“On behalf of the Brewers Association staff, I’d like to thank you all for being here,” Great American Beer Festival (GABF) Director Nancy Johnson told a packed Bellco Theater inside Denver’s Colorado Convention Center on Saturday, Oct. 5. It was the 38th time the festival brought together American brewers for an annual celebration. And it was the 33rd time the commercial competition took center stage.
“How many folks in here are here for the first time?” Johnson asked.
And with nearly half the room raising their hands, GABF proved once again to be a ritual of passage for brewers. Out of the 9,497 beers submitted in the competition, 401 came from first-timers.
And as Johnson surmised, every one of them probably had the same mix of “exhaustion and adrenaline” that she had for them. “If you don’t have butterflies in your stomach, it’s because you don’t have a beer entered,” competition director Chris Swersey said, taking the stage. For the next two hours, the names Swersey read would either calm or curdle those stomachs. Some long-standing breweries would continue their streak of excellence, while 37 of those 401 first-timers would receive some medal to validate their hard work.
And there are few as deserving as Longmont’s Primitive Beer, which won a silver medal for Shibbleshabble in the Experimental Beer category. Owned and operated by husband and wife, Brandon and Lisa Boldt, Primitive Beer is devoted to spontaneously fermented, slightly sour, un-carbonated wild ales with a sense of place. Both work at larger breweries (Lisa at Odd13 Brewing and Brandon at 4 Noses Brewing Company), and Primitive is their passion project.
The silver medal awarded is validation: the Boldts make Primitive Beer their way and the hard way. The way brewing pioneers currently celebrating legacy anniversaries did decades ago. Walking down GABF’s main concourse felt like a problem of homogeneity: Certain styles reigned supreme, and it seemed like every brewery wanted a crack at it.
But Boulder County bucked the trend with gold medals from four widely diverse styles and heritages: Echo Brewing Company’s Junebug for Belgian- and French-style Ale; Bootstrap Brewing’s 1956 Golden Ale for Golden or Blonde Ale; Twisted Pine Brewing Company’s Northstar Imperial Porter for Other Strong Beer; and in the honey beer category, A&M Honey Bock from BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery.
Boulder is the research and development brewery for BJ’s — the California-based brewpub chain — and gold for A&M Honey Bock isn’t their first. Aaron Stueck and company have been producing some of the best beer you’ll find at any brewpub, let alone beer found in shopping centers. Last year they won gold for their Belgian Quad; back in 2012, it was gold for Got Beer — their take on the Swedish gottlandsdrikke.
Of Colorado’s 40 medals, Boulder County brewers took home eight, each one vastly different than the other. At times, it feels like the brewing world is contracting. But in Boulder County, it’s as good as it’s ever been.