Every year, the beer world travels to Denver for the brewers' version of the Oscars, known as the Great American Beer Festival. Now in its third decade, the GABF awards are the most prestigious beer prize in the country. And this year, a half dozen L.A. area breweries won awards for beers that ranged from classic German styles to adventurous uses of fruit and vegetables.
Nearly 8,000 brews were entered into the 98 different categories. The judges, some 275 beer experts from around the world, had their work cut out for them, especially in the ultra-popular categories such as American IPA, which saw more than 400 entries this year.
Beachwood Brewing in Long Beach, perhaps Los Angeles County's most decorated brewery, took home the L.A. area's only gold medal this year, for Hoppa Emeritus — its dark and densely hoppy entry into the American Black Ale category. The Beachwood family also scored a bronze medal in the always hotly contested chili beer category for Dia de los Mangos from the Beachwood Blendery. The latter beer starts as a funky and tart lambic-style base and is dosed with mangoes and tamarind along with a mix of fresh and dried chiles.
We've been singing the praises of the refined and refreshing Seafarer Kolsch from Three Weavers Brewing Co. all summer, and the GABF judges agree. The light and crisp flagship scored a silver medal in the German-style kolsch category, and it wasn't the only German-style brew from the L.A. area to win a prize in the competition. Sanctum Brewing in Pomona earned a silver medal for Solar in the Munich-style helles category. Seafarer from Three Weavers is now widely available in six packs of cans or bottles, but you'll have to visit the Sanctum tasting room in Pomona to try the winning helles (for now at least).
GABF isn't all about the rigorously on-style brews — there are a number of more experiment-friendly categories, and Ohana Brewing scored a bronze medal in the field beer category for brews that use vegetables as flavoring. Spa Water Saison has long been a favorite in the Ohana Tasting room in downtown Alhambra, and the ultra-refreshing mix of a light Belgian-style table beer, lemongrass and cucumber tastes even better than it sounds.
The hop-driven styles are the most hotly contested categories at the awards, and two of the L.A. area's under-the-radar hop destinations medaled in the competition. The Torrance brewpub HopSaint Brewing Co. won silver in the Australian-style or international-style pale ale category for its dialed-in Pure Intention pale ale, while Claremont Craft Ales took a bronze medal in the English-style IPA category for the floral and rye-spiced Jacaranda IPA. The Claremont brew is available around town in cans, but you'll need to stop in for a bite at HopSaint to try Pure Intention pale ale — and don't miss the pecan pie while you're there.
You can see the complete list of medal winners, including many beers from Orange County, the Inland Empire and San Diego, at the Great American Beer Festival site.