Gold Medal Muggin'

Earlier this month, a group of Austin brewers headed north for America's biggest brew competition – the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) – and returned with a glass full of gold.

Held annually in Denver, the GABF brings together hundreds of breweries and countless beer lovers from across the U.S. for a long weekend of camaraderie, conversation, and (of course) quasi-Olympic competition. This year, thefestival's prestigious jury tastings attracted more than 1,700 different entries from 400 different brewpubs, microbreweries, and mass-market producers, making this the most competitive field in the festival's 18-year history.

The crew at the Bitter End Bistro and Brewery started preparing their gold-medal winner (Prescott's Wee Heavy) almost a full year before the 1998 GABF. Brewmaster Tim Schwartz created the thick, flavorful Scottish beer to honor his brother's wedding celebration, then set aside a few kegs to age and mellow before the competition in Denver. The strategy seemed to work remarkably well. The last keg of vintage Prescott's went on line at the Bitter End as the GABF awarded the brew its highest honor in the Strong Scotch Ale category. Even though the new batch of late-blooming Wee Heavy won't be available until early spring, Schwartz and company will be tapping another big winter brew (an American-style barleywine) in mid-December.

Celis Brewery, the Austin area's largest microbrewery, also enjoyed some well-deserved recognition from the panel's judges. Pierre Celis, the brewery's founder and namesake, enjoys a cult following among brewers for triggering the American Belgian beer movement and producing the finest examples of previously ignored styles. Over the past few festivals, Celis beers have taken second or third place to other breweries during the medal ceremonies. In 1998, though, Pierre (along with Celis President Christine Celis and brewmaster Peter Camps) got his due by taking top honors with Grand Cru and White beers, earning gold medals in the "Belgian-Style Ale" and "Belgian and French Specialty Style Ale" divisions. (Available across town on tap and by the bottle.)

Waterloo Brewing Company, also a medal contender in previous years, won a bronze medal in the Bohemian-style Pilsner category for their Prairie Dog Pils. Brewer Steve Anderson re-created a spicy, traditional European pilsner from the ground up, using special Czech yeasts, hops, and malts. (Currently available on tap.) – Pableaux Johnson

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