More than 3,000 different beers from thousands of breweries around the country are scored by hundreds of judges for over 45 hours. That’s what competitors have to make it through to place at the Great American Beer Festival, an annual beer tasting and competition held in Denver. The festival draws more than 60,000 visitors each year, making it the largest beer event in the country, and one of the largest in the world. And despite the fierce competition, two Triad breweries took home medals this year.
Brown Truck Brewery in High Point won multiple awards at the festival during its first year of operation in 2016 and won a silver again in the 2018 competition for its #4.5 Dry Hopped Saison. The beer, which also won silver in 2016, is a regular on Brown Truck’s menu and competed in the American-Belgo-Style Ale category against more than 70 other breweries, according to Ian Burnett, the head brewer and co-owner at Brown Truck Brewery.
“It’s not just small breweries,” Burnett says. “We’re competing against all the big boys.”
And it’s true. A close look at the long list of competitors yields names like Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues and New Belgium.
Brown Truck Brewery however, which won Very Small Brewing Company and Very Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year in 2016, seems to have no trouble competing with the beer giants. They also won multiple awards in the NC Brewers Cup this year where 76 breweries from across the state competed in 34 categories. #4.5 placed in that event too.
Made with French-style yeast that results in a slightly peppery flavor with a distinct funk to it, Brown Truck’s #4.5 Dry Hopped Saison is the perfect beer for the end of summer and beginning of fall. Bitter but crisp and refreshing enough to drink away the still-warm evenings, this golden, hoppy saison offers notes of orange zest with a medium mouthfeel.
“The flavor goes on kind of a rollercoaster,” says Burnett. “You get that Belgian-y funk and the first thing that hits you is the aroma of the hops. Floral to herbal to tropical fruit notes. Then the malt flavor kicks in, adding sweetness, and then a little bitter, then the awesome flavor of yeast.”
Named after its batch number, the #4.5 isn’t necessarily for everyone, but it’s a satisfying beer that offers a kick from the hops that are added late in the process. For those that want to try the two-time award winner, it’s on tap at Brown Truck but may not be for long.
“This beer has a few different varieties of hops that are hard to get,” says Burnett. “Whenever the hops come around we buy it but the hop trade in the brewing world isn’t right for small breweries. We don’t have big checkbooks like some of the other guys.”
Little Brother Brewing in Greensboro can sympathize.
The small craft brewery nestled on the corner of Elm and McGee Street in downtown has made a name for itself since opening in November last year. Despite only being equipped with a four-barrel system, (for comparison, Natty Greene’s has a 27-barrel system), Little Brother Brewing took home a gold from the festival this year in the South German-Style Hefeweizen category for its Civil Rest beer.
Made with all local malt from Epiphany Malt in Durham, the beer is one of the brewery’s flagship products, along with its Gostosa IPA and Jim’s Lunch Stout. Stephen Monahan, the head brewer and part owner at Little Brother, says it was made with careful attention to details. Monahan, who studied to become a brewmaster in Germany, says he used his experience tasting hefeweizens, or wheat beers, in South Germany to create Civil Rest.
“The flavor and appearance comes from the wheat malt,” Monahan says. “There’s very little hops. They’re added mostly for anti-microbial properties and not for flavor.”
A little cloudy with a golden orange tint, the beer looks a bit like fizzy grapefruit juice. It has notes of orange peel, banana and clove with a pleasant, slightly creamy mouthfeel that coats the entire palette. The finish is somewhat sweet. It’s not hard to see why it won against 150 other competitors in the same category.
“The thing is the local craft malt,” Monahan says. “There’s tighter control over quality given the size of the batch.”
As for what it’s like to win a gold their first time in the competition, Monahan says it’s nice but that he wants to continue to focus on the beer.
“What’s really great is that we have the honor of bringing more attention to Triad beers,” Monahan says. “Our priority from day one has been providing great, quality, local, craft beer.”
For those that want to attend a marriage of these two award-winning breweries, Brown Truck and Little Brother will have a new collaborative product coming out within the next month that’s a combination of Brown Truck’s #4.5 and Little Brother’s new Apricana, an American Wheat Ale made with apricots.
“It should be pretty fun,” says Burnett.