Every October, the American beer industry converges on Denver for a three-day bacchanalia of beer.
The Great American Beer Festival isn’t just a big party — though it is a big party — but the nation’s most prestigious beer competition.
Reputations are made at the judging tables inside the Colorado Convention Center. Stars are born; deals are struck.
I went to Denver for this year’s festival, my fourth time going to the event. While there are plenty of interesting things to try on the floor of the Convention Center, where thousands of breweries set up tables to pour samples of their best, Saturday morning’s awards show is always the highlight. This year, industry pros blind-judged beers in 107 style categories, from Australian-style Pale Ale to American-Style Amber Lager. Entrants came from 2,295 breweries representing all 50 states.
Any win is considered a major honor. While participation varies wildly by local — beer cities like Portland, Oregon tend to take the event very seriously, while many of the best New England breweries tend to sit the GABF out — the totals won by states are considered an indicator of the strength of the local beer scene. And by that metric, it was a great year for Kansas City, as well as the two states our metro area straddle.
Last year, Kansas won four medals — including a silver for Olathe’s Granite City — while Missouri won none.
This year, Missouri won six medals while Kansas added one. Among the local honorees was KCMO’s Boulevard, which took silver for Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale and St. Joseph’s River Bluff Brewing which won silver for its saison.
The Missouri breweries to win were Boulevard Brewing Company, Logboat Brewing Company, Narrow Gauge Brewing Company, River Bluff Brewing, Rockwell Beer Company and Springfield Brewing Company.
The Kansas brewer to win was Wichita’s Central Standard — a destination well worth a pilgrimage for any Kansas City beer lover.
As usual, California led the pack with 68 medals while Colorado and Texas rounded out the top three beer states.
Ohio, Oregon, Washington state and Virginia made up the second tier.
This year’s two most-contested categories were the two big styles of IPA, the new-school hazy and old-school clarified West Coast. The largest category was hazy IPA, with 348 entries — gold went to a Midwestern outfit, Chicago’s Old Irving Brewing. Gold in American-Style India Pale Ale went to a Denver brewery.
To get a taste for the Kansas City beer scene, check out our beer issue from July, which included write-ups on every brewery within an hour’s drive of Kansas City and our picks for the top 10 beers of the last year.