The brewers were back in person last week at the Great American Beer Festival awards, though that was about the only normal aspect of the latest edition of the nation’s most prestigious competition for breweries.
Rather than coinciding with an event that’s open to the general public—a colossal drinking celebration that attracts over 60,000 people to the hangar-sized Colorado Convention Center over the course of three days—the ceremony took place during the Craft Brewers Conference, both of which are organized by the Brewers Association trade group. For the second year, that organization nixed the downtown Denver festival due to concerns about the pandemic.
But the industry-only summit went on, with the medal presentations happening on Friday, Sept. 10, at Bellco Theatre inside the Colorado Convention Center. The obstacles that come with hosting a massive competition during a global health crisis were noticeable: The normally rowdy venue was less than half full, and there were only a handful of Oregon brewers present to retrieve their hardware from the stage, with most opting to watch the awards stream at home.
Despite the hardships of the past 18 months, the state managed to return with a double-digit medal count: 15, which is significantly fewer than the 2020 and 2018 high of 22. However, the haul included some huge wins—most notably a gold in one of the most competitive categories.
The state can once again boast that it has the best American-style India pale ale in the nation. Von Ebert Brewing’s Volatile Substance took the top spot in that category, which had 404 entries. WW’s Beer Guide called the beer a standout in 2020, praising its “heady pine notes—what drops of dew in a nearby forest would taste like just before evaporating.”
Two other Oregon breweries earned gold for their IPAs in past years: Barley Brown’s in Baker City and Portland’s Breakside.
This isn’t the first outstanding win for Von Ebert at GABF. In 2019, it went down in history as a first-entry, first-win producer, an honor that fewer than 40 breweries had accomplished at the time.
Breakside had the most wins out of Oregon entrants, including a gold in the Specialty Berliner-Style Weisse category as well as a bronze for an American amber lager. However, Ex Novo also took home a pair: One for the Portland facility and the other going to its spinoff in Corrales, N.M.
There was at least one more surprise for Oregon viewers during the ceremony—newcomer Crowing Hen snagged a silver for its Specialty Saison. The 5-barrel producer only opened a year ago on a farm in rural Carlton.
If the pandemic subsides by 2022, the Brewers Association hopes to welcome back the crowds and communal drinking. The next Craft Brewers Conference is scheduled to take place next May in Minneapolis, along with the World Beer Cup contest. And after a two-year absence, we should be well on our way to sloshing through another Great American Beer Festival in early fall one year from now.
Here is a recap of all the Oregon and Southwest Washington winners:
American Amber Lager: Breakside Brewery—NW Slabtown Breakside Disco Queen Lager, Portland (bronze)
American Amber/Red Ale: Old Town Brewing Paulie’s Not Irish, Portland (bronze)
American-Style India Pale Ale: Von Ebert Brewing—Pearl Volatile Substance, Portland (gold)
American-Style Strong Pale Ale: pFriem Family Brewers IPA, Hood River (silver)
Australian Pale Ale: Worthy Brewing Co. Strata IPA, Bend (silver)
Belgian Fruit Beer: Alesong Brewing & Tasting Room Stonefruit Symphony, Eugene (gold)
Extra Special Bitter: Hopworks Urban Brewery Velvet ESB, Portland (gold)
German-Style Altbier: Block 15 Brewery & Taproom Altbier, Corvallis (gold)
International Pale Ale or New Zealand Pale Ale: Ex Novo Brewing Co. Intergalactic Pale Reality, Portland (silver)
Juice or Hazy Pale Ale: Rogue Eastside Pub & Pilot Brewery Newport Daze Hazy Pale Ale, Portland (silver)
Munich-Style Helles: Grains of Wrath Brewing Frost Hammer Helles, Camas, Wash. (gold)
Other Strong Beer: Deschutes Brewery—Bend Public House Dee Wright Imperial Brown, Bend (silver)
Session Beer: Three Creeks Brewing Co.—Production Stonefly Session Ale, Sisters (gold)
Session India Pale Ale: Barley Brown’s Beer Moxee Water, Baker City (gold)
Session India Pale Ale: Grains of Wrath Brewing Ticklish Warrior, Camas, Wash. (bronze)
Specialty Berliner-Style Weisse: Breakside Brewery—SE Taproom Breakside Passionfruit Sour, Milwaukie (gold)
Specialty Saison: Crowing Hen French Prairie, Carlton (silver)