Iowa beers take gold medals at nationwide beer competition

Lion Bridge Brewing and West O Beer both brought gold medals back to Iowa from the Great American Beer Festival. — Photo by Arup Malakar

The state’s flourishing craft beer industry received recognition last weekend as two Iowa brews won gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver. Cedar Rapids’ Lion Bridge Brewing Company took home a gold medal in the English-Style Mild Ale category for its Workman’s Compensation, and CocO Stout, brewed West O Beer of West Okoboji, was awarded the gold medal in the Sweet Stout or Cream Stout category.

Founded in 1982 and presented by the Brewers Association, the GABF is the largest commercial beer competition in the world. At this year’s competition, a record 222 judges from 10 countries awarded gold, silver and bronze medals in 90 beer categories covering 145 different beer styles. Winners were chosen from 5,507 entries from 1,309 breweries that hail from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. For a beer to win a gold medal, GABF judges must consider it “world-class” and find that it “accurately exemplifies the specified style, displaying the proper balance of taste, aroma and appearance.”

“Just saying it, that Workman’s Compensation is a world class beer, is surreal,” said Lion Bridge brewer and co-owner Quinton McClain.

Even though McClain said he would not have entered his beers into the competition if he did not think they were award-winning caliber, he said it was a huge shock when he learned that Workman’s Compensation was awarded a gold medal.

West O co-owner, Matt Matthiesen, said he congratulated and hugged head brewer Karl Schmitz when the announcement was made. He said Schmitz’s initial reply was to ask, “Is this a joke?”

“We know he brews good beer so it’s nice to get it validated in a competition like this,” Matthiesen wrote in an email.

Not only does the award validate the quality of West O’s beer, Matthiesen says the timing was perfect. The brewery was planning to send artwork for CocO Stout’s bottle labels this week and will now add the GABF gold medal to the design once the Brewers Association has given its approval.

The awards are the first won by Iowa breweries at the GABF since Millstream’s Back Road Stout received a gold medal in 2011. It is also the first time since 2004 that an Iowa brewery other than Millstream has medaled at the competition.

“I think it says craft beer in Iowa is making advances,” Matthiesen said. “I think any time an award like this comes back to the state it makes consumers more aware of craft beer, brewed right here in Iowa. I also think it raises the bar for our local breweries and helps everyone push harder for quality and consistency.”

McClain echos that sentiment, saying Iowa brewers are pushing each other to new heights and raising the bar in regards to quality. This, he says, may just be the beginning of nationally esteemed recognition and awards for Iowa beers.

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