The biggest shocker was the gold-medal winner in the American wheat lager category: Mountain Wheat from Breckenridge Brewery. This stuff tastes like Bud. Even the guys pouring it at the Breckenridge booth said they had no idea why it won. "We're kind of amazed ourselves," one guy said. "It's definitely not one of our best beers." The gold-medal winner in the German-wheat ale category made more sense, since the Heavenly Hefeweizen from Heavenly Daze Brewery in Steamboat Springs is a decent wheat beer. This was a sore spot for me, because the excellent Weiss beer from Tabernash Brewing Company didn't even place--but I know the Weiss takes some getting used to if you've never tasted a real German-style wheat beer. Still, that doesn't explain why last year the Weiss won the gold and the Hefeweizen won the bronze. Anyway, the Weiss is certainly a better beer than Wild Pitch Hefeweizen, the silver-medal winner produced by the SandLot Brewery at Coors Field. Wild Pitch has this strange grassy flavor that makes me think it's filtered through the baseball diamond. Coors Brewing Company did deserve its American lager bronze win for Original Coors, which isn't bad for a mainstream beer, but Red Dog, from Miller Brewing Company, placed higher. The only good thing I can say about Red Dog is that Tommy Lee Jones gets paid to tout it. Another major brewery, Anheuser-Busch, grabbed the gold in the dark lager category, for Red Wolf. This was one of the most talked-about upsets at the festival, because just about every dark lager made in America is better than Red Wolf.
The judges for these blind tastings were not three guys named Bubba for whom beer is a major source of protein, but 68 professional beer tasters, writers or brewers. Go figure. If I had been on the panel, you can be sure that St. Brigid's Porter from Great Divide Brewing Company, Out of Bounds Stout from Avery Brewing Company, Fat Tire Amber Ale from New Belgium Brewing Company, Punjabi India Pale Ale out of CooperSmith's Pub and Brewing, and several beers from Rock Bottom Brewery would have won something. Not that winning is everything--one brewer said his first-place award last year had exactly zip effect on his sales. And certainly, 90 percent of the people who attended the festival Saturday night will not remember a single beer they tasted. In fact, the event should be renamed the "Great American High School," because that's where I thought I was every time someone dropped a glass and a roar went up from the crowd. I was knocked out of line three times by belligerent jerks, helped a guy with hiccups who said, "You know, I never usually get this drunk," and watched four people fall down the stairs. When I walked out, seven people were furtively smoking pot in front of Currigan Exhibition Hall, and I overheard some guy tell his friends, "Yeah, I'm really shitfaced, too, but I know this great bar we can go to." He then ripped the keys out of another guy's hand and said, "No way, man, you're not driving my car.