Pittsburgh's going for GABF glory

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on


When the judging commences at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver this weekend, several Pittsburgh-made brews will be in the competition.

The festival runs today through Saturday, during which time there are five three-hour judging sessions. Judges will work towards naming three beers that best represent each of 138 beer styles organized into 84 professional competition categories and subcategories, plus the GABF Pro-Am Competition.

There are two new categories. Here are the fest’s description of them:

Grodzisz — This straw-colored ale packs a punch with bold flavor derived from oak wood-smoked wheat malt. Originally a Polish style, Grodzisz is a crisp, light-bodied beer that rarely exceeds 3.7 percent alcohol by volume.

Adambier — A dark beer that hails from Dortmund, this ale has more unusual flavors than its lighter-colored kin. Adambier may be aged in barrels to achieve a slight Brettanomyces or lactic character, which, combined with an alcohol by volume ranging from 9 to 11 percent, makes for a full-bodied beer.

Anyway, there are 210 judges. There are a record 4,875  beers, 12 percent more than last year.

Lawrenceville’s Church Brew Works, which cleaned up in last year’s competition, is going back and entering 10 brews in these categories:

Ambrosia — Herb and Spice Beer

Tom’s Pepper Wit — Experimental Beer

Oktoberfest — German-Style Oktoberfest

Pious Monk Dunkel — European-Style Dunkel

Pipe Organ Pale Ale — International-style Pale Ale

Coconut Stout — Field Beer

Brett Trippel — Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer

Celestial Gold — German-Style Pilsener

ThunderHop IPA — American-Style IPA

Cherry Quad — Other Belgian-Style Abbey Ale

Last year, the Church won four medals (gold in the Old Ale or Strong Ale category for Heini’s Hooch; silver in European-Style Dunkel for Pious Monk Dunkel; and two bronzes — in  Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest for Celestial Gold and in International-Style Pale Ale for Pipe Organ Pale Ale) and was named Large Brewpub of the year and its then brewer, Steve Sloan, was named Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year.

Mr. Sloan has since started, with his wife, Dyana, his own Roundabout Brewery in Lawrenceville.

This year the Church also will be pouring several of its brews for the public at the festival: Ambrosia, Tom’s Pepper Wit, Cherry Quad, Oktoberfest and Pious Monk Dunkel. So says brewer Matt Moninger, who once again will be going to Denver, this time with assistant brewer Justin Viale and his wife, Erin.

The Church will be competing in a couple of GABF categories with the North Side’s Penn Brewery. Also a past winner of multiple GABF medals, the brewery didn’t enter last year, but this year is entering six beers:

Chocolate Meltdown — Chocolate Beer

Penn Gold — Munich-style Helles

Penn Dark — European-Style Dunkel

Kaiser Pils — German-Style Pilsener

St. Nikolas Brewer’s Reserve — German-Style Doppelbock or Eisbock

Penn Weizen Bock — South German-Style Weizen Bock  
Brewer Andrew Rich says that brewing colleagues Steve Crist and Dave Cerminara are going along with Penn CEO Sandy Cindrich and marketing director Linda Nyman, and they’ll be pouring five of those beers from Penn’s booth. Ms. Nyman says they're excited to be going: "Sandy and I joke that this is one of the few places on earth that has a longer line for the men’s room than the ladies' room!"

Also present at the festival will be Erie Brewing Co. (pouring past medal-winners Railbender and Derailed Black Cherry Ale as well as Mad Anthony’s APA and new Johnny Rails Pumpkin Ale, which is the one entered in the competition), as will be several breweries from the Eastern part of the state.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony starting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 12.

“I think it is a great way to showcase our brewing talents and compete with other breweries across the country,” emailed Mr. Rich, who was “Mile high!” in Denver in 2011 when Penn won a bronze and a silver. “Plus going to the GABF gets everyone to see what’s going on in the American brewing scene.”

This year, a record 616 breweries will be present and serving 3,000-plus brews at the fest, which is one hot ticket: It sold out in 20 minutes. Total attendance is expected to be 49,000 people.

As Mr. Rich knows, it’s expensive for a brewery to enter the competition and travel to the festival. Just to enter a beer is $175 for Brewers Association members ($390 for non-members), plus you have to prepare and ship entries, and it costs more have a booth at the fest ($315 to $675 for members, $480 to $890 for nonmembers) or to get into the fest if you don’t have a booth. Many smaller brewers don’t think it’s worth the expense or the time.
Some question the real value of the awards. But in the very least, they are shiny tools for marketing, and who doesn’t want to win a gold medal?

“I’m not getting my hopes up, but the idea does make me smile,” emails Brandon McCarthy, who wouldn’t mind winning the first medal for Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Homestead. The brewer isn’t going, but one of his beers is: Rambler Rye. “It’s a mild, malty rye ale brewed with caraway and black pepper, and we’ve entered it into the ‘herb/spice’... category,” he says. The beer is being entered as one of the chain’s entries, so he need not go with it.

“If the judges like the Rambler Rye and it does well, I hope I’m sitting at the bar at Gooski’s, in my work clothes, with a beer in front of me when the phone call comes.”


Brewers Association photos

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