Five Montana breweries brought home six medals – half of them gold – for their beers and one was named very small brewery of the year at the Great American Beer Festival, held in Denver over the weekend.
Missoula’s Draught Works brought home the most hardware, earning very small brewery company and very small brewing company brewer of the year honors, as well as a gold medal in the American-style strong pale ale category for its Scepter Head IPA.
“We’re super proud of our whole team here and all the brewers we have,” said Jeff Grant, who owns the brewery with Paul Marshall.
The GABF, held each year in Denver, draws breweries from across the country to compete in 90 categories with 145 beer styles. This year’s competition saw 1,309 breweries and 5,507 entries.
Spokeswoman Barbara Fusco said that bringing home an award from the GABF puts a brewery in rare company.
“The competition is considered the most prestigious beer competition in the country,” she said. “It is in fact the largest commercial beer competition in the world. Certainly, to win a medal, let alone a brewery of the year award, means they are making one of the best beers in a style or category, or are one of the best breweries overall.“
Per competition rules, a very small brewery is one that produced fewer than 1,000 barrels in the prior year. Winners are chosen based on a scoring system that includes total points based on the number of gold, silver and bronze medals won; the most gold medals; the most total medals and the most total entries in all medaled and gold medaled categories.
Grant described Scepter Head as the brewery’s most popular beer and a “very drinkable IPA that isn’t over-the-top bitter.”
Draught Works entered five beers in the competition. The brewery wasn’t able to send a representative to Denver, so Marshall and Grant heard they’d won on Saturday while hosting an event at the brewery.
“We’re super proud,” Marshall said. “It was awesome that it was on our customer appreciation day that we found out.“
From Billings, the Montana Brewing Co. received a gold medal in the American-style wheat beer with yeast category for its Whitetail Wheat. It is the third gold medal the beer has won and fourth overall, making it the most decorated Montana beer at the GABF.
MBC owner Sean Graves said it’s a tough category to win, even when stacked up against other breweries in the region, because it’s such a popular variety and one that a number of others do very well.
“It’s great,” he said. “Every year, the competition gets so much tougher and there’s so many more breweries every year, so to win any kind of award it’s a real honor. For (our medal), it’s a heavily entered contest and all of them are really good beers.”
Another Billings brewery, Überbrew, brought home a silver medal in the American-style black ale for its Black Hops Tactical IPA.
Paul Morup, a sales employee at the brewery, said it’s his favorite beer there and that there were “something like 200 beers” entered in the IPA categories.
“A lot of people don’t realize that winning a medal at the GABF is just huge,” he said. “It’s against the best in the country. If you can medal there, then people seek out your brewery from all over.“
Other Montana winners are Whitefish’s Great Northern Brewing Co. with a bronze medal in American-style wheat beer with yeast for its Wheatfish Wheat Lager, and Helena’s Lewis and Clark Brewing Co. with a gold for its Tumbleweed IPA in the English-style India pale ale category and a silver for its Back Country Scottish Ale in the Scottish-style ale category.
Brewery officials said Montana’s showing at the competition speaks to the strong traditions and culture surrounding brewing across the state.
“We’re just real proud to be a Montana brewery,” Strong said. “If you take a look around at the history of the Montana brewers, they tend to do really well.“
The state’s first GABF medal came in 1987 when the Kessler Brewing Co. won a silver in the bocks/doppelbocks category for its Kessler Bock.
Since then, Montana breweries have won a total of 40 medals at the competition, with the Montana Brewing Co. leading the way with 15.
According to the competition website, there were 39 craft breweries in Montana in 2013, giving it 5.3 breweries for every 100,000 adults of legal drinking age, or the third highest per capita in the nation.
“It’s pretty big in our culture as Montanans,” Graves said. “Every town is starting to get their own breweries. You’ve got them in towns like Wibaux, with a population of something like 600 people, and they’re making relly, really great beer. It’s pretty cool, it’s really in our culture.”