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Thursday, October 09, 2008

One Hit Wonders: The Quest for Great American Beer Festival Glory

In the Marriott Hotel a few blocks from where I'm staying in Denver around 100 hardy souls are starting day two of an important task: they are judges for the Great American Beer Festival competition.

While this might sound like a job you would like to have, it does come with a heavy workload, deadlines and a good amount of responsibility. The judges -- brewers, journalists and industry members -- meet in panels for the better part of three days, carving down hundreds of entries in dozens of categories to hand out gold, silver and bronze medals.

The GABF went to a professional judging system in 1987. Before that, a consumer preference poll determined the award winners. Since that time thousands of medals have been handed out to brewers. These are valued for their marketing power and the bragging rights that come with them. In the 21 competitions judged under this system, the panels have deliberated over the beers and occasionally decided not to award a certain medal in a category. This has happened just 25 times in the history of the GABF.

More common is the phoenominon of the "one hit wonder" -- a brewery that wins just a single GABF medal. The list is a long one and shows just how tough it is to win at the GABF. Some of the breweries have gone out of business, others may have stopped sending beers to Denver for judging. Others are still trying to capture a second gold, silver or bronze. Here's a snap shot by year of just some of the nearly 190 GABF "one hit wonders."

Year Brewery (State) Beer (Medal)

1987 Chesapeake Bay Brewing (Md.) Chesbay Double Bock (Gold)
1988 Ambier Brewing (Wisc.) Ambier (Gold)
1989 Catamont Brewing (Vt.) Catamont Gold (Gold)
1990 Black Mountain Brewing (N.M.) Crazy Ed's Arizona Pilsner (Bronze)
1991 Broad Ripple Brewing (Ind.) Extra Special Bitter (Gold)
1992 Dilworth Micro Brewery (N.C.) Albermale Ale (Bronze)
1993 Flying Aces Brewing (Fla.) Old West Amber (Gold)
1994 Martha's Exchange (N.H.) Untouchable Scotch Ale (Silver)
1995 Irish Times Pub & Brewery (Fla.) Fin MacCool Irish Red (Gold)
1996 Aspen Beer Co. (Colo.) Naked Aspen Honey Wheat (Silver)
1997 Bavarian Brewing Co. (Ohio) Bavarian Pilsener (Bronze)
1998 Big House Brewing (N.Y.) Ma Barker Ale (Gold)
1999 Bitter Creek Brewing (Wy.) A Beer Named Bob (Bronze)
2000 Delafield Brewhaus (Wisc.) Old No. 27 Barley Wine (Gold)
2001 Rohrbach Brewing (N.Y.) Barley Wine (Bronze)
2002 Smiling Moose Brewpub (Colo.) McAllister's Ale (Gold)
2003 Ortlieb's Brewery & Grille (Pa.) Ortlieb's Select 69 Lager (Silver)
2004 Unique Beers (Fla.) Orange Blossom Pilsner (Bronze)
2005 Olde Auburn Ale House (Ala.) Catch Her in the Rye (Bronze)
2006 Butte Creek Brewing (Cailf.) Organic Pilsner (Gold)
2007 Atlanta Brewing Co. (Ga.) Red Brick Blonde (Gold)

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