The last day of the Great American Beer Festival (and the only day with an afternoon session) began in typical fashion, with hundreds of ticket holders eagerly lining up outside of the Colorado Convention Center, while inside, a rag-tag group of craft beer industry folks nursed hangovers and nervously waited to hear their brewery’s name called at this year’s awards ceremony.
1,752 breweries from across the United States sent in a total of 7,227 competition entries, a number up ten percent from last year. This year’s ceremony highlighted a subtle shift happening in the industry with a huge majority of the awards going to the new wave of stand-out craft breweries graduating from the industry’s heavily-populated middle of the pack. It was a trend seen throughout the festival this year that saw a lot of festival-goers opting to forego samples of beer from widely-distributed breweries to wait in lines for a taste of the younger, smaller and less accessible breweries generating buzz in the world of craft beer today. The belles of this year’s craft beer ball were Uberbrew from Billings, MT, who took home Small Brewing Company of the Year honors along with four medals, and California-based Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. whose enthusiastic team got their morning workout in making multiple trips to the stage to collect a gold medal, three bronzes, and several fist bumps from Charlie Papazian.
Other multiple medal winners included Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Portland’s Breakside Brewery, and Brown Truck Brewery, who all walked away with three medals each. And in an unusual twist of awards ceremony drama, multiple medal winners, Fat Head’s Brewery & Saloon, walked off of the awards stage with three medals and the Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year award engraved with their name, only to have it rescinded later in the evening due to a recognized oversight from the Brewers Association and an application error from Karl Strauss Brewing Co. Originally announced as the Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year award winner, Karl Strauss the brewery (not brewpub as they mistakenly listed on their application) was later announced as the actual Mid-Size Brewery of the Year winner and Fat Head’s was left with their original medals (five total on the day for the company), and sense of humor, which they showcased on social media by sharing a meme of Steve Harvey mimicking the talk show host’s Miss Universe Pageant crowning snafu earlier this year.
But drama aside, the real star of the Saturday morning awards ceremony, was none other than the founder of the Great American Beer Festival and Brewers Association, and the man credited as the father of home brewing, Charlie Papazian, who was celebrated for his many contributions to craft beer and 35 years of the GABF with his very own gold medal presented by the Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper.
Following the morning awards ceremony, medal winners reveled in their success and once the doors opened for the afternoon American Homebrewers Association members-only session, huge lines at the winning brewery’s booths immediately formed as people vied for a taste of their gold, silver, and bronze medal-winning beers. Many raced to Figueroa Mountain Brewing’s endcap booth to sample the brewery’s gold medal-winning I Dunkled in My Pants dunkel, and the bronze medal-winning Figtoberfest. Uberbrew, a small Montana brewery and big winner at the fest, was immediately overwhelmed with curious beer drinkers that had no problem waiting in a massive line to get a taste of the celebrated brewery and shake hands with the Uberbrew team. Other big lines formed throughout the session at Russian River, and at Ballast Point, who’s huge and beautifully-crafted booth introduced a whole new year of legal beer drinkers to the iconic Sculpin IPA. Long lines were also found throughout the Meet the Brewer pavilion at places like the Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ale booth, and at FATE Brewing Company’s flashy and hop-adorned booth which along with their popular Morai Coffee IPA, proved to be a big draw at this year’s festival. Back in the main hall, Avery Brewing Company kept things fresh by pouring samples of their popular (and always growing list of) barrel-aged beers like the Rumpkin, a rum barrel-aged pumpkin ale weighing in at 18-percent ABV, straight from the barrels which were once again the focal point of Avery’s GABF booth this year.
As the members-only session, Saturday afternoon was filled with lederhosen, true beer geeks, and veteran attendees of the festival. Some were snapping photos with a random life-size armadillo covered in hops, others were seriously taking notes on their favorite beers, many were taking advantage of the educational components offered at this year’s fest. As the day turned to night, brewery representatives took a quick moment to refresh their booths and prepare for one final session while the evening session ticket holders descended on the hall to sample the selection of beers that hadn’t been tapped out at previous sessions. The enthusiastic last wave of the festival’s beer drinkers donned wigs and face paint, along with awkward outfit choices and necklaces made up of snack packs and jumbo pretzels. After the last call of the last session of the last evening, industry members, craft beer fans, and all of the party people in between left behind a beer-themed ghost town composed of miscellaneous beer spills, colorful beer can necklaces and a carpet of crushed pretzels to hit the last after-parties of GABF 2016 and to give one more cheers to another year of good beer.