That's certainly impressive. At the same time, though, the big medal winners of the past aren't taking them home quite like they used to.
Oregon's onetime top dog, Pelican Brewing, won five WBC medals in 2006 but just one in 2018, for its gin barrel-aged Queen of Hearts Saison. Similarly, Barley Brown's went from winning four GABF medals in 2012 and 2014 to claiming none last year. San Diego's Pizza Port Brewing once won 13 medals in one year at GABF. Last year, the biggest winner, our own Breakside, took home four total across its three separate breweries.
Meanwhile, new and long-overlooked breweries are scooping up awards—like the previously underrated Old Town Brewing, which took home two gold medals at this year's WBC.
What does it mean? Are older breweries making beer of any less quality, or has something shifted in judging, trends or bias?
Everything changed around 2013, when the number of craft breweries in the U.S. grew by 18 percent in just one year. That year, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver ran out of booth space in under two hours, and there was a waiting list of more than 300 breweries. Since then, competition has grown fierce.
Does size matter? On one hand, larger breweries have more tools, better equipment and more experienced brewers, and thus should make better beer. On the other hand, small brewers have more freedom to play and make more special and smaller batches. But the results don't quite show any definitive pattern.
"The brewery who brews more often gets the opportunity to tweak or improve, focus and hone beers more regularly," says Breakside brewmaster Ben Edmunds.
"There is no secret formula for winning medals at these events," says Darron Welch of Pelican Brewing. "However, the most consistent and repeat winners are breweries that put quality control at the top of the priority list, have a deep commitment to continuous improvement and process integrity, and beer flavor that is clean, distinctive, balanced, complex and exciting. There are many other factors that go into it, of course, but this at least touches on the surface."
Old Town Brewing's Adam Milne has his own strategy that seems to be paying off.
"We feel our biggest strength in brewing quality beer is creating a team approach that feeds all of our passion and excitement," he says. "It was important for [head brewer] Andrew [Lamont] and I to create atmosphere that allows our management crew to lead and have a voice in the beer creation process."
Ultimately, the craft beer landscape is larger and more competitive than ever—entries in the World Beer Cup have gone up 17 percent in the past six years. In other words, craft beer's biggest enemy—and greatest asset—is itself.