perhaps even at Ralph’s or Von’s). Other winners, such as BNS Revolver IPA, URBN St. Saison, South Park’s Scripps Pier Stout, and Societe’s Coachman IPA are regularly brewed and available at their respective tasting room locations. Other beers may be more specialized and availability may be more spotty. You can always go online and check a brewery’s web site to see what they’re pouring on any given day.

You can also take the opportunity to taste beers from all these breweries, plus dozens more, during the upcoming San Diego Beer Week, which will be held this year from November 6—15. The Guild Fest, held on Saturday the 7th   at Broadway Pier downtown, is the gala kick-off event of Beer Week. It usually features upwards of 60 San Diego breweries all in one place, pouring a selection of their most interesting beers.

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