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Tomme Arthur, right, and the team from San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey pose for a photo with Brewers Association founder and creator of the Great American Beer Festival Charlie Papazian, left, after winning a gold medal in the Aged Beer category. Photo by Bill Vanderburgh
ColumnsCraft Beer in North County

Craft Beer in North County: San Diego is top US county at Great American Beer Festival

The Great American Beer Festival (GABF), held annually in Denver, Colorado, is the national Brewers Association’s largest event. In addition to a three-day beer festival that attracts 60,000 attendees over four sessions, GABF includes one of the largest beer competitions in the world. In 2019, a record 2,295 breweries (from all 50 states plus D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) entered 9,497 beers into competition. A total of 283 medals were awarded across 107 beer style categories.

San Diego breweries won 18 medals at the 2019 GABF. That is more than in recent years (16 in 2018, 14 in 2017), despite the fact that more breweries and more beers competed this year.

Five breweries from North County won medals this year: two Pizza Port locations (Solana Beach, Bressi Ranch), Rip Current (San Marcos), Breakwater (Oceanside) and Lost Abbey (San Marcos).

In addition, Rouleur Brewing of Carlsbad contract brewed a beer for MotoSonora Brewing that won a silver in the Malt Liquor category, though that only shows up as an official medal for MotoSonora. That could also be considered a second medal for Port Brewing’s Tomme Arthur, who is a founding partner of that Tuscon, Arizona, brewery.

Once again, San Diego is punching above its weight class. San Diego breweries won 26.5% of the 68 medals won by California, despite having only about 15.5% of California’s breweries. Compared to the entire field, San Diego won about 6% of all medals awarded, and it has about 2% of all U.S. breweries.

No other state won more medals than California. Colorado was second with 40.

In fact, Colorado was the only state that beat San Diego County’s 2019 GABF medal count. Texas had 16. Ohio and Oregon won 15 medals each. Washington had 14. Virginia had 13.

This means that San Diego was easily the winningest county in the country at the 2019 GABF.

Notable results include medals for some of San Diego’s oldest craft breweries and most consistent GABF medalists: Rip Current, Pizza Port, Lost Abbey, Stone, Alesmith and Coronado.

Second Chance Beer Co. won its third GABF gold medal in four years for Tabula Rasa in the Robust Porter category. I can’t find another beer that has a better record of wins.

Breakwater Brewery of Oceanside won back-to-back GABF gold for Rye Dawn, a rye-based brown ale that also won a gold at the 2016 World Beer Cup.

SouthNorte won a second silver in the Specialty Beer category for AgavaMente, a hibiscus and agave lager.

Coronado Brewing’s bronze for Weekend Vibes in the American Style India Pale Ale category is also remarkable because there were 342 entries in that category (second only to the Hazy or Juicy IPA category, which had 348 entries).

Four of San Diego’s 2019 GABF medal-winning beers — two each from Coronado and SouthNorte — were brewed in the same Bay Park facility.

If you have seen the San Diego medal count mentioned by other media outlets as 17, that’s because they have excluded Saint Archer’s silver medal in the Contemporary American-Style Pilsener category. Saint Archer is owned by Miller Coors, so it does not count as an independent craft brewer according to the Brewers Association definition. There was a very notable lack of applause from the huge crowd of brewers at the medal ceremony when Saint Archer’s win was announced.


Casey August 16, 2020 at 3:39 am

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Bill Vanderburgh October 9, 2019 at 9:40 am

I have to add this from legendary beer writer Stan Hieronymous (via Twitter, but not in time for my deadline): “Alaskan Smoked Porter earned gold 4 years in a row in the the ’90s, and Mountain Sun Hogback Doppelbock won 3 golds in 3 years.” So Tabula Rasa’s 3 golds in 4 years isn’t the best ever, but it is still an amazing result.

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