THERE ARE few people as important to the craft beer world as Charlie Papazian. Though he studied nuclear engineering in school, Papazian would go on to write the preeminent home brewing book "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing," and found the American Homebrewers Association (AHA).
Because starting the homebrew revolution wasn’t enough, Papazian also founded the Brewers Association of America, a group of like-minded brewers and their supplier. that has grown to include over 7000 brewers and brewing related companies throughout the United States.
Eventually the AHA and several other brewing organizations merged into the Brewers Association which now has over 7000 members (brewers and suppliers) and hosts the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) which is also a Papazian creation.
When GABF was founded in 1982 it hosted 22 breweries. This year’s event, held a week ago in Denver, Colorado, hosted 800 breweries and is the largest ticketed beer festival in the country with 60,000 attendees who sampled almost 4000 different beers.
One of the lasting components of the GABF is the annual beer competition, judged by over 100 different beer experts who sample thousands of brewery submitted beers in 96 different beer style categories. Each category is awarded a gold, silver and bronze medal.
This year’s competition resulted in eight awards for Georgia breweries, up from two in 2016. Most Georgia winners were from the Atlanta area but the only Georgia GABF GOLD medalist came from right here in Savannah!
Moon River Brewing Company won a Gold in the Belgian-style Witbier category for their Wild Wacky Wit.
I spoke with Moon River’s Head Brewer and owner John Pinkerton.
How did Wild Wacky Wit come about?
Pinkerton: We brewed our first batch of Wild Wacky Wit 15 years ago, back in 2002. Belgian-style White Ale had been one of my favorite styles of beer when I was still homebrewing in the early 1990s.
You could say my love for wit beer put me on the path to brewing. My interest in brewing as a career came in part from my obsession with the brand, Celis White, from the Celis Brewery in Austin, Texas, which rode the first wave of the American craft renaissance in the early ‘90s. I was already in love with the music scene in Austin and I was consumed with the fantasy of brewing at Celis by day and playing drums in the blues/ rockabilly clubs by night. Turns out, the Austin dream never happened for me, but those initial visits to the Celis Brewery and my efforts to get hired there, led to other brewing pursuits and eventually to Moon River.
What was it like to win a Gold?
This year the Belgian-style White Ale category had 78 entries, and we know the Wild Wacky Wit went up against the biggest names in American wit beer.
In our case, we had entered the full, allowed number of four beers in various categories including the Wit. As the awards ceremony unfolded, by the time we got to the Wit category (#79 of 98), we had already been shut out of our other three entered categories.
Chris Swersey, the BA Competition Director, announced the winner of the Bronze and Silver Wit beers and we were already beginning to console ourselves for another year of going home empty handed.
Then, the words, “...and the Gold goes to Wild Wacky Wit...” echoed through the auditorium, as time seemed to slow down while the joyous chaos erupted as we leapt to our feet and made our way to the stage.
What was GABF like, in general?
The 2017 GABF was bigger than ever. It’s really quite a spectacle. From the marching in of the bagpipers to the final call, four and a half hours later, it is cacophonous! It can be arduous at times. There’s been plenty of years where we’ve left the awards ceremony on Saturday morning with nothing to show for. So you’re coming straight from the awards ceremony up to the Festival Hall and you’ve got a long day in front of you.
And you also won the Best Mid-Sized brew pub award!
We hadn’t even gotten on stage to receive the gold medal for the wit, when they began announcing the Mid-Size Brewpub of the year awards. We were standing in a short queue of other winners off stage right, still stunned, exchanging expressions of disbelief and congratulations. In my mind, I had already completely ruled out the possibility that we could possibly win one of the overall recognition awards. I wasn’t really paying attention to what was happening on stage until everyone around us started screaming, “Isn’t that you guys?! That’s you! Get up there!!”