Alexandria's Port City Brewing Company had a pretty stellar weekend at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, winning silver medals for its Porter and Monumental IPA, and a bronze medal for Optimal Wit. Those three medals put Port City in a four-way tie for the most medals earned at the Festival, alongside the bigger and better-known Firestone Walker, Left Hand and Sun King breweries.
More importantly, the three medals earned Port City the national title of Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year.
"The results were a complete surprise," Port City owner Bill Butcher said this morning. "Being named Small Brewery of the Year is an unbelievable recognition."
Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded in 92 different categories at the beer world's equivalent of the Oscars, with breweries receiving points for each win. The breweries were then sorted by size. Port City was one of 518 competitors in the Small Brewing Company category, defined as breweries that produce between 1,000 and 14,999 barrels of beer in a year. That was the largest number of breweries in any size class, "making Small Brewing Company the most competitive category by far," said GABF competition manager Chris Swersey. Eight-six of those 518 breweries won one or more medals, Swersey said, and "Port City’s three-medal performance was a superb accomplishment for a rapidly growing brewery making great beer."
What's interesting is that this isn't even Port City's largest haul at the GABF: In 2013, the brewery earned four medals, including a gold for Optimal Wit, a silver for Oktoberfest, and two bronzes for anniversary beers Colossal One and Colossal Two. That still wasn't enough to claim Small Brewing Company and Small Brewer of the Year from fellow Virginia brewery Devils Backbone's "Basecamp" location in Roseland, which took home a gold, two silvers and two bronzes.
Butcher is back at work, but he's already planning Port City's victory celebrations. There will be a "Medal Throwdown" at the brewery this Friday, Butcher says, and "We'll also plan a series of events around D.C. to celebrate the win. We did that in 2013: One in D.C., one in Maryland and one in Virginia."
Port City wasn't the only success to come out of Virginia. Four Old Dominion breweries captured gold medals: Brothers Craft Brewing's Mild, Champion Brewing's Shower Beer pilsner, Devils Backbone's Vienna Lager and Fair Winds Brewing's Siren's Lure Saison were all named best-in-class. Lickinghole Creek's Heir Apparent was the runner-up in the Chili Beer category, while Pale Fire Brewing's Salad Days American Saison brought a bronze medal back to Harrisonburg.
On the other side of the Potomac, Jailbreak Brewing's Van Dammit Belgian Strong Dark Ale was the only winner from Maryland. It's currently on draft at the Laurel brewery if you want to try it on Wednesday, when the tap room reopens.
Washington D.C. had no winners. In the last five years, DC Brau is the only brewery to take home any hardware, with silver medals in 2014 and 2012.
Overall, 1,552 breweries submitted 6,647 beers to be judged at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival. According to the Brewers Association, American-Style India Pale Ale was the most popular category, as it has been since 2002, with 336 breweries submitting IPAs. That's more entries than the fourth-most popular category, Session India Pale Ale (161 entries), and fifth-most popular category, American-Style Pale Ale (160 entries), combined.
A complete list of winners is available on the Great American Beer Festival website.