The 2019 GABF Midwest Medal Recap

In Beer News by Karl

Kevin Cary and the Begyle Brewing team celebrate their gold-medal win.

For the second time in two years, a Chicago brewery won the gold medal in the Hazy IPA category at the 2019 GABF.

As announced at this weekend’s Great American Beer Festival awards ceremony, Old Irving’s Beezer hazy IPA sat atop a field of 348 entries — once again the year’s largest category.

Equally, if not moreso impressive: For the first time ever (by our count) a Chicago brewery took the gold medal for a barrel-aged strong stout.

Yes, the gold medal for Begyle’s BA Imperial Pajamas is the very first time a beer from Chicago has ever sat atop the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout category.

(We know what you’re wondering: Goose Island Bourbon County stout took bronze just once in 2010, and received special mention in 1995 under the Strong Ale category).

With victories that large, it’s okay to note that this was actually the lowest medal count for Illinois breweries in quite a long time, with just ten medals awarded to Chicagoland brewers. Throughout the years that we’ve been tracking the winners, the lowest we’ve seen until now was in 2012 with nine medals awarded that year also — but 2012 had significantly fewer breweries in Chicagoland, too. (Goose IPA was still winning awards that year, for perspective.)

Begyle’s Kevin Cary was onhand to accept their medal, and though they entered multiple beers across a few categories, Imperial Pajamas was the one he really wanted. “This is the one where when the category comes up, it’s like, I don’t want to say disappointment… but it’s like, ‘Oh, man, you know, I really thought that that’s the one I think that we could win for.’ So when the bronze medal was gone, and the silver medal was gone … I was already coming to terms with the fact that maybe we just didn’t get it.”

“And then it was … yeah. Pandemonium.”

This year’s version was a little thicker than last year, markedly fudgier and spent time resting in Heaven Hill barrels. The Begyle team (led by brewer Liz French) has entered Pajamas every year since they started brewing it and each year it gets tweaked, largely based on the tasting notes received from each previous year’s GABF judging process. Then it’s a matter of time.

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“We’ve been trying to turn this beer into the perfect barrel-aged beer. [And] every time we’ve made a change, we have to wait for a year before we know if that change worked out,” Cary explained.

Looks like this one did.

Also on hand to celebrate their victory was Old Irving’s Trevor Rose-Hamblin. This was actually the first year he’s sent Old Irving beers to compete, having only opened in late 2016.

“This year I really wanted to treat my team. They’ve been working so hard. I wanted to bring them out here so I was like, ‘Guys we gotta go to GABF this year. Let’s enter some stuff, see what happens.’ And they were making fun of me because I kept on entering like all the most populated categories. I was like, ‘Hey man, you gotta play to win!’”

Getting Beezer to gold-medal status has been a two-year project, and the recipe has been pretty well established for a while — the only recent tweaks have been “like more mechanical changes, process changes, dryhopping times and little things like that,” Rose-Hamblin said.

And even though last year’s Hazy IPA gold medal winner Alarmist isn’t sitting atop the heap this year, the two breweries — just under three miles apart from each other on Chicago’s northwest side — definitely helped each other out.

“What’s funny is, I think from the get go, us and Alarmist have been very similar. We actually worked together a lot when we were both coming up with our hazy recipes. We were pretty much always smashing grain bills together and talking about what works, what doesn’t,” Rose-Hamblin said.

“They’re like some of my best like beer friends out there, because we’re so close. We’re neighbors, we just we have a really close friendship. We definitely have jammed a lot together. It’s awesome.”

Very cool of Old Irving to use their gold medal win to help promote Chicago-based suicide prevention group Hope For The Day at their GABF booth.

Two other breweries came home with GABF gold — Pollyanna’s Lite Reading lager beat out the many other American-style lagers and pilsners that have popped up in recent years. As recently as 216, this category was more or less owned by the macro beers like PBR and Coors, which took Gold and Silver that year respectively.

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Off Color brought home a big win in perhaps the perfect category for them: their Very Very Far took the gold for “Other Belgian Style” just days before rolling it out year-round in cans. Great timing there. Congrats also to Scorched Earth, Penrose, Piece, Light the Lamp, Noon Whistle and Ballast Point Chicago.

Here’s a look at how the medals for GABF 2019 from around the Midwest shook out. Once again, Ohio punched above its weight, taking home a bunch of hardware, plus the title of Very Small Brewery of the Year for Cincinnati’s Brink Brewing.

Illinois: 10 Medals

  • Gold: Pollyanna Brewing Co. Lite Reading (American-Style Pilsner/Lager); Old Irving Brewing Co. Beezer (Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale); Off Color Brewing Very Very Far (Other Belgian-Style Ale); Begyle Brewing Barrel-Aged Imperial Pajamas (Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout)
  • Silver: Piece Brewing Swingin’ Single (Belgian- and French-Style Ale); Scorched Earth Doppelbock (German-Style Doppelbock or Eisbock); Light the Lamp Lite It! (Session Beer)
  • Bronze: Ballast Point Chicago Gold Style (American-Style Cream Ale); Penrose Brewing Goofy Boots (Juicy or Hazy Strong Pale Ale); Noon Whistle Leisel Weapon (South German-Style Hefeweizen)

Indiana: 9 Medals

  • Gold: Metazoa Brewing Meadowlark (Classic Saison); Sun King Getting By on Central Time (Collab Comp); Sun King Midnight Choir (Fruited Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer); Fishers Sun King Brewing Eis Nine (German-Style Doppelbock or Eisbock); Blind Owl Brewing Parliament Drive (German-Style Pilsener)
  • Silver: Upland Brewing Bloomington Crimson Cherry Variant (Fruited Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer); Four Day Ray Brewing Afterburner Smoked Lager (Historical Beer); Sun King Brewing Grand Muckle (Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer)
  • Bronze: Chilly Water Brewing Moonlight Sonata (Vienna-Style Lager)

Michigan: 4 Medals

  • Gold: Odd Side Rye Hipster Brunch Stout (Specialty Beer)
  • Silver: Midland Brewing Co. One Night in Bangkok Smoothie IPA (Herb and Spice Beer)
  • Bronze: Royal Oak Brewery Jeremy Altbier (German-Style Altbier); Rivers Edge Brewing Milford Pub Ale (Ordinary or Special Bitter)

Minnesota: 4 Medals

  • Gold: Bobbing Bobber Brewing Co. Tackle Bock (Bock); Barrel Theory Midwestern Exotic (Specialty Berliner Weisse)
  • Silver: Spilled Grain Brewhouse False Hope (Other Strong Beer)
  • Bronze: Ursa Minor Brewing Thistle Dew (Scottish-Style Ale)
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Ohio: 15 Medals

  • Gold: Brink Brewing Co. Hold the Reins (English-Style Mild Ale); Listermann Brewing Scoring Discrepancies (Field Beer); Fat Head’s Brewery Bonehead Imperial Red (Imperial Red Ale); Market Garden Prosperity Wheat (South German-Style Hefeweizen); Brink Brewing Moozie (Sweet Stout or Cream Stout)
  • Silver: Millersburg Brewing Allegria (American-Style Sour Ale); Wolf’s Ridge Brewing Clear Sky Daybreak (Coffee Beer); Taft’s Brewing Co. Are You Pricklish? (Collab Comp); Rhinegeist Innovation Brewery Quid (English-Style Summer Ale); Fat Head’s Canton Hop Stalker (Fresh Hop Beer)
  • Bronze: JAFB Wooster Brewery JAF IPA (American-Style Strong Pale Ale); Noble Beast Brewing Co. Murder Ballads (Baltic-Style Porter); Hofbrauhaus Cleveland Schwarzbier (International-Style Dark Lager); Hoppin’ Frog Pentuple (Other Belgian-Style Ale); Fat Head’s Canton Up in Smoke (Smoke Beer)

Brink Brewing was also named Very Small Brewing Company and Very Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year.

Wisconsin: 7 Medals

  • Gold: Mobcraft Low pHunk (American-Style Sour Ale); Vintage Brewing Co. Dedication (Belgian-Style Dubbel); Earth Rider Brewery Duluth Coffee Ale (Coffee Beer); Vintage Brewing Co. Rhine Heights ALT (German-Style Altbier); Stevens Point Brewing Co. Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale (Pumpkin/Squash Beer or Pumpkin Spice Beer)
  • Silver: City Lights Brewing Hazy IPA (Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale); Third Space Brewing Unite the Clans (Rye Beer)
  • Bronze: n/a

Vintage Brewing Co. also was named Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year.

You can find our previous recaps below:

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About the Author



Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago, AskMen and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, is now available via Amazon and other booksellers. If you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.

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