It was an odd and wonderful moment.
Already, the awards show at the Great American Beer Festival, the nation's largest such event, was pushing 90 minutes. The crowd crammed inside the Colorado Convention Center auditorium was getting a little sleepy, having consumed all the beer and doughnuts in the first 45 of those minutes. But then it was time for the pale ales. As the number of entries in each category grew larger, the energy started building as the emcee hyped the biggest category of the day—in fact, the biggest category in the history of the festival.
There were 279 breweries competing for the nation's best IPA at this year's GABF. And, from that massive and very competitive field, one Portland brewery was about to win gold.
The Oregon contingent—folks from Old Town (silver for kolsch), The Commons (silver for Myrtle among American-style sours), Barley Browns (four medals, including gold for Hand Truck Pale Ale)— was assembled up by the stage, starboard side, cheering each other as the state took home 22 medals, including seven gold. Colorado (39) and California (46) led the pack. Oregon more than doubled Washington State, which took nine.
As it happened, the Breakside team was already standing as the announcer started, lined up in front of the stage to accept bronze for Wanderlust in "American-style Strong Pale Ale," one of 90 total categories, ranging from the familiar (pumpkin, coffee, rye, oatmeal stout) to the oddly specific (South German Style Hefeweizen).
This is how it works: everyone lines up in the aisle by the stairs to come onstage and get their picture taken with Charlie Papazian, the former nuclear engineer who founded the Brewers Association back in 1979 and started this festival three years later. No handshakes, please, Charlie said. Just fist bumps. And try to be gentle with that. He knows the brewers are pumped—this is the Oscars of Beer—but he needs his hands.
And if this was the Oscars, IPA is "Best Picture." The flagship beer for so many of the breweries here, and one of the major drivers behind craft beer's recent growth spurt, which found people from Arkansas pouring their wares in the festival hall and four different Wyoming breweries winning medals.
The announcer started.
The bronze goes to "Heyoka," from Half Acre In Illinois.
The Silver goes to "Bodhi" from Columbus, Ohio—BREAKSIDE WINS GOLD.
That's how it happened, pretty much. The crowd erupts, the Breakside crew is jumping up and down in the aisles and the announcer is trying to figure out what happened.
Just as the announcer was just about to start his windup, building toward the most coveted award of the night, whoever was running the Powerpoint got an itchy trigger finger and flashed the winner.
It was the defining moment of a festival that had a lot of great ones for Oregon. Oregon can rest easy knowing it won gold in the three most Portlandy categories: IPA (BREAKSIDE), gluten-free for Ground Breaker (formerly Harvester) and fresh hop for the just-plucked version of Barley Browns' Hand Truck Pale. Oregon breweries won all three last year, too.
Other notable trends included the rise of Oregon lagers—silver for Old Town's I'd Like to Buy the World a Kolsch (note: uses ale yeast, but lagered), silver for Buoy's dunkel and gold for the teeny-tiny Arch Rock Brewing's Gold Beach lager.
GABF always has an unlimited number of 1 oz. pours—though in Colorado the volunteers pouring for you can also drink, so sometimes an ounce grows as the night goes on.
Steve Jones of Steve's Cheese Bar—argaubly the nation's foremost cheesemonger—poured for The Commons. Are celebrity volunteer pourers the next big thing at GABF?
No, pretzel munitions belts are the next big thing at GABF, replacing the traditional pretzel necklace with a more badass brandishing of sourdough.
See, told you. Mark it down: pretzel-based munitions belts are coming to OBF 2014.
Seattle is always trying to steal our glory.
See that glowing window in the back right? There is still new beer back there at GABF.