The Great American Beer Festival in Denver would be the Oscars of the beer world if Hollywood were hoppier, drunker, and had more beards. The GABF is the world's top beer festival. At this year's GABF, where the suds flowed from October 5 to 7, four Arizona breweries earned medals.
Each is based in metro Phoenix. Each is less than three years old.
This speaks volumes about the quality of the Valley's rising breweries. At GABF, the number of beers entered into competition climbed just north of 5,000. Every state was there. Even ambitious homebrewers toted gallons of liquid all the way to the Rocky Mountains with the hope of placing in one of the 98 categories.
Up against the best, metro Phoenix's young guns showed up in spades.
Saddle Mountain Brewing Company (Goodyear) took home a gold for a beer called Taildragger’s Clan-Destine. The victory was in the Scottish-style ale category. Impressively, hilariously, this Saddle Mountain brew was one of the Phoenix beers made with reclaimed water.
Local breweries also scooped up two bronze medals. Goldwater Brewing Company (Scottsdale) for its Machine Gun Teddy, an American-style brown ale; and Scottsdale Beer Company for its Cannonball Australian-Style Pale Ale. (Aussie hops are what distinguish this pale ale. These hops are known for having more tropical flavor.)
The most interesting medal may have been earned by Pedal Haus Brewery (Tempe). Pedal Haus took silver in the category of light lager, a field historically owned by the commercial giants like Bud Light and Pabst.
Pedal Haus' Light Lager turned a few heads.
"They went after the big guys," explains Robert Fullmer, executive director of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild. "Getting that medal was impressive."
The light lager style is what the big dogs make. The style is very simple, but in its simplicity lies sophistication, and the monster breweries tend to cut corners and don't reach the style's potential. Some may brew with corn, others rice. Pedal Haus adheres to Reinheitsgebot, the centuries-old German beer purity strictures.
These allow for the use of only water, hops, barley, and yeast when brewing. No corn. No bullshit.
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With no fruit juices, spices, or sugar additives to hide behind, light lager is hard to nail. Derek Osborne, Pedal Haus's head brewer, dishes on the difficulty of the style: "Breweries judge other breweries based on their light beer. You can't hide any fuzz with a light beer." Whereas, he says, "You could hide a dead animal in a double IPA."
Osborne first brewed Pedal Haus's Light Lager last year. He decided to tackle the style, a style far out of favor with craft brewers, because a ton of drinkers were ordering Bud Lights and whatnot in his brewpub. He knew he could do better himself. And he did. Today, Light Lager is the number-two selling beer at Pedal Haus.
The success of Light Lager in undercutting the 20th-century macrobrew staples, together with the general skill shown by these young breweries in Denver, speaks to the progress and ultimate potential of the metro Phoenix beer scene's rising generation. Fullmer notes that Arizona's beer scene, the Valley's in particular, has recently started to close the gap between it and the U.S.'s top beer regions.
It'll be cool to taste what young metro Phoenix breweries tap next.