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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 6.0° F  Fair
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Wisconsin beers win big at 2008 Great American Beer Festival
Capital Brewery, Wisconsin Dells Brewing, Great Dane claim medals
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Great Dane brewers Don Vasa (left) and Michael Fay (right) discuss the right pour at their Great American Beer Festival booth.
Credit:Robin Shepard

Wisconsin won big at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver over the weekend. Held for the 27th time, this gathering has grown into a three-day extravaganza featuring some 2000 beers from well over 400 brewers from across the country. The accompanying competition saw more than 2900 beers entered and judged across 75 different styles, meanwhile, with gold, silver, and bronze medals finding their way back to breweries around Madison and around the state.

Three awards went to regional microbrewers. Capital Brewery of Middleton won a gold medal for its Autumnal Fire in the German-style Strong Bock category. Among the Scottish-Style Ales, the Wisconsin Dells Brewing Company brought home a silver medal for Dells Chief Amber Ale. Additionally, the Great Dane Pub & Brewery captured a bronze medal for its 1999 vintage of Old Scratch Barley Wine in the old or strong ale category.

Another three Wisconsin microbreweries likewise won medals. Central Waters Brewing Company of Amherst took gold for its Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine in the Wood-aged Strong Beer category. Titletown Brewery of Green Bay received silver for its Railyard Ale as a German-Style Altbier. And Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery captured a silver medal in the Gluten-Free Beers group for its New Grist.

Several larger breweries associated with the state were likewise recognized. The American-Style Dark Lager category saw a silver go to Leinenkugel's Creamy Dark and a bronze to MillerCoors for its Henry Weinhard's Classic Dark. This now-international megabrewer also won gold for Henry Weinhard's Hefeweizen in the American-Style Hefeweizen category, silver for Hamm's and bronze for Weinhard's Blue Boar Pale Ale in the American-Style Cream Ale or Lager category, a bronze for Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve in the American-Style Lager group, a silver for Coors Light and bronze for Keystone Light in the American-Style Light Lager group, and a bronze for OE 800 as a International-Style Pilsner.

However, not all breweries submit entries to the festival, as the costs associated with shipping beer and attending the event can be a deterrent. For example, both Ale Asylum and J.T. Whitney's of Madison declined to participate this year.

For those who do visit, the Great American Beer Festival can be exciting for both brewers and beer fans alike. Over the course of three days, public sessions offered samples of some 1900 different beers that included many of the medal winners.

The fest was a special event for Jamie Martin, the brewer for Dells Brewing at Moosejaw Restaurant in Wisconsin Dells, and one of a growing number of women brewmasters across the county. She's worked for the brewery since shortly after it opened three years ago, but this was her first time attending the Great American Beer Festival. "This is so exciting to be here and win a medal, it confirms to me that I just didn't fall into this profession by luck," she said about the silver medal for her Dells Chief Amber Ale. As she accepted the award from festival founder Charlie Papazian, she sported her well known pink rubber boots that are symbolic of women brewmasters. "I called my boss first, then our media person, then my boyfriend and then my mom," she beamed, 'I'm so excited I wanted all of them to know."

Great Dane brewers Don Vasa and Michael Fay likewise made the trip to Denver. Both admitted surprise when the downtown home of the brewpub won a medal with their barley wine, a beer that was actually made by company co-founder Rob LoBreglio. This 1999 vintage of Old Scratch, Vasa explained, was actually made before he was employed by Great Dane, "This is a tricky style to begin with," he said, "and that long of aging leaves you uncertain what you'll end up with." But the result pleased judges who gave it a bronze in the old or strong ale category.

Not only brewers make the trek to Denver. Ted Gisske of Mount Horeb made his first appearance at the Great American Beer Festival, attending all of the public sessions over the weekend. "Nobody drinks bad beer here, they wouldn't bring it to GABF if it was bad," exclaimed Gisske. Sporting a Great Taste of The Midwest t-shirt procured this summer, Gisske quipped, "I have to say our local Great Taste is better because I feel I have to -- but this place is 'effing awesome."

Even though New Glarus Brewing, a perennial medalist at the festival, did not win this year, the line of those waiting to sample its Raspberry Tart and Wisconsin Belgian Red was among the longest at any booth. Randy Koepsell and his wife Megan of Denver waited nearly 15 minutes for their one-ounce samples. "We've never had New Glarus's fruit beers and given the length of the line we wanted to make sure we got a taste before they ran out," said UW-Madison graduate Koepsell. Megan added, "Wow this is great, worth the wait," added his wife in reference to the rather meager sample of Wisconsin Belgian Red that was drawing such a crowd.

Those interested in attending the next Great American Beer Festival in Denver, running over the weekend of September 24-26, 2009, might not want to wait too long to get tickets. This year's gathering sold out weeks in advance, with more than 46,000 people tasting some of the best beers America has to offer.

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