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San Diego Strikes Gold In Great American Beer Festival

The Great American Beer Festival.
Photo by Jason E. Kaplan

Some things in life are a given, and right up there with death and taxes is the fact that San Diego’s talented stable of brewers will bring home the hardware at Denver’s Great American Beer Festival (GABF). The largest annual beer competition in the U.S., the GABF is a big deal in the beer trade. To win a gold in this beery Battle Royale means the medal-winning brewery produces the very best version of a particular beer style in the country. Talk about bragging rights.

San Diego is widely regarded as one of, if not the best brewing communities. It’s a solid reputation that was built on the back of many a medal win at the GABF and numerous other competitions. There’s no denying the quality of the quaffables crafted by the 40-plus operating breweries within the county. Over a dozen have earned one or several GABF medals, which makes it all the more surprising that six of the 14 total medals awarded to San Diego breweries earlier today were handed over to one operation—Pizza Port’s Carlsbad brewpub.

Headed by brewer Jeff Bagby, Pizza Port Carlsbad won the most medals of any San Diego brewing company last year while bringing home the coveted Best Large Brewpub of the Year designation. Given that, there were high hopes for Bagby and company to bring it in 2010. They did not disappoint. In addition to winning for diverse brews spanning a range of flavors from dark and malty to bright and hoppy, Pizza Port Carlsbad repeated as Best Large Brewpub of the Year, which should come as no surprise to the boatloads of pie-loving patrons who perpetually pack this homegrown family-friendly parlor.

But wait…there’s more. The Pizza Port family, which also includes outposts in Solana Beach, Ocean Beach and San Clemente, racked up even more honors. The Ocean Beach location, which celebrated its grand opening in April, garnered a silver medal for its Skidmark Brown. Meanwhile, the San Clemente location won gold medals for two of the most highly contested categories of all—American-Style India Pale Ale (142 entries) and Imperial India Pale Ale (97 entries)—and was named Small Brewpub of the Year.

Additionally, Pizza Port’s two-pronged retail brewing operation, Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey (previous GABF winners for Small Brewing Company of the Year) earned bronze medals in the categories of Traditionally-Brewed Out of Category Beer (Port’s Hot Rocks Lager) and American-Style Sour Beer (The Lost Abbey’s Red Poppy Ale).

Almost as surprising as Pizza Port’s almost unheard of breed of dominance was the low or nonexistent medal count for several San Diego breweries. Ballast Point Brewing Co., the current World Beer Cup (essentially the international version of the GABF competition) Small Brewing Company of the Year, came in with one medal—a gold in the Traditionally-Brewed Out of Category Beer for its Fathom IPL (Imperial Pale Lager).

Another one-hit wonder was Karl Strauss Brewing Company, which also struck gold in the Irish-Style Red Ale category for its Red Trolley Ale, which also took top honors at the World Beer Cup.

Easily the most popular and successful brewery in San Diego County, Escondido’s Stone Brewing Co., which had been going through a multi-year medal drought, came back in a respectable way, earning not one, but two medals—a silver in the Herb and Spice or Chocolate Beer category for its Stone Smoked Porter with Chipotle and a bronze in American-Style India Black Ale for Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. These triumphs will likely help bolster what’s already a plenty formidable ego for the brewery that openly claims the average beer drinker is “not worthy” of their wares.

Each year the competition at the GABF gets stiffer and more voluminous. With 3,528 beer entries (up from 3,308 in 2009), the 2010 iteration will go down in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest beer competition in the world.

For a complete list of winners in all categories, check out: www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com.

Pizza Port Carlsbad’s Medal-Winning Beers

Beech Street Bitter – Gold, English-Style India Pale Ale

Reveleations – Gold, Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale

Coffee Monster – Silver, Coffee Flavored Beer

Good Grief Brown – Silver, English-Style Brown Ale

Night Rider Imperial Stout – Silver, Imperial Stout

Port Truck Stout – Bronze, Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout