Two Summit County breweries took home prestigious awards from the Great American Beer Festival last weekend.
Pug Ryan’s Brewing Company in Dillon added to their mantel by securing the bronze in the Bohemian-Style Pilsener category with its Peacemaker Pilsner. And, after only 16 months in the business, Broken Compass in Breckenridge brought home a bronze in the Field Beer category, earning its first award.
The Great American Beer Festival brings industry professionals from around the world to judge beer from 92 different categories. The judges award gold, silver and bronze medals that are recognized around the world. The festival began in 1982 and has continued to grow, bringing together breweries from around the country for a public tasting event as well as the competition. This year, the beer festival boasted the most breweries in its history, said David “Axe” Axelrod, cofounder of Broken Compass.
“It’s so huge, it’s amazing,” Axe said of winning the bronze medal. “Great American Beer Festival is one of the hardest medals to win. This year was the most entries they’ve ever had, the most breweries they’ve ever had, so to come away with anything from this competition is just so big for us. It gives us validation and recognition from our peers and other breweries. Obviously, the community has already been supporting us massively. … We’ve gotten great word-of-mouth, and everyone tells their friends — but this is professional recognition that really means the world to us. It’s just incredible.”
Jason Ford, brewmaster for Broken Compass, said there were around 55 other entries in the Field Beer category.
“Great American Beer Festival is one of the hardest medals to win.”David “Axe” Axelrod cofounder of Broken Compass
“It was a complete surprise; it caught us all off guard,” he said. “You’re up there, you’re screaming, you’re yelling, you can’t hardly remember walking up there, you can’t hardly remember getting the medal. Just an amazing, amazing feeling. It’s the World Series of beer; it’s a pretty big deal.”
The Field Beer category focuses on beers whose primary flavoring or ingredient is something that comes out of a field, Axe said. The Breckenridge brewery won the bronze with its Coconut Porter. He said they describe the brew as “liquid crack,” and patrons call it the “Almond Joy.” It’s not overly sweet but the flavor of the coconut mutes some of the darker toasted roast to make it a balanced, smooth drinking beer, he said.
“It’s a really funny beer because it’s one that people who don’t like beer really stay away from the dark beers, but this is the one when someone comes into Broken Compass and says, ‘I don’t like beer, and I especially don’t like dark beer,’ we give it to them,” he said. “It’s a really smooth drinking, easy drinking dark beer with a lot of flavor to it, but not heavy.”
The win for the Coconut Porter has special meaning for the brewery, Axe said. The recipe was created by Ford’s wife, Jo Ford, who has been making sacrifices to get the brewery going.
“Jo is one of the three of us (who) took one for the team and kept her day job down in Denver while we’ve been getting this going,” he said. “So she and Ford have been separated for a year and a half. … She took one for the team, and it’s her recipe that took the award.”
This is the second year Broken Compass has participated in the festival, but, last year, the brewery was just starting up and didn’t have a bottling line yet, leaving their beer fairly oxidized by the time it was judged, Axe said.
“They were also our first beers out of our tank, so we really didn’t expect to win anything last year because we knew they weren’t up to the quality we were pouring out of the tap house,” he said. “To win one with your first beers out of your tank would be a miracle. We pretty much think it’s a miracle to have won 15 months in.”
Ford said it was a collaboration between himself and his wife, along with the hard work of assistant brewer Marshall Shaw, that helped them earn the award.
“Anybody (who) knows anything about beer looks at that list,” he said. “To be able to get that kind of exposure, especially in the Front Range, and people (who) are going to be coming up here this winter — it’s a huge, huge deal for us.
“Anybody (who’s) anybody is going to see us on that list, and it’s going to put us on the map for probably literally tens of thousands of people.”
Pug Ryan’s won the bronze for its Peacemaker Pilsner, competing against 62 entries in the Bohemian-Style Pilsener category. This award isn’t new for the brewery or even for the beer, as the Peacemaker has won awards in the Great American Beer Festival and the North American Beer Awards multiple times, said Dave Simmons, Pug Ryan’s brewmaster.
“In the Great American Beer Festival, this is the fifth medal for that beer,” he said. “It’s also won a gold and three silvers. Now we have the full podium.”
The pilsner was formally known as the Pallavicini Pilsner until the brewery rebranded in 2012. The brew is modeled after a classic Bohemian style, as Simmons said he is a big fan of the Czech pilsners.
“Do I try to steer in that direction — kind of, sort of — but you can’t duplicate what they do over there; the beer is just incredible,” he said. “So it is modeled after a Bohemian style. There is a large amount of hops in there, but they are all noble hops, Czech Saaz hops — lower in the alpha acids — so you don’t get that bittering profile that you would from a lot of other big, high-alpha-acid hops that people put in the pale ales.”
The brewery also uses all Weyermann malts from Germany, and the yeast used is from Andechs Monastery, also in Germany.
“So this is a beer, when I try to duplicate a beer or something similar — do your best, put your best foot forward and spend the money on the right ingredients is my theory behind it all,” Simmons said.
He said the award is very prestigious, and is good exposure for Pug’s.
“It’s a big to do,” he said. “It’s always good to receive some sort of honor like this.”