GABF 2014: Midwestern Awards & A Post-Fest Mini Recap

In Beer News by Karl

After Day One of this year’s GABF, I posted some initial thoughts, observations and other whatnot here. Now that the GABF 2014 awards are in the books, here’s a few more ruminations and a roundup of the awards for states around and including Illinois. 

Despite all the festivals, tap takeovers, beer dinners, tap room releases and collaboration brews, being a brewer can be a lonely endeavor. Hours of work in often cramped brewhouses, long hot days over boiling kettles, graining out thousands of pounds of spent malt, patient waits for fermentation and tedious wet work on the packaging line can all pay off at the Great American Beer Festival.

If you’ve been following the explosion of breweries across the nation, you’ll be unsurprised to find that this year’s GABF was the biggest yet, with over 700 breweries participating (still a sliver of the 3000+ currently operating in the US with nearly 2,000 more in the planning stages according to the Brewer’s Association) pouring over 3000 different beers. In addition to those pouring at the fest, over 5500 beers were sent for judging at this year’s conference.

Next year’s GABF will be even bigger — they’re expanding their footprint another 90,000 square feet (from this year’s 188,000 sq. ft.) to pack even more breweries, brewpubs and beer-adjacent industries in one place for 72 more hours of craft-beer-focused insanity. Not for nothing, but McCormick Place has multiple halls of around that size and bigger. Okay, so you can’t legally smoke weed in Illinois, but despite that minor difference, who else wants to help start lobbying for a GABF East?

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Unlike last year, Chicago proper can finally once again claim some hardware from this year’s GABF instead of just the ‘burbs. Even more fun? Illinois breweries beat out other Midwestern brewing powerhouse states like Wisconsin, which earned seven medals, and Michigan, which walked away six.

Not that awards are a total assessment of an area’s brewing faculties, but I like to look at this as though Illinois breweries really came into their own over the past year, even as the rate of opening breweries slowed significantly.

Even though we didn’t win as many medals as places like Colorado, which earned 39 medals for breweries as big as Coors (for Banquet AND the Silver Bullet) to such unlikely places as a brewpub in a casino, we as an area did pretty good. For example, in the largest category in GABF history, the American-style IPA with 279 entries, Half Acre took Silver for their Heyoka IPA, just released a few weeks ago. When I stopped by the taproom on Sunday for a growler before the ballgame, the staff said that Heyoka was flying off the shelves, as well it should.

After taking Gold at GABF as well as Gold at this year’s World Beer Cup for their Defender Stout, Haymarket Brewery can rightfully crow about legitimately having one of the best stouts in the nation. The award comes as brewmaster Pete Crowley celebrates his 20th year at GABF, having spent the last four years running Haymarket and stints at Rock Bottom Chicago, Flying Dog and Broadway Brewing before that.

That makes four medals in four years for the West Loop brewpub — Haymarket won Golds at 2012’s World Beer Cup and 2011’s GABF — but future medals may be headed out of state; Crowley is reportedly searching for space for a production facility in southwest Michigan. I couldn’t track down Crowley among the thousands in the beer hall after the awards, but when I asked Haymarket’s Janna Mestan and beer consultant/co-conspirator Gary Valentine how many awards Crowley had a hand in after two decades of GABF’ing, they both gave me a look that said “we wouldn’t even know where to begin counting.”

Among breweries just barely outside Chicago: Somewhere Carrie Nation is doing cartwheels in her grave, after Evanston’s Temperance brewing took silver for their Gatecrasher IPA just two weeks after celebrating their first anniversary. In Bedford Park, just outside Chicago’s southwest border, 5 Rabbit took silver for their 5 Rabbit Blonde, though no Gold medal was awarded in that category, so technically, they could say they were the top rated Blonde of the fest.

More proof that beer is a meritocracy: Downstate’s Little Egypt brewery took gold for their rich, pillowy, banana-forward hefeweizen, brewed on a eensy-teensy-little 1.5-barrel system. After their award, brewer Ken Rhude told me that a travelling brewmaster from Bavaria passed through their town to try LE’s beer, “and when he had [the hefeweizen], he immediately said ‘Enter that. You’ll win.’” Rhude might want to track that guy down for future R&D.

Not to be any sort of political fanboy or anything, but it is pretty cool that Colorado has a governor that came from the brewing community (John Hickenlooper opened the Wynkoop brewpub back in ’88, which is one of the largest brewpubs in the country; their wet-hopped Belgorado was pretty good) and seemed to be genuinely enjoying speaking to a room full of generally like-minded brewers.

Excel recently “rebooted” their entire lineup of beers, which is a drastic measure to be sure, but if the Bose Roggen black lager that we tried is any indication, they’re in good shape with former Stone brewer Ron Burguiere. It’s got some well developed flavors, light body and nice medium-roast-coffee bitterness; we didn’t try a ton of black lagers at the ‘fest but that one still stands out over all.

DESTIHL certainly has taken the “sours at GABF” thing to heart, pouring nearly entirely sours save for mainstays like Hoperation Overload and their Strawberry Blonde. The crabapple sour I tried didn’t jump out at me the way their other recent offerings have, like their berlinerweiss for example, but it looks like we’ll all have a greater chance to give them a shot soon — did you see all these sour labels they’ve sent for approval?

GABF Trendwatch #3: Peanut or peanut butter beers were legion — in fact, there was a sign upon entry stating for the allergic that peanut beers would be on hand. The Bronze-winning Specialty Beer was from Cincinnatti’s Listermann/Triple Digit, and it didn’t jump out at me in any major direction but was a nice, straight-down-the-middle line drive of a peanut butter beer.

As mentioned previously, Willoughby’s peanut butter cup was as awesome as ever, Right Brain brought a Thai Peanut beer, Belching Beaver showed up with a Peanut Butter Milk Stout (which I would have liked to try but I just couldn’t quite bring myself to drink anything from a Belching Beaver) and Funky Buddha brought a PB&J beer.

All in all — a pretty damned impressive bunch of beers in one place, and very well run (as it should be, three decades in). Now that I’ve got one of these under my belt, I’m looking forward to next time to seeing how much damage I can do in 2015 and hopefully checking out some off-site events. Even though I spent a few hours bumming around places like Wynkoop and Breckenridge’s downtown spot, my time was devoted to the convention center this time, and it seems more and more that even as great as the fest is, the other things around town offer even more.

We have more about the medals from Illinois here, but beyond that here’s a roundup of the medals from around the Great Lakes area. You done good, Land of Lincoln.

Wisconsin:

Gold, American-Style Lager or Light Lager: Miller Lite, Miller Brewing Co.

Gold, German-Style Marzen: Capital Oktoberfest, Capital Brewery Co.

Silver, Coffee Beer: Batshit Crazy, MobCraft Beer

Bronze, German-Style Kolsch: Canoe Paddler, Leinenkugel Brewing Co.

Bronze, Munich-Style Helles: Stammtisch Lager, Titletown Brewing Co.

Bronze, Ordinary or Special Bitter: Wisco Disco, Stillmank Brewing Co.

Bronze, Pumpkin Beer: Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale, Stevens Point Brewery

Michigan:

Gold, Experimental Beer: Key Lime Pie, Short’s Brewing Co.

Silver, Robust Porter: Porter, Founders Brewing Co.

Silver, Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale: Thor’s Hammer Bastone Brewery

Silver: Private Stock #472 Bastone Brewery MI Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer

Bronze, Belgian-Style Blonde Ale or Pale Ale: Rainmaker Ale Stormcloud Brewing Co.

Bronze, Robust Porter: Peck’s Porter, Tapistry Brewing Co.

Indiana:

Gold, American-Style Wheat Beer: Red Dawn, Carson’s Brewery

Gold, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer: Lonesome Dove, Sun King Brewery

Silver, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer: Barrel Aged 666: Sympathy for the Devil, Sun King Brewery

Silver, Belgian-Style Abbey Ale: Sanitarium, Bier Brewery

Minnesota:

Gold, American-Belgo-Style Ale: White IPA, Badger Hill Brewing

Gold, Scotch Ale: Wee Heavy,  Steel Toe Brewing

Silver, Specialty Honey Beer: Mexican Honey, Indeed Brewing Co.

Bronze, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer: Buffalo Bock, Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery

Bronze, Classic English-Style Pale Ale: Extra Pale Ale, Summit Brewing Co.

Bronze, Extra Special Bitter: 14° ESB, Bent Paddle Brewing Co.

Ohio:

Gold, German-Style Wheat Ale: AlpenGlow Fat Head’s Brewery & Saloon

Gold,Imperial India Pale Ale: Creeper Columbus Brewing Co.

Silver, Foreign-Style Stout: Wooster New Stout, JAFB Wooster Brewery

Bronze, American-Style India Pale Ale: Bodhi Columbus Brewing Co.

Bronze, Specialty Beer: Nutcase Peanut Butter Porter, Listermann/Triple Digit Brewing Co.

Even though we have a little more about the IL awards here, they are below as well for full comparative purposes:

Illinois: 

Gold, American-Style Stout: Defender, Haymarket Brewery

Gold, South German-Style Hefeweizen: Little Egypt Hefeweizen, Little Egypt

Gold, Wood- and Barrel-aged Sour Beer: Sour Beer #2, Two Brothers

Silver, American-Style India Pale Ale: Heyoka, Half Acre

Silver, English-Style India Pale Ale: Gatecrasher, Temperance Brewing Company

Silver, Golden or Blonde Ale: 5 Rabbit, 5 Rabbit Brewery

Silver, Historical Beer: White Eagle Smoked Wheat, RAM Schaumburg

Silver, Other Strong Beer: Shadow of the Moon Imperial Stout, Flossmoor Station Brewing

Bronze, Kellerbier or Zwickelbier: 18th Rebellion, Horse Thief Hollow

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About the Author

Karl

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Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Draft Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, comes out in late 2017, and if you’re buying, he’s likely having a porter or a pale ale.

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