The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is almost a month in the past for the craft beer community, but the process of making beers and perfecting them continues all year round.
After attending GABF last year, I did a lot of thinking about how does a brewery decide to enter, why do they choose not to enter, and what do they get out of entering a beer into the judging panel at GABF? It’s not something that every craft beer consumer contemplates, but it has piqued my interest, and hopefully will pique yours as well.
When looking at the list of winners from 2015, there are obviously breweries of every size on the list, but my main interest is in the smaller ones. If you think about craft beer and breweries in general, everyone starts somewhere and most of them started small. As a Pittsburgh native, I went to one of the breweries that is relatively new to the area and has been entering beers for my first stab at getting to learn more about this process. I chose Grist House Brewing.
Brian Eaton of Grist House Brewing says, “The reason we entered beers into the Great American Beer Festival was because it is an opportunity to put our beers up against other breweries from across the country.” In the growing age of craft beer and new breweries, the only way places will grow and get their name out is if they compete with other breweries from other states. Smaller breweries like Grist House can help to get their name out and their beer out to places other than Pittsburgh by submitting to GABF.
When breweries think of GABF, they often think of how hard it is to win with so many entries and the process of entering their beers. However, when you look at the opportunity for feedback and the possibility of winning recognition for your beers, it often can be an encouragement for breweries as well. Brian stated, “There is no bigger stage for craft beer in the country, so it was important to us that we enter as many beers as we were able. We are extremely proud of the beers we make at Grist House Brewing and we wanted to see if one of them could win a medal.” He then said something that stuck with me about one of the key reasons they enter – “Also, the feedback we receive from the judges is valuable and it helps us see where we can try to improve.”
Improvement. No matter the size of a brewery, if there isn’t a drive to improve the beers, the hope for continued success will be short-lived. It is always great to see places, especially in your backyard that want to continue to improve their products for the consumer and for their recognition in the craft beer community. Oftentimes it can be hard to hear the feedback from national judges, but the only way breweries will see improvement is through the help of organizations like the Brewers Association.
The Brewers Association helps to promote and protect American craft brewers, their beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts, which is how their purpose statement reads. And in case you weren’t aware, they are the minds behind helping to organize The Great American Beer Festival.
Pittsburgh was lucky enough to have one GABF medal winner this year, Church Brew Works, for their Millennium Trippel. There were 7 other breweries in Pennsylvania who received medals for their beers in 2015, with at least four of them proving that smaller breweries are winning at GABF too. If you look at other states outside of Pennsylvania, there are numerous smaller scale craft breweries winning medals, which only continues to grow each year.
The list of smaller scale breweries winning at GABF continues to grow nationally and hopefully the list of winners from these smaller breweries will give incentive more to enter in the coming years. It continues to amaze me how many breweries continue to win that I’ve never heard of before, and I hope that the list keeps expanding and that smaller breweries continue to be encouraged to enter.