A Grand Rapids area brewery walked away from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver with one of its biggest honors. Rockford Brewing Co. won the Small Brewpub and Brewmaster of the Year award at the event, the largest commercial beer competition in the world.
Rockford previously won a bronze medal in 2015 for Rogue River Brown, but this major award came as a surprise to its owners, Seth Rivard and Jeff Sheehan.
“It’s a shock,” Rivard said. “I’ve always thought we might be able to win multiple medals, but this is unthinkable.”
Rockford also won high honors for two of its beers: a bronze medal in English-style brown ale for its Rogue River Brown and a silver in Irish-style dry stout for Sheehan’s Stout.
Rivard said the brewery has always tried to brew solid, to-style beers. Rogue River Brown and Sheehan’s Stout are two exemplary beers, and the GABF honors further solidify the fact.
“These are two beers we’ve brewed since the beginning and this is fantastic,” Rivard said.
With the awards, Rivard expects the taproom to see some increased traffic in the near future.
Other award winners
Several other Michigan breweries won awards at the festival, which awarded 293 medals in 98 categories. Nearly 8,000 entries from more than 2,200 breweries made their way to Denver.
Big Rapids-based Cranker’s Brewery won a silver medal in Chocolate Beer category with its Aphrodisiac Chocolate Pomegranate Imperial Stout.
Odd Side Ales in Grand Haven continued to prove its worth as an experimental brewery, winning gold and silver in the specialty beer category with its Barrel Aged Sweet Potato SouthNorte Rye and Rye Hipster Brunch Stout, respectively.
Batch Brewing in Detroit won bronze in other strong beer category for its Antwerp’s Placebo.
Perrin Brewing Co. won a bronze medal in Leipzig-style gose or contemporary gose for its Passionfruit Gose.
Pilgrim’s Dole from New Holland Brewing Co. won bronze in the old ale or strong ale category.
In the barleywine-style ale, Saint Joseph’s Silver Harbor Brewing Co.’s Shipfaced took gold.
Rockford Brewing was not among the hundreds of breweries pouring at the festival at the Denver Convention Center, but there were some Grand Rapids area breweries making their presence felt.
Speciation Artisan Ales generated plenty of hype with its beers, garnering long lines each day, while Founders Brewing, Atwater Brewery, Perrin Brewing, New Holland Brewing and Odd Side Ales each poured their beers for excited festivalgoers.
IPAs aren’t going anywhere, they’re still the dominate style for the craft beer movement.
Speaking of the craft beer movement, it’s under fire of its own. The Brewers Association made sure its “Independent” seal was on display to help drinkers know whether the beer they drank was owned by a big beer company or not. The seal, however, begs the questions, does ownership matter if the beer’s good? In most other industries, consumers don’t give ownership a second of thought.
The sour beer trend continues as well, but its being refined. Rather than going for all out mouth pucker, breweries are making the flavors more subtle and tasty with slight tartness.
Big barrel-aged and adjunct stouts are still a draw. Many breweries had long lines for their infamous stouts, including Founders for KBS. Despite a general trend to lighter alcohol beers, people go to festivals to be blown away.
Perhaps the best trend, at least in the eyes of this author, is pilsner and other lagers. The craft beer industry had been mostly anti-lager, but this year’s GABF saw plenty of breweries bringing their flavorful examples of the styles.
It’s an exciting twist of events that will only expand the variety of great beers available.
*Main photo of Mitch Ermatinger from Speciation Artisan Ales pouring a beer at the festival.