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…
The City of Encinitas has a history of staunch resistance toward beer manufacturers looking to set up shop within its boundaries. It’s where prestigious brewer Jeff Bagby (who has roots in Encinitas) and his wife initially sought to set up his acclaimed brewpub, Bagby Beer Company before a property that was much more attractive than the idea of embarking on Encinitas’ difficult permitting process led them to select Oceanside instead. The move has paid off as Bagby Beer’s opening fell in line with an overall food-and-beverage renaissance in Oceanside that has included establishment of several other brewing interests in the years since. Meanwhile, Encinitas is one of only four municipalities (out of 18 in San Diego County) without a single brewery in a county awash with local beer. (There was brewpub called The Red Kettle that operated along then First Street in the early-nineties, but it was very short-lived.) That will change to an extent, however, as the city is on track to welcome multiple brewery-owned tasting rooms.
Culture Brewing Company has a 1,048-square-foot tasting room in the works. That spot is scheduled to open at 629 South Coast Highway on August 12. The smallish nature of that venue seems to have been key in getting approval from the City’s Planning Commission, which granted the Solana Beach-based business permit approval in January.
When approached by Point Loma-based Modern Times Beer about a vastly larger satellite project—a space capable of holding approximately 150 people at a time—the commission stiffened once more. So much so that Modern Times put out an email blast to its consumers asking them to come to a City meeting held last week to voice their support for the project and help sway the Planning Commission’s vote. A substantial number of fans attended, vocally going toe-to-toe with Encinitas residents opposing the project. In the end, it would seem that maneuver resulted in Modern Times gaining the razor-thin voting edge that will lead to the permit approval they so desperately coveted. Located at 470 South Coast Highway across from the iconic La Paloma Theatre, that venue is estimated to open next year.
Further north in Leucadia (which is within and under the jurisdiction of the City of Encinitas), Miramar-based Saint Archer Brewery aims to install a tasting room in a space between beer bar The Regal Seagull and Surfy Surfy surf shop. If approved, it will be the first satellite venue from the macro-beer interest, which was purchased by MillerCoors in 2015 after just over two years in business. The newest of the proposed brewery-owned ventures in Encinitas, it has yet to inspire as much concern from the City or its residents as Culture and Modern Times. Instead, the main opponents are from craft beer fans who eschew Big Beer and the recent string of craft acquisitions.
It would seem City officials take cues from their constituents when attempting to defend their community from beer manufacturers. There is a vocal percentage of Encinitas citizens who are concerned that their city, particularly the commercial stretch of Coast Highway in the downtown core, is over-saturated with alcohol-centric hospitality venues. That is a matter of opinion, but even if one shares that point of view, City government permitted those booze businesses in the first place, including a wine-making facility, Solterra Winery and Kitchen, not far from Saint Archer’s proposed location in Leucadia. If Encinitas’ portion of the 101 resembles Pacific Beach’s Garnett Avenue as the City and its people fear, it would seem that municipal government has no one but themselves to blame.
There’s more to the San Diego County Fair than tilt-a-whirls, geode collections, hot-tub shows and deep-fried everything. It also plays host to one of the largest annual craft-beer festivals, here or anywhere on the West Coast, the San Diego International Beer Festival (SDIBF). This year’s event will feature hundreds of beers from multiple states and countries, all of which can be sampled in an all-you-can-drink (responsibly) format during five sessions taking place over three days from June 17 to 19. In addition to fun for the general public, there is also a brewing-competition component, the winners of which were recently announced. For the second straight year, AleSmith Brewing Company earned Champion Brewery bragging rights, with 23 gold medals (and 41 medals total) awarded to local breweries. It’s quite an event with a rich history and promising future. For more on both, we sat down with event organizer Tom Nickel (who also owns Nickel Beer Company, O’Brien’s Pub and West Coast Barbecue and Brews).
What was the impetus for the SDIBF?
The original idea came from Chad Stevens, who was a member of (local homebrew club) QUAFF. He’d been running the homebrew competition at the fair for a number of years and felt there should be a professional competition there as well. He brought me in because he felt he needed someone on the professional side to legitimize the idea it was a professional competition. The vision was for a competition for professional brewers by professional brewers. We had like 200 entries the first year and thought it was highly successful. We held it in the paddock area and it was a one-day afternoon festival. It was fun, and it’s grown from there.
Tell me about the tremendous growth of the field and competition over the years.
Twice before we’ve had exponential growth where we’ve reached another plateau. We slowly grew by a hundred or so each year, then four-or-five years ago, when the real boom of brewery openings occurred, we had a jump from 600 to 900 and we hovered at just under 1,000 for the last three years. This year, we jumped from 979 to 1,356 total entries, over 1,300 of which were beers—a 44% increase overall.
Who are some of the individuals who’ve been integral to the SDIBF’s success?
Chad was with us the first three years, then moved on. That’s when I brought (Bagby Beer Company founder) Jeff Bagby in to help me. He was there a number of years, and the last two years that slot’s been filled by (O’Brien’s Pub general manager) Tyson Blake. Throughout the whole time—from Chad to now—Chris Shadrick has run the homebrew competition and served as judging coordinator. He helps coordinate all the judges for the competition, as well. Tyson and I do the festival and entries, marketing and promotion of the competition and festival.
How are judges solicited for the competition?
We have two avenues. One is registering in the competition with the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program). The SDIBF is posted on their website so all BJCP judges can see and access the event. What really sets SDIBF apart from most events is most BJCP-certified homebrewers don’t have the opportunity to judge professional beers. That’s a real carrot as far as enticing the judges. Secondly, we solicit through the local professional brewing community; from people who enter through the San Diego Brewers Guild and also, for the first time ever this year, through the craft-beer programs at UCSD and SDSU.
What can attendees to this year’s SDIBF look forward to?
There’ll be an expanded VIP area with food pairings and more space on the festival floor as we continually grow our footprint. We’re expecting beers from 15 countries, and the selection of beer in terms of number of different places it’s sent from will be unparalleled compared to any festival west of Denver’s Great American Beer Festival. Ditto the number of different beers and the diversity of international beers that we’ll have. We’ll also have a special beer, Steampunk Ale, a California common brewed specifically for the SDIBF by Abnormal Beer Company, and rare beer tappings throughout the festival.
Where is the SDIBF going?
The competition component is only going to continue to grow and we’re expanding our paid staff to accommodate that. The Del Mar Fairgrounds are doing everything they can to keep SDIBF growing at whatever pace it naturally grows at. If it doubled in the next 10 years, I don’t feel like there will end up being a cap. With the festival itself, there are a lot of interesting ideas. It’s always been my belief that the SDIBF will become enough of an event that, eventually, it won’t be part of the fair, but will instead take place as its own event over a weekend. I feel like for some connoisseurs, they don’t want to deal with the fair crowds, tickets, etc., but I do see us easily doing an independent festival. But having a presence at the fair is always important, so maybe we’ll do two events. I feel like part of the benefit for brewers is not only getting to expose their products to die-hard beer-fans, but also make new converts in an all-you-can-taste setting.
In 2014, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company reached out to breweries across the country to brew collaboration brews as part of a mammoth undertaking called Beer Camp Across America. That program saw a dozen collaboration beers (including one with local business Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits) nationally released in six-packs and multiple beer fests featuring hundreds of craft breweries held throughout the nation. It was such a tremendous success that the company is rolling out a second edition of Beer Camp Across America. This time around, the company has reached out to brewers in six beery regions of the United States. Not surprisingly, Southern California is one of them and, as one would expect, the prowess of not one, but several San Diego County breweries were solicited—Oceanside’s Bagby Beer Company, San Marcos’ Port Brewing Company / The Lost Abbey and Kearny Mesa’s Societe Brewing Company. That trio was teamed with Los Angeles County interests Beachwood BBQ and Brewing and Smog City Brewing Company to create a beer that will be offered in this year’s Beer Camp Across America 12-pack.
I make my living as a storyteller, but the opportunity to peel back the tent door and let the Beer Campers themselves share insights from this world-class collaboration is too rich to pass up. Read on for more about this prestigious project.
Tomme Arthur | Director of Brewery Operations, The Lost Abbey
It was a pleasant surprise when we were contacted last fall about this opportunity. Working with Sierra Nevada on this was a lot like having the Vatican call up and ask if we’d like to participate in Easter Mass. How could we say no? The Beer Camp Across America program was such an amazing accomplishment when they first launched it. I wasn’t sure it was ever going to make a comeback, so I was very pleased at the opportunity it presented us when we were solicited to be a part of this new set of beers. All of the contributors to our beer are brewers that I admire and consider to be some of the very best in this great region for brewing. I’ve known [Beachwood BBQ brewmaster] Julian Shrago for 10-plus years now and trust him completely to lead this band of miscreants. In terms of the actual working process with Sierra Nevada, the level of interaction and staffing that it takes to pull off a project like this is mind-numbing. For every email we receive detailing the process, I am certain there have been multiple meetings that needed to take place ensuring everything keeps running on schedule. These guys are the pro’s pros of doing big great things for brewers and it’s always a pleasure to be around passionate employees who believe in such a great project. I believe we have an exceptional beer in the works and everyone who tastes it should see what happens when some bitchin’ brewers put their thinking caps on and agree on a solution to a simple request: What kind of beer do you want to make?
Jeff Bagby | Owner & Brewmaster, Bagby Beer Company
The beer is an American-style stout. Getting together with such a great group has been awesome. We all brewed the original pilot batch at Beachwood. After we all had a chance to taste it, the recipe was just slightly tweaked before we all joined up to brew another pilot batch at Sierra Nevada in Chico, Calif. That was quite an experience. We will be able to taste that batch very soon, and the main batch will be brewed and packaged later this year so that it can be combined with the other five beers for the 12-pack release, which will include two bottles of each beer brewed for this project.
Douglas Constantiner | Brewery Curator & Brewer, Societe Brewing Company
The brew-day up at Sierra Nevada was incredible and, without a doubt, the highlight of my career. Julian, Bagby, Tomme, [Smog City brewmaster] Jonathan Porter, [Societe co-founder and brewmaster] Travis Smith and I decided to brew a stout for this collaboration rather than an IPA in order to showcase our diversity as brewers. San Diego and Southern California’s fame for hoppy IPAs can, unfortunately, overshadow other styles we love to brew and drink…like stouts. The five breweries representing our region have won medals for stouts, so we thought it would be suiting to show the country that there’s more to Southern California than IPAs. It’s hard to put into words what it was like to sit down at a table with brewing legends like Bagby, Tomme and Julian to discuss the direction, process and recipe of this beer. And then to have Sierra Nevada bring it to life is beyond imaginable.
Tomme Arthur | Director of Brewery Operations, Port Brewing Company / The Lost Abbey
All told, it continues to be exciting each time we get together as we approach the next benchmark which will be the actual brewing on the big system of the beer for the release. At that point, the heavy lifting will be done and the chance to sit back and enjoy the release will be imminent. There will be no sadness, only joy knowing we were part of this great thing called Beer Camp Across America 2016.