Bay Area Brewers Bring Home GABF Medals

The 21st Amendment Brewery won two gold medals. Photos © Brian Stechschulte

Twenty-five breweries from the Bay Area traveled to Denver this past weekend to pour their beer over three days at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). It’s the biggest event of it’s kind in North America, featuring 466 breweries offering 2,375 beers to 49,000 attendees.

Brewers also travel to the festival in anticipation of awards. The event is one of the most important beer competitions in the world. This year 167 judges tasted their way through 3,930 different beers to award medals in 83 style categories. As you can tell the competition is fierce. GABF awards bring respect, notoriety and financial success to brewers and the breweries they represent.

The Bay Area held it’s own in the competition by capturing 11 medals in the following categories:

Rye Beer  (36 Entries)

Gold: Three Flowers IPA, Marin Brewing Co., Larkspur, CA
Silver: Bock in Bock, Tequesta Brewing Co., Tequesta, FL
Bronze: Crank Tank, SweetWater Brewing Co., Atlanta, GA

Indigenous Beer – 31 Entries

Gold: Hqt, 21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco, CA
Silver: Monticello Reserve Ale, Starr Hill Brewery, Crozet, VA
Bronze: Hot Rocks Lager, Port Brewing Co., San Marcos, CA

Baltic-Style Porter – 19 Entries

Gold: Battle Axe Baltic Porter, Fat Head’s Brewery, North Olmsted, OH
Silver: White Eagle Baltic Porter, Montana Brewing Co., Billings, MT
Bronze: Puddy Porter, Triple Rock Brewery and Alehouse, Berkeley, CA

Golden or Blonde Ale – 56 Entries

Gold: Blonde, Ram Restaurant & Brewery – Seattle, Seattle, WA
Silver: Alaskan Pale Ale, Alaskan Brewing Co., Juneau, AK
Bronze: Kent Lake Kolsch, Iron Springs Pub & Brewery, Fairfax, CA

English-Style India Pale Ale – 46 Entries

Gold: Samuel Adams Latitude 48 Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Boston Beer Co., Boston, MA
Silver: Napa Smith Organic IPA, Napa Smith Brewery, Napa, CA
Bronze: Down ‘n’ Dirty IPA, Deschutes Brewery, Bend, OR

American-Style Amber/Red Ale – 82 Entries

Gold: Amber Waves, 21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco, CA
Silver: Jamaica Red Ale, Mad River Brewing Co., Blue Lake, CA
Bronze: Rocket Red, Big River Grille and Brewing (Chattanooga, TN), Chattanooga, TN

Ordinary or Special Bitter – 28 Entries

Gold: DBA, Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Paso Robles, CA
Silver: New Speedway Bitter, Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, San Francisco, CA
Bronze: Bonnie Lee’s Best Bitter, Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, San Francisco, CA

American-Style Black Ale – 74 Entries

Gold: Blacktop IPA, New Glarus Brewing Co., New Glarus, WI
Silver: Blackened CDA, Carter’s Brewing, Billings, MT
Bronze: Black Racer, Bear Republic Brewing Co., Healdsburg, CA

Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale – 59 Entries

Gold: Buffalo Slumber, Sun King Brewing Co., Indianapolis, IN
Silver: Revelations, Pizza Port Carlsbad, Carlsbad, CA
Bronze: The Twelve, Black Diamond Brewing Co., Concord, CA

Brown Porter – 32 Entries

Gold: Out of Order Porter, Wind River Brewing Co., Pinedale, WY
Silver: FireHouse Porter, FireHouse Grill & Brewery, Sunnyvale, CA
Bronze: Porter, Lexington Avenue Brewery, Asheville, NC

Dave McLean of Magnolia Pub (left) with Steve Donohue of Firehouse Brewery.

Congratulations to all our hard working Bay Area brewers who continue to make this region one of the best and most respected craft beer hubs in the country. If you would like to see more information about individual awards head over to the Brookston Beer Bulletin for the entire list and more festival facts.

Practice, Determination and a Little Luck Sets Beltane Brewing Apart

Alan-Atha-Beltane-Brewing-Focused

At the end of a cul-de-sac in suburban Novato sits a garage with a split personality. Cars aren’t welcome on most days, pushed out by exercise weights, bicycles, carboys, steam and water that trickles down the driveway. The space is the center of Alan Atha’s creative universe, where he either molds athletes or coaxes barley and yeast into Beltane Brewing beer.

Atha is one of many homebrewers in the Bay Area with Nanobrewery aspirations, and he’s working hard to make it a reality with only three years of brewing experience. The short time frame may be cause for skepticism, but his beer has garnered several awards and he’ll be competing this fall in the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) Pro-Am competition.

Alan-Atha-Beltane-Brewing-Garage

Opening a brewery is just one of many different career adventures Atha has pursued since he left the U.S. military years ago. He’s worked as a commercial photographer shooting architecture, raced bicycles, and in the last fourteen years turned to training and coaching fellow riders after moving to Marin. “I needed some work and I also needed to get back into shape since I was taking some time off. I went to the local gym and saw what the trainers were doing, and I said there’s my new job.”

His interest in homebrewing developed alongside his work as a trainer when he realized the two activities were both rooted in science, physiology and creativity. “I’ve always been an artist and an athlete, so combining the two made sense. Now beer is my palate.”

He started out brewing with a friend who also had a passion for Belgian beer. That’s how he learned the basics, but before long struck out on his own and started entering beer into local competitions. According to Atha the feedback was helpful, but he didn’t take it too seriously.

“You look at the score sheet and you either take the criticism or you laugh at it, one of the two. In some competitions you get great tips and other times they’re subjective. You have to piece through it in a lot of ways, and at a certain point, as long as your beer doesn’t have any flaws, go with you heart. That’s what I do.”

Atha currently has six recipes he feels are solid enough for commercial production, a Belgian Pale, Triple, Double, Black IPA, and Double IPA. Clearly he doesn’t shy away from making big beers, but he won’t be pushing some boundaries. “I’m trying to be fairly traditional in my methods and then just tweak a little. I’m probably not going to be the guy that goes pumpkin guava.”

One of his recipes recently caught the attention of Christian Kazakoff, brewmaster at Iron Springs Pub and Brewery in Fairfax. Kazakoff hosted and judged a competition between members of the Sonoma Beerocrats. Atha is a member and president of the homebrew club. Winning the competition meant Kazakoff would brew the winning recipe and submit it to the GABF Pro-Am competition on behalf of the winning brewer.

According to GABF rules, qualifying entries must have won awards in competitions sanctioned by the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) and the beer must be produced and served by the host brewery no later then August 19th.

Luminesce

Working on a short timeline the club entered a bunch of beers into the competition. Atha submitted his Belgian Triple he calls Luminesce, brewed with Belgian pilsner and fed with Westmalle yeast. The finished product stood up to Kazakoff’s standards and now Atha is headed to GABF in Denver where he’ll also be celebrating his birthday when awards are dolled out on October 1.

The beer was produced at Iron Springs on July 21. Atha assisted in the process and the beer will be served to the public at the brewery on August 18, one day before the deadline.

Atha believes his success is due in part to practice, but he also knows serendipity has played a role and he still has a lot to learn. “It’s been part luck and I wouldn’t say that I know everything, but at the same time sometimes the more you learn the stupider you get because you have to ask more questions. That’s how I look at it. I learn something new every day, whether it’s in my training or brewing.”

When Atha isn’t making beer or coaching a would be cyclist, he’s been working his way through the licensing process and searching for place to setup a business. Both tasks have proven difficult. “It’s a crazy process and it sucks, but if I do it right it will work.”

At the moment Atha is wavering between two different business concepts, one geared towards a café and another that’s simply production oriented with retail. He would love to open a beer café serving small bites of Trappist cheese and charcuterie, but it might not be financially in the cards.

As for location, he would like to put down roots in Novato near the 101 freeway, so according to Atha, “Everyone going up to Russian River Brewing can easily hit me on the way up or way back.” Unfortunately, two promising locations have slipped through his fingers for one reason or another. The city council has been helpful and he’ll keep trying, but he may have to move onto a different town.

Adversity may keep testing his resolve, but Atha appears capable of dodging punches with determination and a good sense of humor. For the time being he’ll keep brewing away in his garage, tweaking recipes and working towards a brewery, that with a little more of Atha’s Celtic luck, you may visit in the very near future.