DISPATCHES FROM THE 2018 GREAT AMERICAN BEER FESTIVAL

Even before the final awards were handed out, Good Beer Hunting encapsulated the spirit of the 37th Great American Beer Festival with a single tweet: “Good lord — if this year’s GABF awards say anything — it’s that in 2018 you can get world class beer in every big city, little town, and haven in the country.”

And no state made a case for big cities, little towns and havens on GABF’s big stage quite like Ohio. Though they only nabbed 14 medals (five of them gold) at the award ceremonies, each one of the winners paraded down to the stage carrying a large, red-white-and-blue flag sporting a silhouette of the Buckeye State with the words: “Drink beer made here.”

When I asked a representative from the Ohio Brewers Guild about the coordination behind the pageantry, he simply chuckled and said, “That’s Mary [MacDonald, executive director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Alliance]; she’s a beast in making sure there is support for the great beers of Ohio.”

And with the eye-catching flag unrolled 14 times before the vast audience of brewers, MacDonald’s tactic worked wonders. If anyone watching hadn’t considered Ohio a viable beercation destination, they do now.

No flags were flown as Centennial State brewers accepted their 30 medals, 16 of them gold. Boulder County brought home five of the medals, two of them gold: Sawtooth Ale from Left Hand Brewing Co. for ordinary or special bitter and BJ’s Quad from BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery for Belgian-style dubbel or quadruple.

Colorado fared well in the award ceremony, but our 30 can’t quite hold a candle to California’s whopping 72 medals, 20 of them gold, with the star of the show going to FiftyFifty Brewing in Truckee, California.

Operating a brewpub and a production facility in Truckee — a town of 16,000 just 20 miles north of Lake Tahoe — FiftyFifty nabbed two bronze medals and one gold, which they received for their Bananenhägematte, a German-style weizenbock. Better yet, while FiftyFifty’s beaming brewmaster, Brian McGillivray, waited in line for his gold medal, FiftyFifty Brewing was announced as the winner of the Brewery Group of the Year award.

“This is pretty insane,” a baffled McGillivray said.

But the beer that owned the 37th GABF was, unsurprisingly, of the juicy, hazy variety.

This year marked the creation of three new competition categories: juicy or hazy pale ale, juicy or hazy India pale ale and juicy or hazy double IPA. Until recently, these beers were known colloquially as “New England-style,” but for their inaugural year, GABF decided to forgo regionalism and identify them by their appearance and taste. And rightly so, considering no New England-based brewery walked away with a juicy or hazy award — though it’s unclear how many might have entered in the competition.

Instead, the three juicy or hazy IPA medals went to two Chicago breweries and one out of La Vista, Nebraska, a town slightly smaller than Truckee. It’s true: good beer can come from anywhere.

All images courtesy Brewers Association

The article first appeared in Boulder Weekly.