Beer Man

Here’s How Colorado Swept the Fruit Beer Category at GABF

Canning day at Crystal Springs Brewing.
Canning day at Crystal Springs Brewing. Crystal Springs Brewing
Winning a medal at the Great American Beer Festival has become a crapshoot over the past few years. The sheer number of beers and breweries that enter, along with the ever-changing, ever-expanding list of categories and sub-categories that make up the American beer world, mean that anything can happen.

In fact, this year set a record as judges evaluated 9,680 beers from 2,192 breweries across the country in 97 beer categories covering 175 different beer styles (including all subcategories).

As a result, taking home a prize is no easy task: It means a beer had to jostle its way through multiple rounds of BJCP-certified tasters and come out on the other side. So the fact that Colorado breweries swept a single category at the awards last month makes for a strange anomaly. Even stranger is that the category wasn't one of the glamorous ones that local brewers specialize in, such as hazy/juicy IPAs and double IPAs or wood-aged Brett beers or even Marzen lagers. Nope, it was for American Fruit Beers.

Fruit beers do have a long history in Colorado. They were ubiquitous in the 1990s and early 2000s when New Belgium Brewing's Old Cherry, Great Divide Brewing's Wild Raspberry Ale, Oasis Brewery's Blueberry Ale and many others ruled the taps. The same was true nationwide, especially for raspberry and apricot beers — GABF even had a separate Raspberry Beer category for about five years back then.


These days, fruit beers are mainly associated with sours or their cousins in the gose or berliner weisse categories, and many breweries try to source fruit locally. But straight-up fruit beers are still mighty popular in taprooms, and the three beers that swept the category are crowd-pleasers — and all are (or are about to be) year-round offerings.

Here's the rundown of the American Fruit Beer category winners, and it's also worth mentioning that Greenwood Village's Peak View Brewing took home a silver medal in a different category, Fruit Wheat Beer, for its Blood Orange Wheat.
click to enlarge The crew from Crystal Springs Brewing at the GABF awards ceremony. - CRYSTAL SPRINGS BREWING
The crew from Crystal Springs Brewing at the GABF awards ceremony.
Crystal Springs Brewing
Gold Medal
Blood Orange Kolsch
Crystal Springs Brewing
Louisville

Blood Orange Kolsch started as a summer seasonal in 2017 and has since become Crystal Springs Brewing's best-selling year-round beer. Made with "natural" blood orange flavor, the beer is so popular that the brewery had to buy its first sixty-barrel fermenter earlier this year in order to keep up with demand, both in the taproom and on liquor store shelves. "We were completely surprised when they called our name," says Crystal Springs general manager Colin Woods. "We've known for a while that the beer is good, just based on sales numbers and from reactions of people trying it for the first time at festivals or in our taproom, but this is the first time it's been awarded anything at a major competition."
click to enlarge Great Divide Brewing discontinued Wild Raspberry Ale (the old version is pictured), but will bring it back next year. - GREAT DIVIDE BREWING
Great Divide Brewing discontinued Wild Raspberry Ale (the old version is pictured), but will bring it back next year.
Great Divide Brewing
Silver Medal
Wild Raspberry Ale
Great Divide Brewing
Denver

Great Divide was founded in 1994, and Wild Raspberry Ale was a staple in its lineup until it was retired in 2012. But the brewery is bringing back an updated version, and entered the beer at GABF before it was even released to the public. So the silver medal is a good sign. Brewery spokesman Matt Sandy explains: "Recently, we came to the conclusion that there was a need for another fruited beer in our year-round lineup to complement Strawberry Rhubarb Sour, [so we] dusted off the Wild Raspberry Ale recipe. No one currently at the brewery had experience brewing Wild Raspberry Ale, other than [Great Divide founder] Brian Dunn, so we began piloting different versions that while 'close' to the original recipe reflected modern tastes and brewing techniques. The result is a slightly sweet, slightly tart, flavorful ale that fans of the original brew and those new to this beer will enjoy." It should hit shelves in early 2022.
click to enlarge LONE TREE BREWING
Lone Tree Brewing
Bronze Medal
Peach Pale Ale
Lone Tree Brewing
Lone Tree

Peach Pale Ale was one of Lone Tree's original beers when it opened in December 2011, and later became one of its first canned beers, as well. "Originally, we utilized peaches from Stahlbush Island Farms out of Oregon," says brewery sales and marketing director Dennis Stack. "We wanted to use Palisade peaches, but the beer grew in popularity and became a year round product, and the supply of Palisades wasn’t available year-round. While fruit is nothing new in beer, we loved our pale ale recipe and wanted to experiment with it. When many breweries were adding fruit to blonde ales, we picked a slightly different interpretation with our pale. This produces a slightly hoppy brew with a subtle fruit flavor."
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes