Two Cedar Rapids breweries walked away with medals from the Great American Beer Festival Competition in Denver over the weekend — Lion Bridge Brewing Company, which received a gold and a bronze, and the Iowa Brewing Company, which took home a silver. All of this celebration took place just a short while after both breweries had to sandbag and evacuate their buildings in preparation for flooding.
“We’re obviously ecstatic, especially coming on the heels of the potential flooding,” Lion Bridge founder Quinton McClain said. “A week before we had basically vacated the entire brewery and taproom. It was a rollercoaster of going from a potential low, to not getting the flooding, to winning the medals.”
This year, the competition saw a record-breaking 7,227 entries from 1,752 breweries across the United States. Roughly 60,000 people attended.
“The festival has a really big family reunion-type feel to it,” Iowa Brewing Company head brewer Mike Wing said. “Everyone is just nice and friendly and opens their arms to all these people coming in from around the world to drink some beer and have a fun weekend.”
The Brewer’s Association reports a spike in breweries over the past 10 years, reaching an all-time peak of 4,269 breweries last year. Iowa has seen a similar spike, with one study reporting 54 craft breweries in Iowa in 2014.
Both Cedar Rapids breweries are relative newcomers to the beer scene. Lion Bridge opened its doors in the Czech Village neighborhood in March 2014. Iowa Brewing Company just opened in the spring in downtown Cedar Rapids.
“Iowa beer is on the up-and-up,” Wing said. “It’s starting to look pretty good in the state.”
Lion Bridge received the gold in the English-Style Mild Ale category for its Workman’s Compensation, which also took home the gold in 2014.
“It’s nice to know that for a small brewer repeatability is sometimes difficult and this beer has been great from day one and continues to be world-class,” McClain said.
McClain works alongside fellow brewer Alec Travis, who has been with the company since the beginning but just started brewing in 2015.
The brewery’s GAZPROM! Russian Imperial Stout received the bronze in the Specialty Beer category. The barrel-aged stout is brewed using maple syrup from Great River Maple in northeast Iowa. Last year, Lion Bridge won gold for a Brown Porter, Disaster at Meux.
Iowa Brewing Company received the silver medal for its Tragedy of the Commons in the American-style Amber Lager or Dark Lager category. Wing said the California Common-style beer was inspired by one his dad, a home brewer, used to keep on hand — Anchor Steam by the Anchor Brewing Company. He described their version as having a fruity edge with hints of caramel, spice and hops.
“Getting a medal so soon after opening was surreal”, Wing said.
“They said, ‘Tragedy of the Commons, Iowa Brewing Company’ and we kind of sat there for a minute and then started jumping in the air,” he said. “After that it was kind of a blur. You just wanted to make sure you don’t look like a fool and trip down the stairs.”
Another Iowa brewery, 515 Brewing Company in Clive, took home a gold medal in the Fruit Wheat Beer category for its Mexican Spring beer.