What Chicagoland didn’t win in quantity, we won in status.
Part of me wanted to leave the GABF awards ceremony early. I’d been sitting there for better than two hours, I had a cousin patiently and mostly soberly waiting for me out on the main floor — and out of all the hundreds of entries in the Hazy/Juicy IPA section, there was surely no way that a Chicago-area brewery would win one, right? Let alone take two of three of the medals?
Pretty glad I stuck around til’ the end.
Chicago became a bonafide hazy-IPA destination at just a few minutes after noon, Mountain time, on Saturday September 22, when Alarmist Brewing was awarded Gold for their Le Jus IPA. Hot on their heels: Eris Brewery & Cider House with a bronze win in the same category for their Foiken Haze. That capped off a pretty decent day where Illinois brewers took home a dozen medals overall — it’s more than we took home last year (10), not as much as our biggest showing in 2016 (17 medals that year).
Holy shit indeed.
Numbers aside, in terms of an award ceremony putting Chicago on the map in a way previous years haven’t done … this year probably did that far more than most — even more than Hailstorm’s Prairie Madness pulling down Gold for IPA last year.
What about the rest of the Great American Beer Fest, you ask?
Well, the biggest and most important beer festival in the nation got bigger this year — which wasn’t a bad thing. My first GABF experience in 2014 was also huge, but also packed, cramped, sometimes overwhelming in a not-great way. This year? Plenty of room to move, spread out, sit down, chill out for a few minutes if you’ve had a few too many samples.
Independent of whether you liked Jameson and Buffalo Wild Wings major sponsorship of the fest, adding their square footage added a couple interesting new locations to check out aside from the usual lines at endcap brewers and other no-name places with pitchers of beer.
I’ve heard some griping about the weird alphabetical layout — I mostly liked it even though the Meet the Brewer section totally threw off a lot of brewery visits that I thought were out in the regular section. Was it perfect? Nope, but given the huge footprint, you had a much better idea of finding the brewery you wanted to find vs. trying to figure out what region they were in, and then tracking them down from there.
Let’s nail down the numbers a little better next year, though, GABF — 3 Floyds vs. Three Floyds is pretty major location change.
The other main thing that struck me is that no matter what kind of beer experience you want to have from American craft brewers, you can have that at GABF. Want nothing but lagers? Easy. Want nothing but IPAs or Hazy IPAs or pale ales? Easy. Want nothing but black IPAs? That one’s tougher, but you could do it. Saison-only, English-mild-limited, barrel-aged-stout-centric, etc. All those experiences are yours at GABF, if you can hunt them down. Just like America’s craft brewing scene.
Other GABF Midwestern takeaways:
You don’t hear much about them the rest of the year (unless Evanston is charging them for breaking a lease on a place they never moved into) but Smylie Bros. Purple Line has to legitimately be considered one of the best Fruit Wheat beers in the nation, with their third win for the beer this year.
The Golden Prairie line of beers recently re-emerged out of Argus as a revival of one of Chicago’s original craft brands. Pretty nice to now be able to point to a gold medal for their Doppel Alt and say hey — these beers are back two decades later, and arguably better than ever.
Despite the big wins in the Hazy IPA categories around here, let’s not forget about Corridor Brewing & Provisions — the #1 medal winner in Illinois with two awards — a silver in Hazy DIPA for their Color of Life (which was only named as DDH DIPA on the awards sheet due to listing error) and gold for their Pour le Mineur grisette.
If you’re on the hunt for a strong Belgian beer, head over to Indiana’s Taxman Brewing, winning two awards for Belgian styles and making up nearly half of the whole state’s 2018 haul.
I regularly call Founders Porter one of my favorites, and one of the nation’s most underrated beers — nice to see it still earning accolades, with a silver medal this year in the Robust Porter category.
Illinois and Minnesota did quite well this year but Ohio crushed us all — they took 14 medals this year, as well as taking the Very Small Brewing Company crown away from last year’s winners, On Tour Brewing Co., moving that award east to Brink Brewing in Cincinnati.
Last year I asked WTF was up with Wisconsin, taking home just two 2017 medals. This year they doubled their output and brought home four medals … one of which won last year (Third Space’s Unite the Clans).
Congrats to all the winners. Here’s our full roundup of the 2018 GABF medal winners around the Great Lakes:
Illinois: 12 Medals
Gold: Alarmist Le Jus (Juicy or Hazy IPA); Argus Brewery Golden Prairie Doppel Alt (Other Strong Beer); Tighthead Scarlet > Fire (Irish-Style Red Ale); Corridor Brewery & Provisions Pour le Mineur (Other Belgian-Style Ale); Midnight Pig Chicago Overcoat (Barley Wine-Style Ale)
Silver: Smylie Bros. Purple Line (Fruit Wheat Beer); Corridor Brewery & Provisions Color of Life DDH Double IPA (Juicy or Hazy Imperial or Double IPA)
Bronze: Eris Brewery & Cider House Foiken Haze (Juicy or Hazy IPA); Revolution Straight Jacket (Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer); Maplewood Charlatan (American-Style Pale Ale); Werk Force Brewing Co.’s Bad Polaroid (Double Hoppy Red Ale)
2018 Pro-Am Silver: Rock Bottom Brewery’s Erik Pizer & Jim Todd, Gone for a Burton
(Technically we aren’t counting the 2018 Collaboration Silver for Firestone’s Pixie Dusted, but we could since that collaboration was largely driven by One Off beer director Adam Vavrick.)
Indiana: 5 Medals
Gold: Upland Brewing Two of Tarts (Gose); Flix Brewhouse Tripel Carmel-ite (Belgian-Style Tripel); The Tap Brewery Kill the Lights (Imperial Stout)
Silver: Taxman Brewing Qualified (Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale)
Bronze: Taxman Brewing Deduction (Belgian-Style Dubbel or Quad)
Michigan: 9 Medals
Gold: The Mitten Brewing Co. West Coast Swing Amber (American-Style Amber)
Silver: Founders Breakfast Stout (Coffee Stout or Porter); Wolverine State Brewing Co. NZ Pils (American-Style Pilsener); Bell’s Eccentric Cafe Roundhouse (Double Hoppy Red Ale); Thornapple Brewing Co. My Brown Eyed Girl (English-Style Brown Ale); Bastone Brewery Kung Fu Smurf (Belgian-Style Dubbel or Quad); Founders Porter (Robust Porter);
Bronze: Wolverine State Brewing Co. Raucher (Smoke Beer); Brew Detroit Cerveza Delray (International-Style Pilsener)
Minnesota: 12 Medals
Gold: Lakes & Legends Brewing Co. Cool for the Summer (Field Beer) Summit Brewing Co. Keller Pils (Kellerbier or Zwickelbier); Bent Paddle Brewing Co. Saison (Classic Saison); Steel Toe Brewing Dissent (Export Stout)
Silver: Spilled Grain Brewhouse False Hope (Other Strong Beer); Eastlake Craft Brewery Kirby Pucker No. 21 (Fruited American-Style Sour Ale); Steel Toe Brewing Provider (English-Style Summer Ale); Insight Brewing Co. Sunken City (Specialty Saison)
Bronze: Tin Whiskers Wheatstone Bridge (Herb and Spice Beer); Modist Brewing Co. First Call (Coffee Beer); The Freehouse No. 3 Brown (English Style Brown Ale) Utepils Brewing Co. Alt 1848 (German-Style Altbier)
Ohio: 14 Medals
Gold: Royal Docks Brewhouse and Cannery Pendragon (Herb and Spice Beer); Lockport Brewery Gateway Cream Ale (American-Style Cream Ale); Masthead Brewing Co. Midwest Red IPA (Double Hoppy Red Ale); MadTree Brewing 2.0 Happy Amber (Extra Special Bitter); Brink Brewing Co. Moozie (Sweet Stout or Cream Stout)
Silver: Ignite Brewing Co. Cherry Blonde (American-Style Fruit Beer); Maize Valley Craft Brewery Lock Stock and Brandy Barrel (Aged Beer); Market Garden Brewery OG Lager (International-Style Pilsener); Lager Heads Brewing Co. Oktoberfest (American-Style Amber Lager); Brink Brewing Co. Hold the Reins (English-Style Mild Ale)
Bronze: Brew Kettle Production Works Babee Bock (Munich Style Dunkel or European Style Dark Lager); Fat Head’s Brewery Midnight Moonlight (American-Style Black Ale); Paradigm Shift Brewing Neighbor Girl (Belgian-Style Tripel); Columbus Brewing Co. Melk Stout (Sweet Stout or Cream Stout)
Very Small Brewing Company of the Year: Brink Brewing Co.
Wisconsin: 4 Medals
Gold: Tribute Brewing Co. White Legs Jalapeno Wheat (Chili Beer)
Silver: Stevens Point Brewery Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale (Pumpkin/Squash Beer or Pumpkin Spice Beer); Third Space Brewing Unite the Clans (Rye Beer)
Bronze: Third Space Brewing Unbridled Enthusiasm (Imperial IPA)