Evaluating Washington’s GABF results and getting you into some beer

 

See our previous post for a wrap-up of how Washington did at this year’s GABF.

Before I get into highlights and such, and before I share some historical perspective, let’s get you into some beer. Here’s what I’ve learned about the current availability of this year’s Washington-brewed GABF winning beers. (Pictured above: Phil Pesheck, head brewer and Alpha King at Burke-Gilman Brewing. Photo from Facebook.)


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  • Bale Breaker Brewing – Hazy L IPA. Lucky for you, it’s one of their year-round beers. Get it in six-packs of 12-oz cans at your favorite beer retailer. Go to Bale Breaker’s website to get it from the online store (shipping to WA only) or use their beer finder function to locate a retailer.
  • Bron yr Aur Brewing – Thriller Pillar Porter. I assume it’s available at the brewery because it’s basically their house porter and I think it’s been on tap every time I’ve ever been there. Heard they’re currently out but more coming soon.
  • Burke-Gilman Brewing – Fresh Hopotheosis was still on tap at the brewery as of Oct. 18th. It didn’t win a medal, but it did win the Alpha King Challenge, which is a really big deal. The medal-winning beer, The Hopsplainer Hazy Imperial IPA, is all gone, but they’ll probably make it again.
  • Chuckanut Brewery – The Rye Lager is available in bottles at both locations. The Rye Lager is currently on tap at the South Nut location in Burlington.  You may find it at bottleshops.
  • Chuckanut Brewery – Maibock. Available in bottles at both locations and you may find it at bottleshops.
  • Chuckanut Brewery – Chuck Light. Currently on tap and also available in bottles at both locations. You may find it at bottleshops.
  • Cloudburst Brewing – Not A Scientist Hazy Imperial IPA is long gone. They’ve usually got something of this style and their beer is always great.
  • Good Society Brewery – First To Fall, Grisette. Won in the Belgian-Style/French-Style Ale category. It’s long gone, but keep an eye on social media; they may make it again.
  • Grains of Wrath Brewing – Built For Speed won in the American-Style Strong Pale Ale category. On tap at the brewery according to Untappd check-ins. It is out there in cans, too. Check with the brewery about distribution.
  • Kulshan Brewing – Helles. It’s part of the regular lineup. It’s out there in bottles and cans at better beer retailers.
  • Lowercase Brewing – As of this moment, their medal-winning English-Style Brown Ale is on tap at the brewery’s taproom in Seattle.
  • Perry Street Brewing – One of the most-coveted beer awards in America, they won a gold for their American-Style IPA. Impressive! Currently it’s not on tap at the brewery, probably because of fresh hop season taking up tank space recently. They are pouring a fresh hop version, from what I hear. It will be back.
  • Reubens Brews – Two medal-winning beers, both on tap at the brewery’s taproom in Ballard. the Crush Series won silver in the Juicy or Hazy Strong Pale Ale category. The Fresh Hop Hazealicious won bronze in the Fresh Hop Beer category. (Update – the Fresh Hop Hazealicious is not gone.)
  • Twin Sisters Brewing – They won a gold medal for their American-Style Fruit Beer: Strawberry Zwickelbier. Sadly, they are currently out. Happily, they’ll make more. Keep an eye on their social media channels.
  • Wander Brewing – Gold medal in Light Lager category for Wander Litely. It is currently available on tap and in six-packs at the brewery. Look for it or ask for it at fine beer retailers.

2020 – Slightly Different GABF

First up, it’s 2020 and we all know what that means. Things ain’t normal this year. This year’s award ceremony did not take place in a crowded convention center, with high-fiving brewers walking on stage to receive their awards. The event did not involve a huge, 20k-attendee festival this year.

Still, the beer judges at the Great American Beer Festival tasted 8,806 entries from 1,720 breweries from all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. The socially distanced judging took place in 35 sessions over 18 days with strict safety measures in place. Medals were awarded in 91 beer categories covering 170 different beer styles (including all subcategories).

What Does Winning at GABF Mean?

The GABF is not the end-all, be-all measure of how “good” the beer scene is in any state. Still, there’s no denying that a GABF medal is a highly coveted award. No bad beers walk away with medals. Far from it.


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As with any year, there are things we know about the Great American Beer Festival and then there are things we do not know. We know which breweries won medals, but we do not know which breweries submitted beer for judging. We know which states brought home the most hardware, but we do not know how many breweries in each state submitted beer.

No doubt, “Which state won the most medals?” is a question that begs a lot of other questions. Here are some things to consider.

Colorado, where the competition is held, enjoys a home-field advantage. In addition to the entrance fee, breweries must legally, safely, and effectively transport the beer to Denver. That’s a lot easier and cheaper to do if you are already in Colorado. No denying it, Colorado has a lot of great breweries, but the GABF is held on their home turf and it would be silly to ignore that advantage.

California is always at the top of the leaderboard, year after year. That state has the most breweries by a large margin so, presumably, they have the most entrants. There are now over 900 breweries in California. Compare that to Washington, which at last count ranked number two in the nation with about 430 breweries.

There are all sorts of factors that go into it, but one thing remains clear. In general, the states that are renowned for having great beer and brewing cultures tend to bring home a lot of medals from the GABF every year. California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and North Carolina all performed well, as most well-informed beer geeks might imagine.

Virginia was the surprise this year, winning as many medals as Washington. Cheers to the breweries in the Old Dominion for a job well done!

GABF Leaderboard

Eight states won 10 or more medals

  • California, 63 medals
  • Colorado, 26 medals total
  • Oregon, 22 medals
  • Washington, 16 medals
  • Virginia, 16 medals
  • North Carolina, 11 medals
  • Texas, 10 medals
  • Indiana, 10 medals

Washington’s GABF Medal Count Over Time

In 2003 and in 2018, Washington’s brewers brought home 17 medals, the most they’ve ever won in a single year. Looking at the data, there’s no clear explanation as to why those two years stand out.

In 2000, Washington earned just four medals. Oddly, in 2013, a year of unprecedented beer industry growth in Washington, only four medals came back from Denver.

Below I provide a graph of the number of medals Washington breweries have won over the past 20 years. Further below, I share a graph showing the number of breweries in both Washington and the USA over the same time period. I originally thought that comparing the two graphs side by side might reveal something interesting. It didn’t.

GABF-GRAPH-1

Actually, looking at the data doesn’t reveal a whole lot, except that the brewing industry has grown in Washington at nearly the same breakneck pace as it has across the nation. How does that relate to the number of medals Washington brewers bring home from the GABF? There are too many unanswered questions, as I mentioned before.

It’s tough to calculate the exact number of breweries in Washington at any given moment and therefore tough to know how many breweries there were at any moment in history. It’s a long story, but it’s not as clear cut as you might think. You really do not want me to explain. It is horribly boring. All that said, for the past 12 years I’ve used my own wits and my own research to calculate how many breweries there are in Washington.

For the national numbers, things are a bit different. The Brewers Association keeps track of those numbers, and that is where I got that info.

GABF-GRAPH-2

Whatever the data does or does not reveal, one thing is clear: winning a GABF medal is a serious accomplishment and anyone who does so should be very proud. It ain’t easy to do.

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6 thoughts on “Evaluating Washington’s GABF results and getting you into some beer

  1. Interesting inflection point around 2008-2010 in national/state number of breweries. Any idea of a cause, or is it just the exponential growth released.

  2. Actaul cause? That’s tough. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about it over the years. You gotta remember what that massive economic downturn, market collapse felt like. A couple of speculations I’ve heard more than once.

    Private/family investors lost trust in Wall Street: “I’d rather invest in my son/daughter/nephew/sister’s dream of opening a brewery.”

    Massive layoffs, joblessness: “Now’s my chance to go for it, since I can’t get a job anywhere else. Cash in my 401k and chase a dream.”

    The second one explains why you are reading the Washington Beer Blog right now. That’s how we came to be.

    As for actual cause beyond speculation, I think that would take some serious research.

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