by Tom Finkel
When all the drinking was drunk and the judges had tallied the votes, St. Louis brewers came up a little short at the annual Great American Beer Fest last weekend in Denver. The Grammies of the brewing industry -- "They don't let you give an acceptance speech, though," qualifies Fran Caradonna, co-owner of O'Fallon Brewery of St. Charles County, "which is probably just as well" -- this year attracted 30,000 makers and lovers of ale, who converged to celebrate the year in beer.
This year 380 American breweries served a total 1,650 different beers in Hall F of the Colorado Convention Center. During the 3-day festival, 100 judges blindly assessed the merits of 2,442 beers in 69 different beer-style categories, and announced their findings on Saturday.
O'Fallon had reason to be confident. The little brewery snatched a bronze last year for its American-style wheat and shocked the oddsmakers in a 2004 with a gold in the Smoked Porter division. This year its hopes were pinned on its newest vintage, O'Fallon 5-Day I.P.A., an India-style pale ale. They also entered their wonderfully rotund (and currently available) Pumpkin ale, their peach-flavored Wheach, and their O'Fallon Gold Pale Ale. But, alas, this year it was not to be. They returned to the 'burbs empty handed.
St. Louis' second-largest brewery, Schlafly, takes a Woody Allen approach to the beer fest and accompanying awards. Believing that quality is its own reward, the brewery doesn't enter its beers, says Schlafly brewer Eric Roy. "As a brewer we get more of an ego boost daily from somebody at the bar telling us we're doing a good job than [a judgment] from a blind tasting."
The Springfield Brewing Company, then, is but a pilot brewery designed to illustrate how it shighly mechanized systems can be utilized to make flawless beer. And year in, year out, they prove it with a few medals in Denver. This year they bested 49 other breweries and won a gold in the South German-Style Hefeweisen/Hefeweissbier category, and took a bronze for their American-style unfiltered wheat.
"People fly in from all over the world to see how our system works," explains Springfield Brewing's Trey Manning, who graduated from the University of California-Davis' lauded brewery school. "We brew the beer to showcase the equipment."
- Randall Roberts