It’s nine A.M on a crisp Saturday morning in Denver. A steady stream of people files into the vast convention center, marching down the long hallway to the Bellco Theatre. Brewers, brewery owners, staff, friends and beer judges are headed to hear the results of the largest beer competition in the United States. They grab a breakfast burrito and a coffee or beer on the way into the 5,000 seat theatre.
As they settle into their seats, Brewers Association staffers gather around the stage, preparing for the two-hour-long, tension-filled announcements. “Good morning” and “good luck” are uttered all around the hall. Brewers from the Greater SF Bay Area and beyond took on the challenge of shipping excellent beers to this most prestigious of US beer competitions. Many have made their way here to the ceremony venue.
Hope Against Hope
By ten o’clock, the theatre is full. The lights dim. Everyone in the audience knows they have a small chance of being called to the stage to collect one of the 324 medals to be awarded in 2019. But all have hope.
Ultimately, only 283 of the 2,295 breweries that entered beers in any of the 107 categories will earn a medal. As the winners are called out by competition director Chris Swersy, cheers erupt from different sections of the hall. Winning brewery reps dance, run, skip and/or hop to line up stage left, assembling to climb up to the stage, where they will accept their medal, fist-bump BA President Emeritus Charlie Papazian and pose for an official picture.
The delay between the ongoing announcements of category medals and the subsequent arrival on stage by the winners led to the best, most spontaneous visible celebration of the day. A group from Oregon’s Breakside Brewery had just accepted the Bronze medal for English-style Summer Ale and were barely offstage when they were announced as the winner of another Bronze for the American-Style Pale Ale. They leapt for joy in the aisle before getting in line to collect the second medal. When back on stage, the crew arranged themselves for a second victory photo. Once again they heard their brewery’s name announced, this time as the winner of a Gold medal for Juicy or Hazy Strong Pale Ale. They jumped up and down and hugged again, at center stage. At this point, they were joined in warm applause and laughter by most in the auditorium.
You Never Forget Your First Medal
Meanwhile, some 1,200 miles away, in San Francisco, Nick Mamere was sitting alone in his apartment, eating left-over pizza, watching the Brewing Network’s live stream of the awards ceremony. He had entered four beers on behalf of his brewery, Bartlett Hall, a hotel bar in downtown San Francisco. Bartlett Hall had never won a GABF medal. Mamere felt his main hope for a medal was his chocolate beer. But when that category came and went, his optimism dwindled. “I was like, man, if that didn’t win, it’s probably not gonna happen,” Mamere remembered thinking.
He was on his phone, only half paying attention when he heard Chris Swersy say, “The Silver Medal goes to Bartlett Hall for Powell Street Porter.” His phone blew up with congratulation texts from friends in the auditorium in Denver.
Possibly among the least-known of San Francisco’s 30 breweries is Bartlett Hall. Only half a block off of San Francisco’s famous cable car line, in the central tourist district of Union Square, it remains off the radar of most local craft beer fans. Tourists wander in seeking a bar with food and TVs. Many are surprised to learn beer is made there. It is a fancy-ish restaurant/bar located in the same building as a budget tourist hotel and a short walk from the Powell Street BART Station.
Mamere had no professional brewing experience prior to starting at Bartlett. “I was homebrewing like crazy, like three times a month,” he said, embracing the hobby in 2009. He was looking for a professional brewing job but had no luck. In 2015 he saw a Facebook post from Bartlett Hall asking for a helper to clean lines and wash kegs. He answered the ad and began working – and learning – there one day a week. In 2016, when the well-regarded brewer left for other opportunities and recommended him for the job, Mamere took over as brewer.
On a recent visit, the menu featured nine beers brewed in-house, ranging from a blonde and a saison to a selection of different styles of IPAs and stouts. And, of course, the medal-winning porter.
Winning a medal at GABF is no small accomplishment. Only about 12% of the nearly 2,300 breweries took home hardware. Bartlett Hall was one of 37 first-time winners. The winning porter was the first Mamere brewed as a homebrewer. The medal-winning batch was his second professional interpretation of his home recipe. “I felt like the first version was missing something so I made some tweaks. I was happy with how it turned out, but I was still shocked with the win.”
Mamere continued, “The owners of Bartlett were stoked. They were definitely excited.” He shares a mutual goal with them: “We want to get more locals to come to Union Square to drink.”
Medal-winning beer should help pique some interest.
Big congratulations to all the Greater SF Bay Area winners!
From Sonoma Country to Monterey Bay, every brewery and beer has a story. (Check out the tales of the Gold medal for SF’s Barebottle Brewing Co. and the highly competitive Bronze for newcomer Pond Farm Brewing Co., as reported by Allysa Pereira at the SF Chronicle.) Here’s the list from approximately a 60 mile radius around San Francisco. (Further north, south and east, additional California breweries were honored, totaling 68 medals to 55 breweries statewide.)
Double Cone Alvarado Street Brewery Salinas: Imperial India Pale Ale
Torcido Barebottle Brewing Co. SF: International-Style Pilsener
Old Diablo Morgan Territory Brewing Tracy: Barley Wine-Style Ale
Farmer’s Reserve No. 5 Almanac Beer Co. Alameda: Mixed-Culture Brett Beer
Powell Street Porter Bartlett Hall, San Francisco: Robust Porter
Bo Pils East Brother Beer Co. Richmond: Bohemian-Style Pilsener
Dark Reckoning Morgan Territory Brewing Tracy: Baltic-Style Porter
Annadel Pale Ale Third Street AleWorks Santa Rosa: English-Style or International-Style Pale Ale
Emperor Norton’s Sweet Stout 21st Amendment Brewery San Leandro: Sweet Stout or Cream Stout
Citraveza Alvarado Street Brewery Salinas: American-Style Pilsener
Devil’s Gulch Pond Farm Brewing Co. San Rafael: Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale (This was the single largest competition category, with 348 entries. Most had fewer than 100.)
Dry Creek Blonde Ale Santa Clara Valley Brewing San Jose: German-Style Koelsch
Saison Apothēca Yeast of Eden Carmel-By-The-Sea: Belgian-Style Lambic Sour Ale
Explore Beer By BART: Use our destination list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places and their related transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.