What’s happened to America’s great micros?
Samuel Adams, Celis, Red Hook. . .
You know, those breweries that used to blow us away with their fresh, imaginative craft brews, the ones that first grabbed us by the throats and showed us just how good beer could be.
Breckenridge, Nor’Wester, Blue Ridge. . .
Ten years ago, they helped pioneer the American beer revolution with award-winning lagers and ales that challenged the stale, old megabrewers with new styles that redefined our taste.
Grant’s, Mendocino, Wild Goose, BridgePort, Great Divide, Pete’s, Deschutes, Saranac, Pyramid. . .
Judging by the results of the Great American Beer Festival – the world’s biggest, most important brewing contest – all these guys are losers.
Not one of these familiar names brought home a medal from this year’s fest.
OK, Rogue and Stoudt’s – both innovative stalwarts with excellent reps – won medals. So did Sierra Nevada, Full Sail and Brooklyn.
But I can’t remember a festival when we saw so few of the microbrewing industry’s heavy hitters on the winner’s list. Wha’ happened?
There’s no easy answer.
Besides, medals aren’t everything. Samuel Adams Triple Bock and Celis White and BridgePort IPA are world classics, and losing at the annual Denver festival this year won’t change that.
The real trend may be the explosion of totally obscure names – Copper Tank, Pete’s Place, J.T. Whitney’s, Flossmoor Station, Squatters, Boscos. I thought that last one made chocolate milk!
Who are these people?
Brewpubs, mostly. Restaurants that produce less suds than I drink on a good weekend.
According to the calculations on my cocktail napkin, brewpubs collected two-thirds of all the GABF medals, including the lion’s share of golds.
Indeed, the only Philly-area golds went to brewpubs: the year-old New Road Brewhouse (36 W. Third Ave., Collegeville) and John Harvard’s Brew House (629 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne).
New Road head brewer Brian O’Reilly was ecstatic.
“Winning was very important for me,” O’Reilly told me. “I’m sort of working alone, so it’s great to be appreciated on a national level.
“Plus, it puts us on the map. Maybe people will say, ‘Hey, they must make pretty good beer,’ and make a trip out here from the city on a Sunday afternoon. “
So, how’s a tiny brewpub manage to beat the big guys?
O’Reilly’s not certain, but he thinks brewpubs have an edge because they can afford to brew extremely small batches of beer specifically to compete in contests.
His pilsner, for instance, is not part of New Road’s regular tap rotation. The same goes for General Lafayette Inn & Brewery’s silver-winning alt.
You could complain that this is a bit of a cheat, a bait and switch for brewpubs looking to attract customers with award-winning beers that rarely appear on the menu.
But, to me, GABF medals are evidence that a brewer knows what he’s doing. And believe me, both pilsner and alt are tough styles to conquer.
O’Reilly and General Lafayette brewer Chris Leonard deserve their medals – and the customers who will follow.
As for you sloths who are too lazy for road trips, this weekend presents a perfect chance to sample the area’s medal winners – and meet their brewers – in one afternoon, without piling up frequent flier miles.
Tomorrow at Standard Tap (2nd & Poplar streets, Northern Liberties), the local GABF winners will be pouring from 3 p.m. till closing.
The winning tap list:
- Fest – Stoudt Brewing Co., Adamstown Fest (bronze, Vienna-style lager).
- Mad Brewer Maibock – Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, Newark, Del., (silver, German-style schwarzbier).
- Lodestone Lager – Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, Media (bronze, Munchner-style helles).
- Perkiomen Pils – New Road Brew House, Collegeville (gold, German-style pilsener).
- Alt, Who Goes There? – General Lafayette Inn & Brewery, Lafayette Hills (silver, German-style brown ale/Dusseldorf-style altbier).
- Main Line Oatmeal Stout – John Harvard’s Brew House, Wayne (gold, oatmeal stout).
The Tap’s also hoping to spill a few from the region’s biggest winner, the Pabst brewery in Fogelsville, Pa. The former Stroh plant landed an amazing eight medals for everything from American lager (gold, for Rainer) to non-alcoholic (silver, for Pabst NA).
The Marlton Tavern (Main Street, Marlton, N.J.) scored a bit of a coup this month when it landed a handful of impossible-to-find, award-winning British casks from importer B. United International. The South Jersey pub was the only one within an hour of Philly to grab any of the 150 firkins that made it across the Atlantic.
- Swale Indian Summer Pale Ale – Champion of Champions, 1997.
- Gale’s Festival Mild – created for the Campaign for Real Ale as a classic version of cask mild ale.
- Mordue Workie Ticket – Supreme Champion of Britain, 1997.
- Harviestoun Brooker’s Bitter & Twisted – Deliciously named Supreme Champion Beer of Scotland, 1999.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Alba Scots Pine Ale.