The Great American Beer Festival took place during the first week of October, and Minnesota breweries did well, earning two gold medals, one silver, and one bronze while competing against more than 9,000 other entries.
It was the largest pool of entries the event has seen, and both Barrel Theory and Bobbing Bobber Brewing Co. won golds (the latter for a bock). Barrel Theory, a Lowertown St. Paul brewery, medaled in the specialty Berliner category with a beer my wife and I absolutely loved in May: Midwestern Exotic. The gose with calamansi, blood orange, tangerine, and peach tasted like the juiciest clementine I’ve ever had. Barrel Theory makes some of the best beer in the state. Their fruited Berliners and hazy hoppy beers – and secretly, their lagers – are all top-class.
"Winning a gold medal at GABF was a huge honor for the entire team at Barrel Theory," said Barrel Theory co-founder Todd Tibesar. "Timmy (Johnson, a co-founder and head brewer) has been making outstanding beer since the day we opened. And while brewing ‘to style’ has generally not been a huge focus of ours, receiving recognition like this from GABF is credit to his continuous focus on making the best quality beer we can."
Spilled Grain won silver (for the second year in a row), with Ursa Minor in Duluth winning a bronze medal in its first-ever competition.
To be completely honest, Ursa Minor surprised me. I love that they make a proper pizza Forager-style with a wood fire. But when I was there with my wife during our yearly Duluth trip in November of last year, the beer wasn’t memorable. The best beer was Drunk Gandalf, a tripel. Its worse beer was Hop Culture, a sour that tasted like a mouthful of pennies after a touch of fruity tartness. In short: the brewery was not quite there yet, but it was early days, and it seems they’ve made leaps and bounds in the past year (though I haven’t been since to find out for myself).
But what about Rochester?
What’s Rochester’s standing in the GABF? Well, we have not won an award yet.
Grand Rounds was the only Rochester brewery actually pouring at the event this year. Some of our breweries do compete, like Little Thistle, which entered two beers this year.
"We did enter, have entered in the past, and have poured there too," Little Thistle co-owner and head brewer Steve Finnie said. "Great event. Well-organized."
LTS Brewing Co. hasn’t ever entered, but it is on their radar.
"It’s always been on our ‘we should’ list, but never makes it above the priority clip relative to keeping the taproom in good service," LTS co-owner and head brewer Brandon Schulz said. Forager also hasn’t attended or entered, though they were in Denver on the same weekend pouring at the 11th annual Denver Rare Beer Tasting.
Maybe next year!