How the World’s Largest Beer Competition Managed to Pull Off This Year’s Event

by Michael Freeman

With COVID still making large social gatherings difficult, if not impossible for some, many events have been canceled or have limited attendance. Despite this, the largest beer competition in the world still managed to make things happen.

The 2021 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) commenced on September 10, albeit without the festival portion. Even lacking the festival, the 35th edition of the world’s largest commercial beer competition was a huge success. The Brewers Association (BA) awarded 265 breweries across the nation. There were 97 beer categories covering 175 beer styles, with each awarding gold, silver, and bronze medals.

Chris Swersey, GABF’s competition director, issued a press release about their approach to this year’s competition. “Despite being forced to cancel the festival portion of GABF, our brewing community rallied together to make this year’s GABF competition one for the books—our largest competition judged to date.”

The BA worked closely with the city of Denver, the state of Colorado, the convention center, and its security team and exhibit vendors to monitor the latest COVID CDC recommendations. Additionally, they examined local guidelines and best practices from other events taking place in the country. For instance, the BA got rid of “high touch” or seemingly high-risk activities. They also moved the event’s welcome reception outdoors with limited attendance, expecting 7,000 people, as opposed to its usual 15,000 or so.

The competition did not require vaccination proof or a negative COVID test to attend. However, it did encourage attendees to be fully vaccinated to protect themselves and others. The BA similarly requested masks, regardless of vaccination status.

“We listened to our membership and knew there was strong desire to convene the brewing community after more than 18 months,” said Ann Obenchain, BA’s marketing and communications director.

Great American Beer Festival Announces 2021 Award-Winners

With the right precautions in place, the Great American Beer Festival was able to commence without a hitch last weekend. Awarding more than 290 medals to 265 breweries, the GABF announced its winners.

Craft Brewing Business reported 2,192 brewers entered the competition, with 9,680 types of beer. “The Brewers Association is proud to honor this year’s deserving winners. We look forward to celebrating in person together next year,” Chris Swersey, competition director of the Great American Beer Festival, said.

Considering the vast amount of categories, there are far too many winners to share individually, but you can check the online list if you’re curious. Nevertheless, there are some notable standouts. Washington breweries snagged an impressive 22 medals from the competition. The American-style IPA category alone received 404 entries. Volatile Substance from Von Ebert Brewing snagged the gold in that category.

Finally, Brewery of the Year is always a popular category. This is based on the number of barrels a beer company releases every year. Radiant Beer Co. produces zero to 250 barrels a year, receiving the award.