Beer Man

After a Down Year, Colorado Blasts Back With Forty GABF Medals

Comrade Brewing's Superpower IPA won big.
Comrade Brewing's Superpower IPA won big. Comrade Brewing
The state's most high-profile producer of hazy IPAs won one of the most high-profile awards at the Great American Beer Festival last weekend, something that will probably launch WeldWerks Brewing's name even higher into the stratosphere of the beer universe than it already is.

But WeldWerks's gold for Extra Extra Juicy Bits in the Juicy or Hazy Imperial IPA category — and a silver for Itsy Bits in Juicy or Hazy Pale Ale — were far from the only beers from big names to win big medals in 2019.

While 2018 seemed to establish Colorado as a surprising powerhouse for pilsner-style beers, it was also a bit of a disappointing GABF year, with just thirty total medals. That had followed three years in a row in which Colorado had taken home exactly 38 medals. This time around, the state garnered a whopping forty medals — which is pretty stellar when you consider that only 318 medals were awarded out of 9,497 entries total.

click to enlarge If you thought it was hard to find WeldWerks beers before.... - SARAH COWELL
If you thought it was hard to find WeldWerks beers before....
Sarah Cowell
And for the first time in a while, hoppy beers played a major role in that stash.

On the other end of the IPA spectrum from WeldWerks, Denver's Comrade Brewing won gold for More Dodge, Less Ram in the American IPA category. With 342 entries, this was the second-most-hotly-contested category in 2019, following Juicy or Hazy IPAs, which had a total of 348 entries. (For ten years in a row, until the hazy wave of 2018, American IPAs had reigned supreme as the top category at GABF.)

But Comrade wasn't done there. It also took gold for its flagship Superpower IPA in the American Style Strong Pale Ale category. Comrade had never won for this beer before, though it scored back-to-back medals in 2014 and 2015 for the fresh-hopped version. This medal put a huge feather in the cap of one of Colorado's best IPAs (and one of our thirty most important beers in Colorado history), solidifying its lofty standing. As a result of these two awards, Comrade also won GABF's Small Brewing Company of the Year title.

"We still can't believe what happened on Saturday," says Comrade owner David Lin. "We were ecstatic when Superpower IPA won, because it is our flagship beer and is available year-round. We've been hoping our beers would be awarded for American-Style IPA, but for the first time in six years of competing, we took home the gold. IPAs are a style that we are passionate about, and brewmaster Marks Lanham brews them the best he can. The IPAs in Colorado are just amazing, from session to double, clear to hazy, Colorado has got it all. It's a great time to be a beer drinker in Colorado."

click to enlarge The Westbound & Down crew celebrates the spoils of victory. - WESTBOUND & DOWN BREWING
The Westbound & Down crew celebrates the spoils of victory.
Westbound & Down Brewing
The other big Colorado winners were Westbound & Down Brewing, out of Idaho Springs (with its first-ever medals), Cannonball Creek and Vail Brewing Company, which all won two each.

Westbound took silver for Double Barrel Louie in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer category and another silver for Westbound Double IPA in the Imperial IPA category, continuing the hoppy trend. Those victories were enough to also garner GABF's Midsize Brewpub of the Year award.

Cannonball Creek, meanwhile, added to its impressive haul of eight awards between 2013 and 2018 by taking silvers for Trump Hands in the Session IPA category and Vladamir Brutin in the Emerging IPA category. This was the second GABF medal for the cheekily named Trump Hands, which won gold in 2016.

Vail Brewing's Vail Village location won two bronzes, one for Deck Daze, in the Herb and Spice Beer category, and the other for Pete's Stash, in the Australian-Style Pale Ale category.

click to enlarge Dry Dock Brewing celebrated with its last bottle of Maibock. - DRY DOCK BREWING
Dry Dock Brewing celebrated with its last bottle of Maibock.
Dry Dock Brewing
Here's the rundown for the rest of the Colorado brewery awards:

Dry Dock Brewing, which had won a GABF medal for a remarkable ten years in a row before finally being shut out in 2018, returned to form by taking silver for its Maibock in the Bock category. Over its decade-long streak, Dry Dock had collected a total of 24 awards.

Denver Beer Co. was also able to continue its eye-opening streak by winning gold for Amburana Dream. This is the brewery's fifth gold in just four years (medals that were split between its two separate breweries) and its third in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer category.

Wit's End Brewing, which closed its taproom and consolidated its brewing operations into Strange Craft Beer Company in 2017, won its second medal in two years by taking silver for Lindauer Lager in the Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest category.

click to enlarge Joyride took home its first medal. - JOYRIDE BREWING
Joyride took home its first medal.
Joyride Brewing
Joyride Brewing in Edgewater won silver — its first-ever GABF medal — for Ice Cutter Kolsch, which has been on the menu since the brewery's founding in 2014 and is one of its best beers.

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, despite being one of the best sour-ale producers in the nation, won just its third medal with a gold for Get the Funk Out in the Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale category.

Storm Peak Brewing in Steamboat Springs took silver in the third-most-hotly-contested category at GABF,  Fruited American-Style Sour Ale, winning for Hoochie Mama Sour Blonde with Guava.

Bootstrap Brewing in Niwot won gold for 1956 Golden Ale, its second medal in a row. The beer is named after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution "in tribute to the young freedom fighters that stood against the communists occupying their country," the brewery says. Bootstrap co-owner Steven Kaczeus's father "was one of those brave students at the University of Budapest at the time."

click to enlarge Primitive Beer tastes glory. - PRIMITIVE BEER
Primitive Beer tastes glory.
Primitive Beer
Primitive Beer Company in Longmont took silver for Shibbleshabble in the Experimental beer category. Primitive makes unusual Belgian-style sours that are uncarbonated.

BJ's Restaurant & Brewery in Boulder won its third medal in four years for A&M Honey Bock in the Honey Beer category. Although it is part of a chain, the Boulder BJ's appears to be killing it.

Echo Brewing in Erie won gold for Junebug in the Belgian- and French-Style Ale category. Meanwhile, the brewery's Balefire Irish Red, which won bronze in 2012 for its Frederick location, took home silver this year for the brewery's new owners, who changed the name of that location to Mirror Image Brewing.

Vine Street Pub & Brewery won its first-ever medal with Yonder Mountain Stout, which took silver for Oatmeal Stout. This was the first win since 2011 for any of the breweries in the Mountain Sun group.

Other first-time Colorado winners include Zuni Street Brewing (Denver), which took gold for Way West Wit; Grist Brewing (Highlands Ranch), which won bronze for Maerzen; Green Mountain Beer (Lakewood), which won silver for Belgian Quad; Bruz Beers (Adams County), which took silver for Séréneté Grand Cru; Red Leg Brewing (Colorado Springs), which won silver for Howitzer Amber; Holidaily Brewing (Golden), which took gold for Boombastic Gluten-Free Hazy IPA; Good River Beer, which won gold for Fu Fighter in the Belgian-Style Pale Strong Ale category; and Dueces Wild Brewery (Colorado Springs), which won for Knuckle Dragger Scotch Ale.

The rest of the winners: Twisted Pine Brewing (Boulder), Northstar Imperial Porter; Cellar West Artisan Ales (Lafayette), Westfield; Dostal Alley Brewpub & Casino (Central City), Cousin Jack; Equinox Brewing (Fort Collins), Eclipse Brown Ale; Upslope Brewing (Boulder), Craft Lager; Odell Brewing (Fort Collins), Mountain Standard IPA; The Post Brewing (Lafayette), El Corn; Launch Pad Brewery (Aurora), Peacekeeper; Carver Brewing (Durango), Lightner Creek Lager; and New Belgium Brewing (Fort Collins), Chess with Checkers.

See the complete list of winners on the GABF website.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes