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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Evolving GABF

Note: Post has been updated.

In about a week, the 30th edition of the Great American Beer Festival kicks off in Denver--and the first that I'll be attending. We've come a long way in three decades. Those early GABFs were all about promoting American craft beer--or maybe more pointedly, the idea of American beer. In 1982 only a vanishingly small number of people even knew about the phenomenon, so it made sense to showcase American craft breweries.

Pretty early on, though, organizers wanted to turn the fest into the premier event for beer judging. They invited international judges and awarded gold medals to "world-class beer[s] that accurately exemplifies the specified style, displaying the proper balance of taste, aroma and appearance." The GABF was interested in more than promoting American beer--it wanted to encourage breweries to make beers as good as any brewed in the world.

So here's a question I have: if the GABF is judging world-class beers, where are the beers of the world? I understand the "A" in the acronym, and it makes sense that the principal goal of the GABF will be celebrating American beer. But I also wonder if it shouldn't be a bit more inclusive. How do these world-class American beers fare when actually judged in blind panels with world beers? Are we better at some styles than others relative to examples in Europe and beyond?

No rush. Thirty years isn't that long in the scope of things. American brewing is evolving, though, and I expect the GABF will have to, as well.

Update. I should have made mention of the World Beer Cup in this post--as some commenters have and as Barbara Fusco did in an email to me this afternoon:
The most recent World Beer Cup (in 2010) was, at the time, the world’s largest-ever commercial beer competition. (The 2010 and 2011 GABFs subsequently eclipsed that record.) In 2010, 642 breweries from 44 countries and 47 U.S. states vied for awards with 3,330 beers entered in 90 beer style categories at the World Beer Cup. The 2010 World Beer Cup presented awards to brewers from 19 countries ranging from Australia and Italy to Iceland and Japan, along with the United States. Awards were determined by an elite international panel of judges hailing from 26 different countries.
Charlie Papazian started the WBC in 1996 to essentially accomplish what I was talking about in this post--but in a slightly back-handed way. Among American beer competitions, the GABF is by some margin the most respected and celebrated. Adding a separate competition is fine (though the WBC is dominated by American breweries, which won all but 64 of the 270 medals awarded), but all eyes are on the GABF. I'd like to see international competition there eventually.


  1. The BA does have a competition every *other* year that includes beers from all over the world: the World Beer Cup. The BA itself calls the World Beer Cup the "Most prestigous beer competition in the world."
    -Craig H.

  2. Jeff - That's what BA's World Beer Cup is for at CBC.

  3. From your post in Twitter, I thought that you were going to say that Budweiser, etc didn't belong there any more since they're not American breweries.