Beer lover heaven appears once a year in Denver, Colorado when the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) makes its appearance. Widely considered a Mecca for amazing beers, this three-day festival and competition brings 40,000 people to try more beers than they could even imagine. For the 600+ breweries that are attending this year, their biggest goal is often to win a medal for even just one of their beers. But less than five percent of the breweries that enter into competition will win a medal.

“It’s remarkably difficult to win a medal. Last year they gave out 198 medals for 5600 beers,” said Dave Hoops, master brewer at Fitger’s Brewhouse.

Hoops has been attending the GABF for a long time, but for the last 8 years he has attended as a judge of the competition. In order to become a judge at the GABF, a brewer must be certified, receive three letters of recommendation, as well as have around 10+ years of experience plus the now average three-year wait to become a judge. Even after going through the process to become a judge, they must continue to work hard at it because each year they are judged on how well they do judging the beers. If a judge does not do a good enough job, they will not be invited back. Hoops is the only professional brewer from Minnesota that is on the GABF panel of judges.

“You are surrounded by literally the royalty of brewing. The best and the brightest, the most famous, the most gifted, the most veteran,” said Hoops. “It’s a huge honor and I take it as that. It’s fun too, but you have to have the right palate.”

During the judging, beers will go through different rounds of judging depending on how many beers are in the category. During the blind judging of the beers, each beer is examined for 22 different categories and the judges must write comments for each of those categories. In each round of judging, 12 beers are grouped together to be looked at. Judges go through these beers in teams of three to determine the three beers that are good enough to go on to the next round.

According to Hoops they “are looking to throw out the beers that have flaws.”

Beers will continue to be judged in groups of 12 until they get to the last 12 and from there determine gold, silver, and bronze. This will take different amounts of time depending on the category. Some categories of beer have only 40 entrants, while others have around 300! This year’s GABF will see a record number of beers entered into competition as the amount of breweries throughout the U.S. continues to grow.

Fitger’s Brewhouse started attending the festival in 2000 and since then has won two medals. The first was a bronze medal won in 2004 for the Farmhouse Saison, the second was another bronze won in 2012 for the Fitger’s Framboise.