L.A. Breweries of All Sizes Win Big at Great American Beer Festival

The Highland Park Brewery team wearing gold
The Highland Park Brewery team wearing gold
Tod Mesirow

At 3:36 p.m. on October 7, in conference room 601 in the bowels of the Colorado Convention Center, a panel of experts speaks about the beer business. They touch on the differences between styles of IPAs and the new category for pumpkin beers. They talk about buyouts and ingredients and capitalism and the future.

Two hours later the doors to the convention hall above their heads will open, and the Friday night session of Great American Beer Festival will begin. Thousands of beer drinkers will stream in, thinking little about the nuance discussed in the conference room beneath their feet, about the meta-structure of the industry. There’s another thing on their mind — crushing rare beers, eating pretzels, and getting fucking drunk, bro.

They will spend the better part of the next five hours slamming one-ounce tasters of beers both obscure and common, barrel-aged imperial stouts and East Coast IPAs and burger-inspired collaboration beers, but though they are percentage-wise the largest group at this event, they are not its focus. No, the most important group of people at Great American Beer Festival is not the attendees, not the board of the Brewers’ Association, but the brewers themselves.

The brewers are there to pour their beers, to meet and chat with colleagues and beer lovers from across the country, and they are there to win medals. A GABF win in any category can provide a significant boost to a brewery’s profile, and a win in a popular category in particular can be a launching pad into national prominence.

This year, breweries in the greater L.A. area took home 19 medals, including seven gold. The biggest winner, in every sense of the word, was Pabst, who won a gold for PBR in the American Lager category, a silver in the Cream Ale category for Old Style, and the coveted Large Brewer Of The Year award. They’re not exactly craft, but the stereotypical hipster beer showed that it’s got some juice beyond the branding.

The Arts District team accepting their silver medal
The Arts District team accepting their silver medal
Tod Mesirow

It was also a successful year for many of L.A.’s younger breweries. First-year entrants Arts District Brewing won a silver in the Smoke Beer category for Cowboy Curtis, their smoked porter, and their neighbors and fellow newcomers Iron Triangle took bronze for Jawbone Imperial Stout.

Two-year-old Highland Park Brewery earned their first medal, a gold in the very crowded Strong Pale Ale category for Good Green. Good Green was recently released as part of HPB’s rotating can program, and we’re sure the next time it comes up in the order it’ll be a whole lot harder to obtain.

Brewers from the east and southeast edges of this region did exceedingly well again this year. Wiens Brewing in Temecula won gold for their Apricot Wheat, No Clue in Rancho Cucamonga took bronze for their Belgian Honey Blonde Ale, and Packinghouse Brewing in Riverside earned a bronze for Riley’s Irish Red. The Brea location of brewpub chain BJ’s won a highly coveted gold medal in the popular Fruited Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category with Razz-Jerry Tart. The beer-nerd favorite style may be an unexpected category for a chain brewpub, but it should come as little surprise considering some of the talented brewers who have worked there in the past. Last year’s darling TAPS Fish House followed their success with another gold medal, this one for their beer Silent Warrior in the Barrel-Aged Strong Beer category.

BJ's Brewery won gold for Razz-Jerry Tart
BJ's Brewery won gold for Razz-Jerry Tart
Tod Mesirow

Orange County breweries took home several medals too, including one silver and one gold for local fixtures The Bruery, a silver in the Double IPA category for beloved Noble Ale Works, and a silver medal in the highly competitive IPA category for the lesser-known Riip Beer Co. in Huntington Beach. That sort of surprising (but, having tasted it, well-deserved) win is the kind that could really ramp up demand for Riip beers across the region.

Other local mainstays had success, too, including a bronze medal for Smog City’s Sabre-Tooth Squirrel. Beachwood Blendery, the sour-focused offshoot of Beachwood BBQ, won a silver for their lambic-style beer Chaos is a Friend of Mine, Kinetic Brewing won Bronze in the Chocolate Beer category for 4th Gear, and Figueroa Mountain, which is based in the Central Coast but has been a fixture at L.A. beer bars for some time, took home their own personal mountain of hardware. El Segundo Brewing are best known for their excellent hoppy beers, but this year they won a gold medal for Casa Azul, their Mexican-style Amber Lager.

In past years individual breweries like Beachwood or TAPS have taken the lion’s share of the L.A.-area’s medals, but in the 2016 competition no one brewery dominated the region in that way. Instead, there were more total medals spread across the growing numbers of local breweries, a sign of the deep (and deepening) roster of talent in our backyard. We have access to an embarrassment of drinking riches, and now our riches have some precious medals  of their own.

For a full list of winners, visit the GABF website.


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