Winners from the 2017 edition of the Great American Beer Festival were announced earlier this morning. Held annually by brewing-industry trade organization, the Brewers Association, in Denver, Colorado, this year’s GABF saw nearly 8,000 beers entered by more than 2,000 breweries in 98 style categories. 293 were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals after being evaluated by 276 judges. GABF is the country’s largest and most prestigious professional brewing competition. San Diego County breweries have historically fared incredibly well. This year saw another strong showing with the region’s brewers racking up double-digit awards.
Eleven local brewing companies brought home 14 medals this time around, including five golds in the Robust Porter (Second Chance Beer Co.) Honey Beer (Karl Strauss Brewing Company‘s Carlsbad brewpub), Imperial India Pale Ale (Ballast Point Brewing) Other Specialty Belgian Ale (Stone Brewing World Brewing & Gardens – Liberty Station) and Session Beer (Pizza Port‘s Ocean Beach brewpub) categories. That went along with six silver medals and three bronzes.
Notable is the fact only one individual brewing facility in the county won more than one medal, Carmel Mountain Ranch’s Second Chance with a gold and a silver. Newly launched SouthNorte Brewing Company garnered a bronze medal in the Specialty Beer category for a beer called AgaveMente that hasn’t even been released to the public yet. And Monkey Paw Brewing, which Coronado acquired earlier this year, earned a silver medal in the English-style Summer Ale category. Also, Vista-based Mother Earth Brew Co. medaled in the Fresh or Wet Hop Ale category for Fresh As It Gets, a beer brewed at its Nampa, Idaho production facility.
Adding to the unofficial medal count was Belching Beaver Brewery, which for the second time in its history won top honors at the Alpha King Competition. Held in conjunction with GABF each year, this friendly competition crowns the brewing company that submits the hoppiest offering amid a stacked field of IPAs. Belching Beaver previously won Alpha King in 2014. On top of that, Chula Vista Brewery owners Timothy and Dalia Parker received the Samuel Adams Brewing and Business Experienceship, following in the footsteps of Ramona-based ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, who earned the same opportunity in 2014.
The following is a complete list of the winners from brewing facilities located within San Diego County…
From the Beer Writer: Last year, San Diego’s longest tenured Post-Prohibition-Era brewing operation, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, earned big-time bragging rights, being named the Mid-Sized Brewing Company of the Year at the most prestigious brewing competition in the country, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Held annually in Denver, Colorado, the competition garners thousands of entries from breweries in all 50 states (so many that, this year, each brewing location is limited to a maximum of four competition beers). Those ales and lagers are evaluated by high-caliber industry professionals and certified judges to ensure reliable results, lending deserved credibility that ups the value of GABF medals. Karl Strauss’s champion designation came as a result of winning four medals in 2016, including a gold in one of the most hotly-contested style categories—American-Style Sour Ale. That went to Karl Strauss Queen of Tarts, a stallion in Uncle Karl’s sour stable that has been refined over the years and comes on strong with assertive tartness given luxurious body and layering care of heavy oaken toastiness. Next weekend, Karl Strauss will attempt to repeat at this year’s edition of GABF (check our site next Saturday for a list of local award winners) and this beer will surely be among its entries, but it doesn’t need precious metal to register as a winner on the palate. Head to the company’s tasting room or any of its five local restaurants for a taste of certified gold.
From the Brewer: “Queen of Tarts is our dark sour ale with lightly roasted malts, dark fruit flavors and a nice, tart finish. We age it in American oak barrels with Michigan tart cherries for six months. It’s always been a favorite around the brewery, and we were stoked that the GABF judges loved it as much as we do. We feel very fortunate to have had such a great showing at GABF last year and to be recognized for beers across a wide variety of styles, especially to take home the gold in such a highly-competitive category as [American-Style Sour Ale]. It really shows the versatility of our team of brewers.”—Paul Segura, Brewmaster, Karl Strauss Brewing Company
Beer festivals take place nearly every weekend in San Diego County. We are, arguably, the craft-beer capital of the country, after all. But even with such a local plethora of opportunities to celebrate and consume copious amounts of craft-beer, there are out-of-town events of such high caliber that they merit travel expenses. Popular examples include the country’s largest event, the Great American Beer Festival, and most Californians’ be-all-end-all, the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival. But there’s a relatively new arrival to the must-visit ranks where every ale and lager is special, Collaboration Fest.
Held in Denver, Colorado each March during Colorado Craft Beer Week (CCBW), Collaboration Fest is an initiative conceived by the Colorado Brewers Guild and Two Parts in 2014 to bring together breweries to a degree that goes beyond standard beer-festival camaraderie. Each year, the Guild’s member-breweries reach out to brewing companies to brew special collaboration beers specifically for this festival; one-time-only creations that are here then gone, making for the type of unique experience adventurous, whale-hunting beer connoisseurs live (and die) for.
This year’s Collaboration Fest, which will take place at the National Western Stock Show Complex on March 25, will feature 100-plus breweries serving more than 75 collaboration beers. Last year’s event was stocked with a similar assemblage of players and project-beers, the majority of which went outside the box of standard-styles. Many were ultra-hoppy, funky, style-bending or infused with exotic ingredients, creating a beer-list unlike that of any other festival.
Several of 2016’s collaborative efforts involved San Diego brewing interests. Rip Current Brewing brewmaster Paul Sangster paired up with Littleton’s Living the Dream Brewing to brew a San Diego-style IPA. Stone Brewing small-batch brewer Laura Ulrich cooked up an imperial stout with old friends and coworkers from Fort Collins’ Odell Brewing, where she worked from 2002 to 2004 before joining the gargoyle clan. Both San Diegans were on-hand at the event to interact with festival goers and check out the other beers on the floor.
Other San Diego collaborators included Bagby Beer Company, Ballast Point Brewing, Green Flash Brewing and Pizza Port, who worked-up a pair of beers with Cannonball Creek Brewing and Twisted Pine Brewing. (A full rundown of the individual beers from San Diego collaborators can be found below.)
Some of the standout sours included a tart dark ale with Brettanomyces from Crooked Stave and Evil Twin Brewing, a black saison called “Ramblin’ Man” from Liquid Mechanics and Odd 13 Brewing, “Deux Funk” from Funkwerks and Wicked Weed Brewing, and a vanillin-kissed, barrel-aged sour from Denver Beer and Spangalang Brewing called “Cross Eyed Funktion”. An oak-aged Gose from TRVE Brewing and Prairie Artisan Ales exhibited brilliant depth and fruitiness from Colorado peaches. Rare styles like Kvassier (Call to Arms, Denizens and Conshocken Brewing), Kottbusser (300 Suns Brewing, Gemini Beer) and a rye- and wheat-beer hybrid (a roggenweiss) from Prost! And Dogfish Head provided even more depth and variety.
Even takes on IPAs went outside the box. Epic and Ska Brewing teamed up for a barrel-aged American IPA dubbed “Skeptic Ale”, while Crazy Mountain Brewing and Stillwater Artisan Ales’ “Neoteric” sour wild IPA was one of the fest’s most impressive offerings. There was also a reunion stout called “Breeze’s Mom” brewed by the founders of Call to Arms Brewing with their longtime former colleagues at Avery Brewing. Then there were all-in collabs like an outstanding barrel-fermented sour brewed by Our Mutual Friend, Scratch Brewing and Hopworks Urban Brewery; and a dubbel forged by the collective powers of The Bakers’ Brewery, Breckenridge Brewery, Pug Ryan’s Brewery, Angry James, Broken Compass, Backcountry and Dillon Dam Brewing.
Some may find it difficult to justify traveling halfway across the country for three-to-four hours of beer-tasting, no matter how outstanding, but more awaits visitors to Collaboration Fest. Denver is home to 65 breweries, brewpubs and beer-centric bars and restaurants, many of which—roughly 25 breweries and 20 or so hot-spots, including Falling Rock Tap House, Euclid Hall, Star Bar, First Draft, Tap 14 and Avanti—occupy the downtown core. Thanks to free public-transit along the 16th Street Mall, a wide array of them can be accessed easily and expeditiously. And because the event is held during Colorado Craft Beer Week, many of those venues have special events and promotions taking place, adding value and enhanced experiences to one’s travel itinerary. (Between 40 and 50 CCBW events were planned within Denver at press-time).
San Diegans are fortunate to live in a suds-saturated locale, but remarkable events like Collaboration Fest remind us that there’s a whole world out there, and that it’s one worth exploring.
San Diego Collaboration Fest Beers
In late-October, while the craft beer community was still processing the news of Stone Brewing’s sizeable layoffs, wondering and worrying about the long-term, highly visible individuals who had been cut from Team Stone, one of the most well-known delivered some shocking news of a positive ilk. That ex-Stoner is “Dr.” Bill Sysak, who announced he is in the process of opening his own brewery, Wild Barrel Brewing Company. A bon vivant and hospitality professional known throughout the world (this is not hyperbole) for his extensive beer and food knowledge, this is Sysak’s first fermentable foray where he is in an ownership position. Scheduled to open mid-Spring of next year, Wild Barrel will be sited in San Marcos and eventually feature multiple tasting rooms. Read on for more on the finer details and Sysak’s vision for the business and a rather exciting life post-Stone.
What will your role and responsibilities be at Wild Barrel?
My title will be CEO, and my role will be driving the concept of the brewery, from initial design and layout to the styles of beer we make, marketing, direction and growth. I have a very talented team with me, and my 39 years around craft-beer has afforded me access to a ridiculous number of friends and consultants, all of whom are proven leaders in the industry. I have the vision, I have the plan, but I also know that I don’t have all the answers.
What led you to opening a brewery and why did you select San Marcos as your home-base?
I’ve been approached by investors many times over the last 20 years about opening a craft beer bar or brewpub, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until I left the medical field in 2008. The opportunity to work for Stone in 2009 was too great to pass up, so I put it on hold until last year. As far as San Marcos, even though there are a number of breweries there already, including two that I love—Port Brewing / The Lost Abbey and Rip Current Brewing—I think there is still plenty of room for craft breweries that produce distinctive, unique beers. It also doesn’t hurt that the City of San Marcos is pro-craft breweries.
How long have you been working on this project and how has that process been?
I started the process in early 2015. I had a couple of false starts, but by the beginning of 2016 my partners and I, with the help of consultants, started to finalize the business plan and operating agreement. We have a large portion of our funding accomplished; enough that we had reached the benchmark to move forward with announcing the project last month. We are currently negotiating a lease, which will be followed by our TTB and numerous other filings. We are getting quotes on brewhouses and hope to put that order in over the next two weeks. Other areas such as POS, beer menus, glassware, growler filling system, draft system, beer styles, labels, website are all either selected or in development.
Who will handle the brewing and what are some of the beers they will produce?
Bill Sobieski, an award-winning home-brewer and Certified Beer Judge, who is well known in the Southern California craft beer community. I’ve known Bill for over 25 years, and he will be our director of brewery operations. I think with the constantly increasing number of beers the craft beer consumer has available to them, having a focused beer portfolio is critical. In hyper-competitive markets like San Diego, Portland and Denver, the days of a new brewery making whatever beer styles the brewer wants to that particular week is over. To be successful today you still need to make beers that cater to every palate, but you can’t just randomly select styles. We will have one gateway beer to start, not three. It will be a Belgian wit, light and refreshing to capture the converted BMC (Bud, Miller, Coors) drinkers, yet complex enough to be the first beer of the night for a beer aficionado, 5-6% (alcohol-by-volume) with classic ingredients, but with more pronounced citrus notes than most wits. You can expect us to have two or three San Diego-style IPAs on at any given time. I love hops and, apparently, most of the craft beer community does also. Even though it will take us some time to acquire hop contracts we aren’t going to let that stop us from making IPAs with the hops that we want to use. One of the biggest mistakes I see new breweries make is the kitchen-sink IPA. They throw Mosaic, Citra, Nelson, Simcoe and three other hard-to-get hops all in one beer. It smells and tastes great, but they can’t continue to produce it. Our core IPA will be in the 7-8% ABV range with classic West Coast hops like Cascade, Centennial and CTZ making up the majority of the hop bill until we get to the late addition, then you will see a rotating finishing hop that will be highlighted. You can also expect to see a couple of bigger IPAs throughout the year, mainly doubles. All I can tell you about the coffee stout right now is that I am talking to four local roasters and our goal is to have the beer change seasonally. The only roaster I can confirm at this time is Mostra Coffee. Bill is also recreating a beer called Mission Impechable that he first created 20 years ago.
How do you believe your beer expertise will impact this business and make it better?
One of my roles at Stone was running the beverage program for their hospitality division. I have also been a consultant to various bars, restaurants and breweries over the last 20 years. Those experiences will be invaluable in starting a brewery and subsequent tasting rooms. Having personal relationships with hundreds of potential accounts around the country will be helpful and having purchased beers through bottle releases since their inception gives me insight into that process also. I’ve already had discussions with some of the best breweries in the country about doing collaborations, so expect to see a number of them.
Who are some individuals who have been instrumental to the conceptualization of Wild Barrel?
My closest friend over the last five years is Chris White. Not White Labs’ Chris White, although he is a friend also. Chris is mine and Bill’s partner, and will serve as president of Wild Barrel. He is an entrepreneur who already runs two successful businesses; Golden State Cigars and Golden State Pools. Chris has been involved from the beginning and I wouldn’t have been able to do this without him.
After several years in which San Diego County breweries had strong, but annually declining performances at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), the 2015 edition of the country’s largest and most prestigious brewing competition saw a whopping 19 medals awarded to San Diego breweries (20 if you count the silver to San Diego-based Karl Strauss Brewing Company’s Costa Mesa brewpub for its Singularity American-style black ale).
Held each year in Denver, Colorado, GABF takes place at the Colorado Convention Center and gets bigger each time out. This year, 242 judges from 15 countries judged more than 6,000 beers from 1,552 brewing companies, vying for gold, silver and bronze medals in 92 beer style categories. Each brewery that received the opportunity to enter the competition was allowed five entries per brewery-equipped location.
Each of Pizza Port’s four San Diego County brewpubs won at least one award. San Diego breweries nearly swept the Coffee Beer category altogether. And first-time winners abounded. But no rookie win was more unexpected or prestigious than that of Santee-based BNS Brewing and Distilling Co., which shocked the industry by beating out 335 other India pale ales to win the competition’s most highly contested category—IPA. As big a deal as that was, one brewery did even better. San Marcos’ Rip Current Brewing Co. was named the “Very Small Brewery of the Year” for 2015 behind gold and silver medals earned in the Bock and Scotch Ale categories, respectively.
The following is a list of all of the San Diego County winners from the 2015 GABF competition.
Very Small Brewery of the Year: Rip Current Brewing Co., San Marcos
Coffee Beer: Gold—Zumbar Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout, New English Brewing Co., Sorrento Valley; Bronze—Bacon & Eggs, Pizza Port, Ocean Beach
India Pale Ale: Gold—Revolver IPA, BNS Brewing & Distilling Co., Santee
Session India Pale Ale: Gold—The Coachman, Societe Brewing Co., Kearny Mesa
Wood & Barrel-Aged Sour Beer: Gold—Veritas 015, The Lost Abbey, San Marcos
American-Belgo-Style Ale: Gold—Le Freak, Green Flash Brewing Co., Mira Mesa
Bock: Gold—Break Line Bock, Rip Current Brewing Co., San Marcos
Scotch Ale: Silver—Black Lagoon Scottish Strong, Rip Current Brewing Co., San Marcos
Oatmeal Stout: Silver—Scripps Pier Stout, South Park Brewing Co., South Park
Session Beer: Bronze—Guillaume, Pizza Port, Ocean Beach
International-Style Pale Ale: Bronze—San Diego-style IPA, Karl Strauss Brewing Co., La Jolla
Imperial India Pale Ale: Bronze—Teahupo’o, Breakwater Brewing Co., Oceanside
American-Style Amber/Red Ale: Bronze—Shark Bite Red, Pizza Port Bressi Ranch, Carlsbad
Double Red Ale: Bronze—GRAMBO, Pizza Port, Solana Beach
French- & Belgian-Style Saison: Bronze—Saison, URBN St. Brewing Co., El Cajon
Other Belgian-Style Ale: Bronze—Witty Moron, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Liberty Station
Export Stout: Bronze—Z-Man Stout, Pizza Port, Carlsbad
South German-Style Hefeweizen: Bronze—Windansea Wheat, Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Pacific Beach
Chile Beer: Bronze—Serrano Pale Ale, Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, Scripps Ranch
San Diego County brewers brought home six gold medals, two silvers and 11 bronzes, with 10 of the awards going to breweries located within the actual City of San Diego. Nearly San Diegan neighbors that also won include Aftershock Brewing Company, which took bronze for its oatmeal cookie-flavored porter in the Herb and Spice Beer category, and Garage Brewing Company, which won gold for its Bucket Seat Blonde in the Munich-style Helles category. Both companies are based in Temecula, California. A full list of every winner can be found on the Brewers Association‘s website.