Raise a glass, Missoula: The Kettle House Brewing Co. won third place this weekend at one of the world’s biggest beer contests, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colo. The bronze in the annual event went to Kettle House’s Cold Smoke Scotch Style Ale in the Scottish Style Ale category.
The GABF this year smashed all previous records by drawing more than 46,000 beer-lovers and attracting 3,038 entries from around the country and the globe, making it the largest commercial beer competition, according to the Brewers Association, the group that puts on the event. More than 450 breweries entered the contest, in which trained tasters chose winners from among 40 or so beers in each of dozens of categories.
“It’s a great award,” said Kettle House owner Tim O’Leary, who traveled to this year’s fest with the company’s Taproom Manager Al Pils, Head Brewer Paul Roys, and Brewer Colleen Bitter. (O’Leary noted that, in a weird and unintended synergy, his staffers seem to have beer-associated names, including former employees named Brown and Stout.) “I’m really pleased that Cold Smoke has been selling so well for years,” O’Leary said. “To get an award like this is just icing on the cake.”
The ale has done well in previous contests, O’Leary noted, so he thought it stood a good chance of getting noticed. In June, the brewery won three medals — a gold for Cold Smoke Scotch Ale, a bronze for Lake Missoula Amber, and a bronze for Olde Bongwater Hemp Porter — at the annual North American Beer Awards competition in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
The brewery has been making the ale for about 10 years, O’Leary added. “Our brewers really work their butts off to maintain the high quality,” he said.
And what’s it like when 46,000 people get together to guzzle? “It’s just insane,” O’Leary said. But it’s insanity with limits.
The breweries at the festival set up tables lined with one-ounce beer samples. Tickets cost $50 each. “You could taste probably 200 one-ounce samples of pale ales,” O’Leary says. For those with more nonconformist taste buds, the competition also offers Belgian beers, and beers that taste like wine, smell like cheese, or have a barnyard odor.
In the “Herb and Spice or Chocolate Beer” category, Montana had another winner: Montana Brewing Co. from Billings snagged a gold medal for its Stillwater Rye.
To see all the GABF medalists, click here.