For Texas breweries, this year’s Great American Beer Festival, held annually in Denver, proved to be an event for the record books.
A total of 15 medals were given to breweries and brewpubs in the state yesterday at the festival’s big awards show, the centerpiece of the sudsy three-day affair. Although that’s one less medal than last year, an unprecedentedly high number of the medals were gold — a new record for Texas.
Nine gold medals adorned the proudly puffed chests of brewers from Austin, Houston, Fort Worth and beyond on Saturday, including those behind the Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co., Saint Arnold and Rahr & Sons. That’s all the more impressive considering the sheer number of participants in the competition and overall festival, with 1,552 breweries hailing from around the country (423 of those as first-timers) and only 275 medals awarded.
So which of our favorite Texas breweries earned one of those elusive gold, silver and bronze medals last weekend? Here’s a sampling of some of the winning brews.
(512) Wild Bear, gold medal for brett beer: (512) Brewing’s first foray into wild fermentation has clearly been a successful one. The brewers there — who earned their first medal after nearly 7 years in business — apply a funky twist to the brewery’s fall seasonal, Bruin, by adding Brettanomyces yeast and Pediococcus bacteria cultures after the primary fermentation. They then age the resulting blend in oak barrels for more than 10 months. According to (512), “this combination of wild bugs and barrel-aging gives (512) Wild Bear a complex and enticing aroma of tart cherries, oak, and a touch of barnyard funkiness,” plus a crisp tartness that will only strengthen with age.
Adelbert’s Vintage Monks, gold medal for Belgian- and French-style ale: One of the Belgian-focused brewery’s strengths is its experimental barrel program, which takes many of the mainstay styles and ages them for wood’s complex influence. The 9 percent barrel-aged dubbel that earned the North Austin brewery a shiny gold medal is particularly a knockout. Matured for up to two years in oak wine barrels — which impart, according to the brewery, bold flavors of “red wine, tart fruits and lovely funk” — Vintage Monks is beautifully complex, far from the austerity you’d think a well-aged monk would have.
Black Star Co-op’s Recalcitrant Dockhand, gold medal for robust porter: This cooperatively owned brewpub lost its original head brewer last year, but in newcomer Andy Martinec’s capable hands, Black Star is doing just fine. His Recalcitrant Dockhand (long a beer in the brewpub’s Rational Beers series) is big and boozy, with notes of molasses, vanilla and roasted coffee drawing you into a malty complexity that finishes with a slight hop bitterness. The name of the beer might suggest a certain difficult attitude, but your tongue will be very happy with its headstrong flavor.
Rahr & Sons’ the Regulator, gold medal for German-style doppelbock or eisbock: Named for a deputized posse in America’s Wild West, this rich, dark lager is every bit as resilient as they were. The Fort Worth brewery won bronze for the beer last year and has now taken gold for it, and one sip of it will tell you why it’s done so well two years in a row. The Regulator is “a brawnier version of the traditional bock,” according to the brewery, with a creamy head and “intense malty flavors at the finish.” Rahr & Sons’ Oktoberfest also got gold, in the German-style märzen category, this year.
Saint Arnold Weedwacker, gold medal for German-style wheat ale: As they say, third time’s a charm. Texas’ oldest craft brewery, located in the heart of Houston, has traditionally had a good showing at the festival, and for the past three years, that’s been all thanks to the Weedwacker, a beer styled after a Bavarian hefeweizen. Although Saint Arnold took home a bronze at GABF for the Weedwacker in 2013 and 2014, this year saw the refreshing session beer get a gold medal upgrade. It’s an intriguing showcase of yeast’s important contribution to a beer’s flavor; Weedwacker, nearly the same as the brewery’s Fancy Lawnmower except fermented with Bavarian hefeweizen yeast, is its own easy-drinking beast.
The ABGB’s Rocket 100, gold medal for American-style or international-style pilsner: Although Austin already knew the veteran brewing duo of Amos Lowe and Brian “Swifty” Peters was a winning combination, GABF judges finally figured it out, too, by discovering liquid gold in the Rocket 100. Lowe and Peters, integral in laying down the roots of the local brewery scene at Live Oak Brewing, Uncle Billy’s and the now-defunct Bitter End, have always specialized in easy-drinking lagers and hoppy ales like their mainstays Hell Yes Helles and Day Trip Pale Ale. The Rocket 100, their interpretation of a pre-Prohibition pilsner, is no exception. It’s not one of the brewpub’s “always” beers, but this medal could change that.
The full list of Texas’ GABF medal winners:
(512) Brewing’s Wild Bear — gold in brett beer
903 Brewers’ Sasquatch 2014 — silver in aged beer
Adelbert’s Vintage Monks — gold in French- and Belgian-style ale
BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery’s Lighthouse Lager (located in Temple) — gold for session ale
Black Star Co-op’s Recalcitrant Dockhand — gold in robust porter
Karbach’s Karbachtoberfest — silver in American-style amber
Panther Island’s Allergeez — silver in herb and spice beer
Perdernales’ Lobo Negro — gold in German-style schwarzbier
Rabbit Hole’s Rapture Fusion Brown Ale — silver in American-style brown
Rahr & Sons’ Oktoberfest — gold in German-style marzen
Rahr & Sons’ The Regulator — gold in German-style dopplebock
Real Ale’s Real Heavy — bronze in Scotch Ale
St. Arnold’s Weedwacker — gold in German-style wheat
The ABGB’s Rocket 100 — gold in American or international-style pilsner
Twin Peaks’ Barrel-Aged Brown Ale (located in Irving) — bronze in wood and barrel-aged beer