Washington brewers bring home hardware from the Great American Beer Festival

Washington’s Brings Home Fewer Medals this Year

In Seattle we love craft beer. In fact, 24 percent of the beer we consume in the greater Seattle-Tacoma area is craft beer. In the United States, only Portland, Oregon has us beat at 29.9 percent*. To help quench our local thirst for craft beer, Washington currently boast well over 100 craft breweries. By any reckoning, we are bonkers for craft beer around here.

Last week, a number of our local breweries participated in the nation’s most prolific beer competition–the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), which is held each year in Denver and is organized and hosted by the Brewers Association. This year the GABF saw over 3,500 beers compete for medals in 79 beer categories. The judging was performed by a panel of 151 professional beer judges from 10 different countries.

This was a tough year for our local brewers. Still, none of them have any reason to hang their heads. We congratulate the winners and we still love those who return to Washington empty handed.

Last year, Washington breweries brought home 13 medals from the GABF. This year our local brewers didn’t fare quite so well, bringing home just seven medals. (See the complete list of Washington winners below.)

In 2009 the big story was the success of Bellingham’s fledgling Chuckanut Brewery. (Read our summary of last year’s competition.) In it’s first trip to the GABF, Chuckanut Brewery brought home four medals and was named America’s Best Small Brew Pub and Best Small Brewer. This year Chuckanut brought home two more medals–the only Washington brewery to bring home multiple medals.

Other Washington winners included Hales Ales, Ram Brewing, Elysian Brewing, Boundary Bay Brewery, and Pyramid Breweries.

Before you get your knickers in a knot, Pyramid is still headquartered in Seattle and therefore submits beer to the GABF as a Washington brewery. Since brewing operations seem to have completely ceased at the Seattle brewery, and Pyramid makes most (if not all) of its beer in Oregon and California, many people question whether Pyramid Breweries should still be considered a Washington brewery. As we said, whether it is right or not the GABF recognizes them as such.

Tougher Competition

While the Pacific Northwest has enjoyed a vibrant craft beer scene for many years, more breweries are beginning to pop up nationwide. Over the past year, more than 100 new craft breweries have opened across the country and the U.S. now boasts 1,599 craft breweries.

This year’s competition saw increased geographic diversity among medal winners, with a notable increase in medals awarded to breweries in the Midwest and Southeast. As local craft beer markets mature, so do the breweries servicing those markets. Even if it means that Washington breweries brought home less hardware, all of this is good news for the craft beer industry at large.

Washington was not the only traditional powerhouse to realize diminishing returns. Washington’s medal total dropped from 13 to seven, Oregon’s medal total dropped from 22 to 19, and Colorado’s dropped from 45 to 42. California, bucking the trend, saw an increase in medals from 39 to 52.


By Saturday evening, shortly after the awards were announced, it was clear that California’s performance would have conspiracy theorists buzzing. We heard it in person and saw it online. Although the GABF competition is based on a double-blind tasting, some people believe that the judges are influenced by more than the quality of the beer.

If you question the legitimacy of the GABF’s blind tasting, I would ask you to more closely examine the list of winners. The judges are, presumably, serious craft beer snobs. Would the judges really choose to give a gold medal to Michelob AmberBock?

What Makes a Winner

No one can deny that the craft brewers of California are making excellent beers these days, but it is likely that the improved medal totals can be attributed to a larger number of beers being submitted to the competition.

For a brewery, it costs money to get in this game. You can submit as many beers as you like, but there is a fee based on the number of beers you submit. Many smaller breweries find it cost prohibitive to submit beers. Or should we say, many smaller breweries find it difficult to submit beers to multiple categories. The more darts you throw at the board, the greater your chance of getting a bullseye.

GABF veterans will tell you that the manner in which you submit your beer, and the categories to which you submit your beer, are as important as the quality of your beer. This year, 142 beers were entered into the American-Style IPA category. Only 27 were entered into the American-Style Stout category. If a brewery chose to get involved in the IPA competition, the odds of winning were very low.

Cheers to Bend

Last week we published a story in which we made the assertion that Bend, OR might be the best beer town in the Pacific Northwest (town, not city). The breweries of Bend brought home eight medals. Although four of them were awarded to Deschutes Brewing, it is still remarkable that a town of this size brought home eight medals. Along with Deschutes’ eight medals, Bend Brewing Company brought three medals home and Silver Moon Brewing brought home one medal.

Washington Medal Winners


  • Hales Ales – Kolsch. (Category: Kellerbier/Zwickelbier.)
  • Chuckanut Brewery – Vienna Lager. (Category: Vienna-Style Lager.)
  • Ram Brewing (Production Brewery, Tacoma) – Total Disorder Porter. (Category: Brown Porter.)


  • Pyramid Breweries – Apricot Ale. (Category: Fruit Beer.)
  • Elysian Brewing – Dark o’ the Moon. (Category: Filed Beer.)


  • Boundary Bay Brewery – Imperial Oatmeal Stout. (Category: Other Strong Beer. )
  • Chuckanut Brewery – Chuckanut Pilsner. (Category: German-Style Pilsner.)

For more information about the GABF results, click here.

*According to the Brewers Association, craft beer enjoys a market share greater than 20 percent in only three U.S. metropolitan areas – Portland 29.9 percent, Seattle-Tacoma 24 percent, and San Francisco 20.3 percent.

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  1. Although Washington didn’t pull out as many victories this year I would attribute it to luck more than anything else. The competition is getting larger, the quality of beer is better, and more outstanding breweries from other states are popping up. We’re competing against a large number of fantastic beer. Good beer always wins. If you’re entering great beer, it’s kind of a crapshoot. The judges may like your beer one year and not the next. (ahem, our Dunkel has three golds and didn’t show at this year’s GABF)

    Both Pizza Ports really cleaned up. So did Firestone Walker, Dry Dock, Devil’s Backbone, TAPS, AC Golden, The Sandlot, Descutes, Bend Brewing and Utah Brewer’s. These breweries make great beer! However, they aren’t from Washington. Oh well, maybe next year. Washington breweries make some of the best beer in the nation.

  2. Thanks for chiming in, Kevin! You know that I’ve nicknamed it “Chuckadunk,” right? Loves me some Chuckadunk!

    The beer that wins is always excellent, but an excellent beer doesn’t always win. There is something kind of Zen about it, I suppose.

    I love Washington beer, but I am happily aware that there is an ever increasing number of great breweries all across the country. Cheers to that! I love living in Washington, but I also love to travel. Increasingly, trips out of state are less painful from a beer perspective.

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