Indiana’s ‘Medals-to-Craft Breweries’ Ratio Among the Best at 2017 GABF

Indiana’s ‘Medals-to-Craft Breweries’ Ratio Among the Best at 2017 GABF

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Craft beer just had its Oscars, and Indiana was a big winner. Walter and I are unabashed evangelists of Indiana craft beer as we travel around the country and visit breweries, and as we talk to Hoosiers who have not been bitten by the craft beer bug. We talk up Indiana craft beer to everyone and anyone – sometimes we can be quite annoying. Therefore, the results this year give us much to crow about.

Great American Beer Festival. Today, as with every second weekend of October, we have been vindicated because Indiana continues to out kick their coverage at the Great American Beer Festival. GABF, for the uninitiated (which included me until a few years ago), is the yearly craft beer festival and competition of the Brewers Association – the primary craft beer association in America. Held in Denver early in each October, GABF is an entire week of craft beer debauchery. The festival itself runs from Thursday through Saturday at the Colorado Convention Center. There are sessions that run for 4.5 hours on Thursday and Friday evening, and then two sessions on Saturday, one for BA members in the afternoon, and then a last public session in the evening.

However, the festivities are not limited to the official sessions. There are tap takeovers at countless breweries in Denver during the week, and special events like the Pints for Prostates Denver Rare Beer Tasting also vie for craft beer drinkers’ dollars. Last year, Walter and I were in Denver for GABF, but opted to just attend the Denver Rare Beer Tasting instead of also buying tickets to a general session. We thought: 1) $125 a piece to drink 65 rare beers alongside 500 people and all the brewers, or 2) about $85 dollars to fight amongst 15,000 people for 800 breweries and 4000 or so beers. No- it wasn’t a hard decision, However, I think we will probably return for a general session in the next couple of years.

Fifteen thousand of your closest friends running around trying to hit 200 Untappd check-ins in one day. Welcome to GABF. photo credit: Craft Beer & Brewing

In the general sessions, there is a lot going on. The breweries vie for the attention of attendees, either with stunning beer that people from around the country have been waiting to try, or with costumes or other such distractions to bring people in. Lines can get long for coveted breweries, and the beer is going to run out – so some people plan their attack on the convention center like they’re masterminding a route into Fort Knox.

But at the same time, there is a competition going on behind the scenes. Every BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) in the world (almost), along with pro brewers and officials, converge on Denver to judge beers entered into 98 categories. On Saturday midday, medals are handed out (Gold, Silver, Bronze) in each category. It costs a brewery (member of BA) $160 for their each beer that they wish to enter into the competition, and you have to ship the beer out there, so people don’t enter beers casually.

The number of beers a brewery is allowed to enter is contingent on the number of judges they have (which determines the number of total beers that can be judged). Based on the number of beers that can be judged and the number of breweries that apply to have beers judged, there comes a maximum number of beers that can be entered by each brewery. Of course, it’s never that simple, because some breweries have multiple locations and might make the same beer at different places or a group may own multiple breweries, so they can’t enter more than 20 combined. But in general, a brewery will be able to enter 5-7 beers from year to year.

The breweries pay to have their beer judged, but they also pay to have the opportunity to pour beer at the festival. A single booth, with a draft system (if requested) is $250 dollars. This fee includes four brewery representative badges and the ability to attend/pour at all four sessions. Additional brewery representative badges are $185 each for BA-member breweries and more for non members. Soooo…. what you want to do is find a brewery that has one to three employees and no family or friends and get that last representative badge. Come on, they’re brewers, they’re not going to have that many friends.

Denver as a whole gets in to GABF week. There are even events where Chris Knott might meet a boyhood hero. image credit: 303 magazine

Then all you have to do is get yourself to Denver during the period of time in which they charge more for hotels and food than any other time of the year, including Broncos games. Last year, just to get access to the bathroom in one restaurant I had to purchase some food – my three meatball appetizer cost me $12, and they barely got the fork dirty. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Indiana Breweries at GABF in 2017. Twenty-two breweries from Indiana applied and were allowed to pour at GABF this year; that’s almost 17% of the breweries in the state. And if you include the additional breweries whose beer was poured at the Brewers of Indiana Guild booth (Black Acre, New Albanian, Schnitz, and Devil’s Trumpet), then over 1/5 of Indiana craft breweries were present in Denver.

Unfortunately, six of the breweries featured at the Guild’s booth were those already pouring at GABF this year. I can understand if the reason for this was that those breweries were already shipping beer, and moving another keg or sixtel would be easier, but if those six slots had been taken by, say, Windmill, Trubble, Two Deep, Function, Floyd County Brewing, and People’s, then an amazing percentage (about 40%) of Indiana craft beer would have gotten exposure to 60,000 beer freaks from all over the country.

The twenty-two Indiana craft breweries that had their own booths this year included representatives from all parts of the state (Burn ‘Em, Byway, Carson’s, Chapman’s, Danny Boy, Daredevil, Flix, Goshen, Hunter’s, Indiana City, Mad Anthony, Turoni’s, Metazoa, Shoreline, Sun King, The Tap, Taxman, FFF, Tin Man, Triton, Upland, ZwanzigZ), with each pouring between three and six beers. Many were flagships, but that’s OK, most people hadn’t had these beers before, and they’re flagships for a reason – they’re good.

The Taxman crew celebrating a 2017 medal with BA founder Charlie Papazian. photo credit: Taxman Brewing Company

Indiana medal winners. The social media pictures from the sessions showed good lines and happy attendees, and the brewery representatives certainly seemed like they were getting around, both in the convention center and around town. But that was only half the story. Where Indiana really shone was during the awards for the professional brewing competition. Eight Indiana craft beers took medals in ten different categories. Sun King and Metazoa each won two medals, with the remaining six breweries winning one medal each.

Cherry Busey won a bronze medal in the Belgian-style fruit category again this year. That’s three years in a row that Cherry has garnered a medal, an impressive accomplishment any day of the week. The other Sun King medal was a silver in the wood & barrel aged beer category for the magpie (a New Day mead) barrel aged wee muckle (a scotch ale). As for Metazoa, they had silver medals for both their Breton Blonde in the Belgian blonde or pale ale category and for their Klipspringer dry hopped saison in the Belgian-American Ale. I personally want it on record that the first time I tasted Klipspringer in April, I said it was a medal winner (I swear, ask Walter).

Triton Brewing’s Fieldhouse Wheat was the first winner announced at the ceremony, taking bronze in the American-style Wheat Beer category which book-ended nicely with Indiana’s last medal winner of the day, Taxman’s silver medal in the Belgian-style Dubbel or Quadruppel for their Deduction. Four Day Ray took a bronze for their experimental beer called Hot Pink, a strawberry, rhubarb, jalapeno beer, while Chilly Water took silver for their exquisite rauchbier called Smoke on the Lager.

Dan Kryzwicki and Chilly Water Brewing won a gold medal for their great smoked beer. I hope they get it back on tap soon, like bringing back Oscar-winning movies to the theaters. photo credit: Chilly Water Brewing

The gold medals for Indiana were won by Mad Anthony for their Auburn Lager in the American-style amber lager group, which triumphed over 69 other entries, and by ZwanzigZ for their Ghost Pepper Imperial Stout in the Chili beer category. This isn’t surprising at all, since they were named the small brewpub and brewer of the year in 2016 at this small festival. Their spicy concoction was deemed best amongst 98 other pepper beers, but not against FDR’s Hot Pink. Each beer can be entered in only one category, and FDR chose the Experimental Beer category for Hot Pink.

A medal, no matter what the color, is a victory at GABF. These are the best of the best beers, otherwise they wouldn’t be entered, and all categories have many excellent contenders. However, not every category has the same number of entries. The American IPA category had 408 entries, so Hailstorm from Chicago should feel really good about their gold medal in that style. On the other hand, the English Pale and Irish dry stout styles had only 30 entries apiece – but if I won any medal in either of these groups, I would be ecstatic. In general, the categories in which Indiana brewers won medals had between forty and one hundred entries, so these beers stood up against sturdy competition.

Indiana ranks high. Without going to each brewery and asking if they entered beers for judging, it isn’t possible to know how many beers were entered from a brewery or a state. This makes it hard for me to compare states relative to one another. But any way you cut it, Indiana did very well, and I do suggest that we did better than any other state in our vicinity.

Fatheads Brewery and all the other Ohio breweries held an Ohio craft beer flag at the ceremonies. This would be cool for Indiana – with an Indiana craft beer flag of course. photo credit: Fatheads Brewery

Making use of no scientific inquiry at all, and with no reasonable argument behind it, I decided to determine the ratio of medals to total brewery number for Indiana and the states surrounding it. According to BA, Indiana has 127 breweries, so with 10 medals, this gives us a ratio of 1:12.7 (remember that for this comparison a lower number is better – like golf). Ohio breweries won nine medals and has 177 breweries (ratio = 1:19.67), while Kentucky won one medal, but has only 34 breweries (ratio = 1:34).

Michigan, a bastion of craft beer, won nine medals and has 222 breweries (1: 24.67), while Wisconsin has fewer breweries than I would have imagined (138) and won only two medals this year (1:69.0). Finally, Illinois had a good year at GABF, winning 11 medals if you count a medal for On Tour Brewing as Very Small Brewing Company of the Year. There are 181 breweries in Illinois, giving a ratio 1:16.45. According this very unscientific method, Indiana definitely kicked butt in the Midwest this year. Who cares if Colorado had a ratio of 1:8.79; they had home field advantage. Heck, they didn’t have the best ratio of any state, Wyoming took that honor (1:3.83) with six medals and only 23 breweries in the state — yes, any state that has Melvin Brewing is going to have a big advantage. In my state rankings by medal:brewery ratio, Indiana came in a more than respectable 11th, certainly good enough to be recognized as a leader in US craft beer.

Congratulations to all winners, from owners to brewers to front of house staff. Everyone works together to make a winning beer and a successful brewery. Be proud of what you have accomplished. And congratulations to Indiana craft beer as a whole, the country is awakening to the great beer made here and the great people in Hoosier beer. Thank your local brewery when you next visit. Then get out there and spread the word about how good Indiana craft beer really is, you have the numbers to back it up.


Update: based on number of entries in the competition (163 for Indiana, see this article), the Hoosier state finished 3rd in the medals:entries ratio (Missouri came out on top in this comparison). Just more proof that Indiana is a craft beer power.

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