great american beer festival

LANSING, Mich.—Seven members of the Michigan Brewers Guild brought home a total of nine medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) Competition, in Denver, Colorado—the largest commercial beer competition in the world, presented by the Brewers Association.  Michigan-based Rockford Brewing Company was recognized as the “Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year”

In all, 293 medals were presented in 98 unique beer categories covering 161 different beer styles (including all subcategories). Winners were chosen out of 7,923 competition entries from 2,217 breweries in 50 states plus Washington, D.C. (a 15 percent and 24 percent increase respectively from the 7,301 entries and 1,783 breweries in 2016). The competition took place in six sessions over a period of three days and was judged by 276 beer experts from 13 countries, including the U.S.

great american beer festival


Michigan Brewers Guild members received the following awards:


  • Barrel Aged Sweet Potato SouthNorte Rye, Odd Side Ales, Grand Haven
  • Shipfaced, Silver Harbor Brewing Co., Saint Joseph


  • Aphrodisiac Chocolate Pomegranate Imperial Stout, Cranker’s Brewery, Big Rapids
  • Rye Hipster Brunch Stout, Odd Side Ales, Grand Haven
  • Sheehan’s Stout, Rockford Brewing Co., Rockford


  • Antwerp’s Placebo, Batch Brewing Co., Detroit
  • Rogue River Brown, Rockford Brewing Co., Rockford
  • Passionfruit Gose, Perrin Brewing Co., Comstock Park
  • Pilgrim’s Dole, New Holland Brewing Co., Holland



The Great American Beer Festival is the granddaddy of all U.S. beer festivals, offering the largest collection of U.S. beer ever assembled. The judging panel awards gold, silver or bronze medals that are recognized around the world as symbols of brewing excellence. These awards are among the most coveted in the industry and heralded by the winning brewers in their national advertising.

The Michigan Brewers Guild is the network of innovative and passionate brewers that serves as the recognized advocate for the Michigan craft beer industry. The mission of the Michigan Brewers Guild is to promote and protect the Michigan craft beer industry with an overarching goal to help craft beer acquire 20% of the market by 2025.

great american beer festival

Michigan’s thriving brewing industry conservatively contributes more than $144 million in wages with a total economic contribution of more than $600 million. In terms of overall number breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs, Michigan ranks #6 in the nation – thus supporting its claim as “The Great Beer State.”


Rockford, Mich.—Rockford Brewing Company returns to Michigan from this year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado, with national recognition.

The brewery won multiple awards including Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year, a silver medal in the Irish-Style Dry Stout category for their Sheehan’s Stout and a bronze medal in the English-Style Brown category for Rogue River Brown.

“My head is still spinning. I’m very proud of the talent that we have at Rockford Brewing Company,” said Seth Rivard, co-owner of Rockford Brewing Company. “We have a passionate staff who never cease to amaze me.”

GABF Rockford Brewing

Seth Rivard & Jeff Sheehan

Rockford Brewing Company competed at the festival with 2,217 United States breweries. Their winning brews were selected by an international panel of 276 judges who blind tasted 7,923 entries.

“Each year the Great American Beer Festival showcases the best that American brewers have to offer,” said Chris Swersey, competition manager, Great American Beer Festival. “With a record 8,000+ entries, this year’s competition was the most competitive to date. Congratulations to all the winners who truly demonstrated why the U.S. is the world’s best and most diverse brewing nation.”

This year’s wins have energized Rivard and Rockford Brewing Company co-owner Jeff Sheehan to continue striving for excellence.

“I am extremely motivated for us to step up our game,” Sheehan said. “We want to stick to our values but continuously improve. We owe this success to everyone who has supported us—the West Michigan community and beyond.”

The brewery has been acknowledged by the Great American Beer Festival once before in 2015, when Rogue River Brown won its first bronze in the English-Style Brown category.

The owners hope the national recognition will encourage beer tourists inclined to visit West Michigan’s larger breweries to check out the greatness in the smaller ones, too.

“Grand Rapids is a country-wide destination for craft beer,” Sheehan said. “People come to the city and want to stop at the bigger breweries but these awards will hopefully prove that though we are a small brewery, we belong on that ‘must visit’ list.”

Rockford Brewing Company plans to celebrate their achievements with an event celebrating the fans and staff of Rockford. More information is to come.


Michigan Guild

LANSING, Mich—Ten (10) brewery members of the Michigan Brewers Guild were awarded medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) Competition, in Denver, Colorado—the largest commercial beer competition in the world and a symbol of brewing excellence, presented by the Brewers Association.

In all, 286 medals were presented in 96 unique beer categories covering 161 different beer styles (including all subcategories). Winners were chosen from 7,227 competition entries (nearly 9 percent more than the 6,647 entries in 2015 and surpassing all previous participation records) from 1,752 breweries hailing from 50 states, plus Washington, D.C.

The competition also saw its biggest-ever panel of judges, with 264 beer experts from 12 countries, including the U.S., and 170 competition volunteers.

Michigan Brewers Guild member received the following awards:


  • Dirty Frank Stout — River’s Edge Brewing, Milford
    Category 89: Export Stout
  • Raucher – Wolverine State Brewing Co., Ann Arbor Category 34: Smoke Beer


  • Expedition Stout – Bell’s Brewing Co., Galesburg
    Category 32: Aged Beer
  • reDANKulous – Backstage Series – Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids
    Category 63: American Imperial Red


  •  Angelina – Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids
    Category 30: Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
  • Kusterer Original Weissbier – Cedar Springs Brewing Co, Cedar Springs
    Category 75: German-Style Wheat Ale
  • Broadway Light – Detroit Brewing Company, Detroit
    Category 38: American Style Cream Ale
  • Bangin The Mash – Latitude 42 Brewing Co., Portage
    Category 88: Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout
  • Good Mooed Milk Stout – Railtown Brewing Co, Dutton
    Category 91: Sweet Stout or Cream Stout
  • Live Wire – Roak Brewing, Royal Oak
    Category 55: English IPA


The Great American Beer Festival invites industry professionals from around the world to sit together in small groups and, without knowing the brand name, taste beers in each specified style category. The ultimate goal of the judging panel is to identify the three beers that best represent each beer-style category as described and adopted by the GABF.

Five different three-hour judging sessions take place over the three-day period during the week of the festival, with judges assigned to evaluate beers in their specific area of expertise. Breweries are awarded points, which are tabulated to arrive at the top three place medals in each category. The judging panel awards gold, silver or bronze medals that are recognized around the world as symbols of brewing excellence. These awards are among the most coveted in the industry and heralded by the winning brewers in their national advertising. Medal distinctions are as follows:

  • 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.

Now in its 35th year, the Great American Beer Festival is the granddaddy of all U.S. beer festivals, offering the largest collection of U.S. beer ever assembled. Sponsored by The Brewers Association, the festival features more than 3,800 different beers from 780 breweries throughout the country. More than 60,000 attendees and 3,600 volunteers gathered at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver for the 3-day event.

Michigan’s brewing industry continues to grow in the total volume of beer produced and sold, as well as in the number of breweries. Michigan currently ranks #5 in the nation in terms of the total number of breweries and the Guild proudly represents its highest number of members at 210 (and continually growing)—thus supporting its claim as “The Great Beer State.” Michigan’s breweries are located in every area of the state, operating as community-focused small businesses that collectively employ more than 7,000 individuals and pay more than $144 million in wages. The overall impact of the craft beer industry in Michigan totals more than $608 million.

I recently moved to the great state of Wyoming and one of my biggest fears was missing Michigan craft beer. Not one Michigan brewery distributes in Wyoming, and my only saving grace was the state just eight miles south. When I found out I would be attending the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, though, what excited me most was being able to once again taste home.

 Arriving at the festival, I headed straight to the Founders Brewing Company booth, almost exactly opposite the media entrance. To my surprise, the line was already backed up to the booth across the aisle. Although the beer festival had just started, it was clear that Founders beer was in demand. Its a common name in the craft beer industry, but there are not many times us Westerners are able to get it.

 While my husband and I were there for Rubaeus and Backwoods Bastard, many festival goers were there for the limited release Imperial Red Ale, reDANKulous, gold medal award winner of its category it was gone before the last session was finished.

 The legendary, rare Founders KBS, named RateBeer.coms 2014 Best Beer in Americamade an appearance at the festival as well, if you knew where to go. While the Founders booth did not have it, the Michigan Brewers Guild did, along with several other Michigan favorites.

 Our second stop was right around the corner, Shorts Brewing Company, with a line as wide as their booth and then back a ways. People knew them, and it wasnt just other Michiganians such as myself.

 As I perched myself on the side of the booth to grab some photos, a man beside me was mingling with the Shorts representatives and discussing how great their beer was. One of my first thoughts was that he must be from Michigan, but to my surprise, he told me that he was from Denver. He just knew what Shorts was and was there to soak up each experimental beer in their line-up.

 I love beers that stimulate my palate in a different way, Andy Coyle said. Shorts beers, I think, create your palate it is evolving as you taste the different flavors.

 Experimental beers are Shorts expertise, bringing home a silver medal in the category this year for Melt My Brain, a gin and tonic inspired experimental Golden Ale. Other beers they featured in their lineup included Bloody Beer, which won a silver medal in Experimental Beer in 2009, and Key Lime Pie, which won a gold medal in Experimental Beer in 2010 and 2014.

 We kind of thrive in that area,Founder Joe Short said in a press release. Like many of our beers, they are developed from many different inspirations.

 Neither Shorts nor Founders are strangers to GABF, but many of the Michigan breweries made their first appearance at GABF in 2015.

 Its the coolest thing, Michael Biddick from Saugatuck Brewing Company said about attending the festival for the first time. People from everywhere are here to taste your beer. We get to try everyone elses beer, too. Its like youre traveling the U.S. in one big room.

 Mitten Brewing Companys Wob Wanhatalo admitted that he was somewhat new to the brewing industry in comparison to some of his colleagues but that his experience as a first timer was enlightening.

 Bookwriters, homebrewers, legends are all here and are trying our beers and giving us feedback, Wanhatalo said.

 While its nice having Colorado close by with some of the best breweries in the country, GABF proved that Michigan beer, while not distributed in the area, are still very much relevant in the craft brewing industry not that I have ever doubted that. This year, Michigan took home six medals total, but what spoke most to Michigan success in craft brewing was the popularity surrounding each booth and the longing for the beer many of these people may only get to have just once a year.

 To view the complete list of 2015 GABF winners, visit

Colorado fans and midwest transplants, rejoice! Bell’s beer will venture west to Colorado during the weeks surrounding the Great American Beer Festival.

Starting Sept. 21, Crooked Stave Artisans will temporarily distribute Bell’s beer across its entire distribution footprint including the cities of Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs.

“This was a unique opportunity for us to finally be able to bring our beer to Colorado, even though it’s just for a short time,” said Laura Bell, Vice President of Bell’s Brewery, Inc.

Bell’s fans have taken to the brewery’s Facebook page to express their excitement for the brand’s limited-time distribution in Colorado. For many it is a chance to stock up on staple brews like Two Hearted—and to try harder-to-find classics like Amber Ale and Expedition Stout.

“Every time I head back to Michigan I stock up,” said one Facebook commenter in response to Bell’s announcement.

“Thank you for letting me do so without the 24-hour drive.”

Bottles of Amber Ale, Best Brown Ale, Expedition Stout, Kalamazoo Stout, Midwestern Pale Ale, Oarsman Ale, and Two Hearted Ale will be available to purchase.

Best Brown and Two Hearted Ale cans will also be available.

Draught options will include Amber, Oarsman, Two Hearted, Black Note, Bourbon Barrel Aged Expedition Stout, Coffee Mustache, Double Two Hearted Ale, Lavender Saison, Mars DIPA, Raspberry Wild One, and The Wild One.

For more information visit

DENVER — Women are once again gaining a strong foothold in the beer industry. Two special events centered around ladies and their experiences were held in the days surrounding the Great American Beer Festival recently.

A seminar focusing on the marketing of beer to women was brought to town by Ginger Johnson, founder and owner of Women Enjoying Beer.

Since 2008, Johnson and her team have been exploring the question of “why aren’t more women enjoying beer?”

Over 50% of the global population is female. Women in the United States make 75-80% of the purchasing decisions, yet “only 30% of women who drink alcohol choose beer, compared to 70% of men in the same category.”

The group met at Black Shirt Brewing Company to learn how breweries and pubs can capture beer sales to women appropriately. “This isn’t about pinkifying, that’s pandering and ridiculous,” said Johnson. “[Regarding your women customers], don’t label her as female, identify her simply as a customer and market to her brain not her body.

“There is an assumption that women know nothing about beer, and a reverse assumption that men automatically drink beer,” said Johnson. “Give education on your product and they’ll go with it.”

Encouraging women to enjoy beer drinking experiences can be achieved by understanding that many are also caregivers. Make sure she’s comfortable, make food available, and have a clean environment, explains Johnson. “Cleanliness is above godliness, women will notice because many are caregivers.”

You can learn more about Women Enjoying Beer and what they can do for your business at

In addition to Women Enjoying Beer’s presence at the Festival, Mountain Sun’s Vine Street Pub hosted a meeting of the Pink Boots Society. President Teri Fahrendorf led the day’s speakers with a presentation on the status of women in the brewing world.

“In my lifetime we won’t reach the goal of 50 percent [of jobs in the industry] — that’s up to you and the next generation,” she told the group.

The keynote speaker was Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner of Russian River Brewing Company. Cilurzo spoke of the real struggles involved in taking over the beer brand from Korbel in 2002 and building it up from the brewery’s grand re-opening in 2004. She shared the financial and personal issues they’ve faced, giving a realistic idea of what it took to succeed.

“We finally paid off the last of our investors this year,” Cirluzo said, pointing out they couldn’t have made it without the support of many.

To be a member, the women of the Pink Boots Society must earn at least part of their income from beer; either by brewing, serving, selling or writing about it. More information can be found at


Photography: Steph Harding


DENVER — As the Michigan beer scene becomes more and more recognized for increasing quality, the nation is starting to take notice too.

Michigan breweries took home six of the 268 medals awarded during the Great American Beer Festival, held last weekend in Denver. The festival, in its 28th year, is the largest commercial beer competition in the world.

Royal Oak’s Bastone Brewery led the charge, with two beer medals and the title of Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year.

Two of Bastone’s beers took a silver medal in the competition — Thor’s Hammer (Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale) and Private Stock #472 (Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer).

“Thor’s Hammer is a Belgian golden strong ale,” said Rockne Van Meter, brewmaster for Bastone. “This style exhibits medium hop aroma and bitterness as well as medium malt character, and can finish slightly dry.

“Private Stock #472 is a Saison with white wine and aged on wood. The characteristics of the wood and wine go well with the complex fruit generated flavors of a Saison,” he said.

Van Meter went on to mention that Private Stock #472 was a brand new beer for him, and that it’s possible that the winning beer might make another appearance next summer. Thor’s Hammer might be released at an upcoming festival.

“It’s been a very humbling GABF,” said Rockne. “It think every brewer’s goal is to win, win anything, and to go home with the Brewery of the Year and Brewer of the Year award is something that I’ll never forget.”

“We are honored to represent Michigan and proud of Rockne’s achievement,” added David Ritchie, Operating Partner at Bastone. “Winning Best Small Brewpub during our 10th anniversary year is really exciting.”

Tapistry Brewing took home its first GABF medal, a bronze for it’s Peck’s Porter — categorized as a Robust Porter.

“At Tapistry we strive to use traditional ingredients and processes when we are brewing something like Peck’s or our German trilogy of beers,” said Nate Peck, head brewer at Tapistry. “While we embrace the traditional classic styles we also try to push our boundaries and use interesting ingredients and processes.”

Also medaling for the state was Short’s Brewing Company (Gold, Key Lime Pie), Founders Brewing Co. (Silver, Porter) and Stormcloud Brewing Co. (Bronze, Rainmaker Ale).

The six medals marked the most for Michigan since 2010, when the state’s breweries took home 10 medals.


Photography: Steph Harding


Three days of glorified beer drinking and before you know it the winners have been announced.

Yes, the Great American Beer Festival is a haven for beverage enthusiasts and producers alike, all clamoring to the city of Denver to not only imbibe, but to put their beers to the test under the scrutiny of some of the best beer judges in the United States. All this in the hopes of scoring a medal, or several.

This festival is the beer festival and party for American enthusiasts, and you might begin by asking, how do you navigate a festival of this magnitude?

It’s true — the ‘bros’ are out and about, folks are drinking themselves past their prime and the amount of crop dusting inflicted upon the poor patrons is staggering. However, here we are, thousands of us, gathered to this beer mecca in order to test out the rarest, strangest and the best these breweries of America have to offer.

I personally had never been to GABF before and was blown away by the sheer magnitude of the thing. As a fellow Michigander, I did keep an eye out for our fellow brewers and was pleased to see a few on the list who won medals.

Besides testing out the vast array of beers that were being poured before me, I took note of the overall demeanor of the event.

Before taking off, I had heard from countless beer geek friends and brewers that GABF is ‘a total shit show’ and that it wasn’t worth the time and the money to come out anymore. Naturally these words stuck in my head before I even took a step onto a plane, and I came into the event with the preconceived notion that I would no doubt be vomited on and wouldn’t be able to try anything worthwhile or network with prospective business contacts or intellects in the industry.

Was I wrong? Well I wouldn’t say that for sure, because yes, the Great American Beer Festival is indeed a ‘shit show’. Having hundreds of people in various costumes looking bleary eyed and stumbling in front of you every few seconds will make you think that.

However, hadn’t I indeed gained some insight? Hadn’t I had a delightful time shuffling my way through the throngs of people, on a hunt (in my particular case) for rare and delicious sour ale? Wasn’t I the lucky woman who met a couple Master Cicerones and shook hands with some of the best brewers in the country?

For someone like me, this type of event was thrilling and humbling all at the same time. I don’t regret it. I seek these experiences out. What then, is the value in a beer festival of this nature? The possibility for something grand I suppose.

If you come and seek out the pure but empty thrill of inebriation, what experience are you gaining besides putting your body through yet another drunken struggle even though you are surrounded by the greats of the industry and have the opportunity to schmooze? Are you missing the core goal of the event by using a vehicle towards inebriation or is it simply just liberating to drink great beer to excess among fellow imbibers?

Besides my sense of pride for the Michigan breweries that won awards and the feeling of numerous business cards touching my hand as I shoved them into my coat pocket, I feel honored to have attended the Great American Beer Festival. It gave me a reason to question the purpose behind an event of this calibre and to ask my fellow beer geeks, what are we doing to elevate the beer industry when we host events such as this?

Whatever it is we are doing, it seems to be working in an undetectable way because I am quite inspired after my trip to Denver. I encourage and implore you all to seek out something more during beer events, either when attending or when coordinating. The quality of your experience is, as always, up to you.

Would I attend the Great American Beer Festival again? You bet. All I encourage is that for every beer festival or craft beverage event, we find a way to strike that balance between the opportunity for learning from someone new and for the spirit of relaxing via the vehicle of inebriation. Our best path to finding this balance is to change our personal attitudes about alcohol culture as a whole.

Without both, stagnancy develops and we do not advance what it is we have worked so hard to defend and build: the expectation for quality craft beer and the kind community with which to share that passion.

This festival has been the perfect spark to an excellent conversation about the status of our beer culture. Who’s ready to sit down, have a brew, and elevate the discussion? I’d love some company. The first round’s on me.

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