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Local breweries bring home gold at the Great American Beer Festival

Port City Optimal Wit Port City Brewing Company's Optimal Wit was named the country's best Belgian-style white ale at this weekend's Great American Beer Festival. (Photo by Greg Powers)

Surprise: Northern Virginia is home to America's best Belgian-style witbier, and three of the country's top Oktoberfest beers come from the D.C. area.

At the Great American Beer Festival in Denver last weekend, Port City Brewing Company took home four medals, including a gold for its popular Optimal Wit. The Alexandria brewery also won a silver for its Oktoberfest in the Vienna-Style Lager category, and its two Colossal beers -- one-time-only ales created on the brewery's anniversary -- also medaled. Colossal One, a strong Belgian ale, won bronze in the Aged Beer category, and Colossal Two, a smoked imperial porter, won bronze in Smoke Beer.

These aren't the first national awards for the Alexandria brewery: Its Monumental IPA won bronze in the GABF's English-Style IPA category last year.

Local breweries swept the German-style Maerzen category, with Lost Rhino's Rhinofest winning the gold, Sweetwater Tavern's Oktoberfest taking silver and Flying Dog's Dogtoberfest earning the bronze.

(While German-Style Maerzen is the traditional drink of Oktoberfest, two of the three winners in the Vienna-Style Lager category -- a group for less-malty lager -- call themselves Oktoberfest beers, mirroring the trend for lighter beers at the Munich festival. This is the category in which Port City won.)

Of course, trying the winners won't be easy. Colossal One and Two were each brewed for only one day, explains Port City brewer Jonathan Reeves, and the brewery only has one keg of each "that we're holding" to be tapped at a future event, he says. And as for Oktoberfest, "we made 180 barrels of the beer, and it's all gone," Reeves says. "We don't have any kegs left in the [brewery] tasting room. It's unfortunate … but one of my guys came in and said he saw six-packs of it at the Giant up the street, so it's out there. "

One place you'll definitely find it: Glen's Garden Market is hosting a Port City tap takeover this weekend, and both Optimal Wit and Oktoberfest will be on draft, along with two other to-be-determined beers, says Port City owner Bill Butcher. He says that there are also plans to brew Colossal One and Colossal again at some point, but a date hasn't been determined.

Flying Dog is in a similar boat: The last two kegs of Dogtoberfest left the Frederick brewery this morning, marked for a future event at Meridian Pint, though it may be possible to find Dogtoberfest on tap in local bars.

The silver medalist in the Maerzen category is easier to find: All three Sweetwater Taverns (Merrifield, Sterling and Centreville) report that they have Oktoberfest on draft right now.

Finally, kudos to Devils Backbone. While the brewery isn't quite in the Washington area – the brewpub and restaurant based in Roseland, Va., about three hours southwest of D.C. – it's a brewery with strong ties to this area. Brewer Jason Oliver spent years working at the Virginia Beverage Company in Old Town and at the downtown Gordon Biersch before taking the reins at Devils Backbone, and the company's beers are found all over the region. Devils Backbone received six medals this year, including two golds, but the bigger news is that they were named the Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year. This is the second consecutive major honor for the brewery: They were named Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year in 2012, before expanding to open a full-time production brewery.

A full list of winners is available on the Great American Beer Festival website.

Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.



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