|« Keeping Up With the Vegetarians||Indulge Your Heart Tonight »|
Feature Thu Oct 16 2008
Every October, the Brewers Association puts on the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), where hundreds of brewers and thousands of people descend upon Denver for three days of celebrating beer. The culmination of this event is the awards for the best beers in 75 categories, as well as naming the breweries and brewers of the year.
Chicago-area brewers are usually known for their quality, usually winning multiple medals every year. In 2006 Flossmoor Station Brewing Company even won the coveted Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year award. However, this year, nobody brought home much jewelry.
Rock Bottom Brewery Brewmaster Peter Crowley won the gold medal in the American-Style Stout category for his Terminal Stout recipe, which has been wowing judges around the world. Earlier this year, it won gold in the World Beer Cup. Last year, this same recipe won bronze at the GABF. "Sometimes the beer comes out differently, or sometimes the judges go a different way," said Crowley of his jump from third to first.
Crowley, brewmaster at the Chicago location, was part of the Rock Bottom Brewery team that also won the prestigious Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the year award. Rock Bottom took eight of their top brewers from their brewpubs around the country and entered eight of their beers in the competition. The brewers decided amongst themselves which of their beers to enter. Overall, the chain won seven medals, including a bronze for the Eric the Red Irish-Style Red Ale from the Orland Park outlet's Iain Wilson.
Beyond that big coup, other Chicago-area brewers were pretty much shut out. Last year, Goose Island Beer Company took home two golds, a silver, and a bronze. This year they walked home with only a bronze for their 312 Urban Wheat.
Bucktown's Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, known for their award winning beers, also only took home one medal: A silver for their Dark-n-Curvy Dunkelweizen. Three Floyds Brewing in Munster, IN, won a bronze for their Munsterfest in the German-Style Mäerzen category. Two Brothers Brewing Company in Warrenville, IL, scored a bronze medal last year but walked home empty-handed this year.
The most-decorated Chicago-area brewery was Pabst Brewing Company in Woodridge, IL, with two golds and two silvers.
Flossmoor Station's Brewmaster Matt Van Wyk said it was surprising that a lot of beers were shut out, and that even some California beers weren't winners this year. "It goes to show the more beers available, and the better beers out there," he explained.
This year did see more competitive entries than ever before, with 2,902 beers from 472 breweries competing, versus 2,793 beers from 473 breweries in last year's competition.
Van Wyk won silver for his Killer Kowalski Baltic-Style Porter, a beer that won gold last year. "I'm really proud about Killer Kowalski," said Van Wyk. "Gold last year, silver this year. Each year the competition gets harder and harder, and there are more beers, and there are more better beers. To win two awards back-to-back shows you're not a fluke and have a quality beer."
Van Wyk also participated as a judge in this year's competition. "It's three straight days of judging beer," he said. "It sounds great, but it's tiring." Each judge is assigned to several categories and reviews them blindly in a round robin style, with top vote getters moving on to the next round, until they narrow it down to the winners.
Judging has also inspired Van Wyk to recreate a beer he judged last year in the Experimental Category. He tasted an Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter he liked so much, he decided to recreate it. "It's in the fermenter right now and will be available around Halloween," he said.
Van Wyk also hopes to bottle his two-time medal winner Killer Kowalski around January.
Next up for many local brewers will be the Sixth Annual Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beers, organized by Rock Bottom's Peter Crowley and held in the West Loop on November 8.