Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published on September 30, 2014. It was updated on September 22, 2015.

Ever hear of GABF? The Great American Beer Festival? Yeah, the big festival where Holy City Brewing seems to win medals every year? The one in Denver that sells out in less than 10 minutes every year? That’s the one. It’s a big deal. And South Carolina beer has a history there that you might not know about.

The GABF is a three-day annual beer festival hosted by the national Brewers Association in Denver, Colorado that is held usually in early to mid October. This year it is a little early by historical standards, but seemingly few beer enthusiasts will complain. It is considered the largest ticketed beer festival in the United States where patrons can sample about 3,500 different American beers, which is up a whopping 1,500 from last year. Besides the tastings, the big part of GABF is the beer judging. A medal at the festival carries a lot of weight, where breweries compete in 84 different beer-style categories, submitting in upwards of 5,000 beers to be judged by several hundred judges. Started in 1983 when only 3 medals were awarded, the festival has exponentially grown from 22 participating breweries to this year where there will be over 750. That’s up 150 from last year. A medal at GABF can catapult a brewery and lead to explosive growth.


(Photo Credit: Charleston City Paper)

Holy City Brewing has made the most of the festival the last few years – pulling in gold for its fantastic Pluff Mud Porter and bronze for Washout Wheat. And while those are major wins for South Carolina beer, it isn’t the first gold, or medal at all that a South Carolina brewery has brought home from the Denver festival. Here is a list of South Carolina beers that have brought home hardware over the years:


BRONZE Holy City Brewing Washout Wheat (South German-Style Hefeweizen)


GOLD: Holy City Brewing Pluff Mud Porter (Brown Porter)


SILVER: Thomas Creek River Falls Red Ale (Irish-Style Red Ale)


GOLD: RJ Rockers Light Rock Ale (English-Style Summer Ale)


SILVER: Thomas Creek Deep Water Dopplebock (German-Style Strong Bock)


SILVER: Aiken Brewing Randy’s Grand Cru (Experimental Beer)


GOLD: New South Lager (American-Style Specialty Lager)

SILVER: Aiken Brewing Thoroughbred Red (Irish-Style Red Ale)


BRONZE: New South Pale Ale (Classic English Style Pale Ale)


GOLD: New South Oktoberfest (American-Style Amber Lager)

BRONZE: T-Bonz Homegrown Ales Oktoberfest (American-Style Amber Lager)


BRONZE: Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery Miss Liberty Lager (American Style Premium Lager)

SILVER: Southend Brewery Uncle Dunkel Lager (German Style Schwarzbier)

blue bear

The festival begins this week at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. If you’ve never been to Denver or the Convention Center, you’ll know you’re there as you’re welcomed by a 40-foot high blue bear. You really can’t miss it.  And while the sampling portion gets under way on Thursday, judging is already under way to hand out this year’s medals. Judges are not necessarily looking for the beer that tastes the best. Beer judging is actually about whether the particular beer is representative of the particular style it purports to be. And that’s where the medals come in.

What do the medals symbolize? According to BA:

GOLD: A world-class beer that accurately exemplifies the specified style, displaying the proper balance of taste, aroma and appearance.

SILVER: An excellent beer that may vary slightly from style parameters while maintaining close adherence to the style and displaying excellent taste, aroma and appearance.

BRONZE: A fine example of the style that may vary slightly from style parameters and/or have minor deviations in taste, aroma or appearance.

If you’re wondering how judging works, the Brewers Association has a great video about it that can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqN6Tav1F5k

Last year, South Carolina set a record with ten breweries attending the festival. This year, six breweries will be pouring beers in Denver, with many others competing. Those pouring will be:

Best of luck to everyone!


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Brook Bristow is a South Carolina-based lawyer, who primarily counsels companies in the alcohol industry on business and employment laws, as well as on compliance, licensing, and intellectual property. Brook represents numerous breweries and brewpubs in South Carolina, and is author and editor of the Beer of SC Blog. You may reach him directly at beerofsc@gmail.com

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