A Year without Festivals… But Not without Medals

GABF goes online this year—our pretzel necklaces will look fine on Zoom—while the competition will proceed with care. August 28 is the deadline to submit beers.

Joe Stange Aug 1, 2020 - 4 min read

A Year without Festivals… But Not without Medals Primary Image

Photo: Brewers Association

It’s the Year of the Pivot, and not even the Great American Beer Festival could escape it. GABF is… we don’t say “canceled.” Instead, it will “pivot” to an online experience scheduled for October 16 and 17.

“The online schedule is still being finalized but highlights include fun, interactive activities like Brewers Studio happy hours, tastings and interviews with brewers from around the country,” the Brewers Association says. Beginning October 1, participating breweries around the country will also be offering special deals available to those who have purchased a GABF "passport."

Meanwhile: The GABF competition is still on. The BA expects more than 7,000 entries to be evaluated by more than 100 judges. (Disclosure: I have served as a GABF judge, I and agreed to do so again this year.)

When I asked how that was going to work, the answer was, “carefully,” according to BA spokeswoman Jenelle Scott.


“The competition involves far fewer people than the festival,” Scott says, “and judging will be held over several days, in a controlled environment. The final plan is still under development but will include strict schedules and directional traffic patterns, personal protective equipment, temperature checks, continuous cleaning and sanitation, etcetera.”

So, brewers: Perish the image of judges evaluating your beloved beers in the privacy of their homes and discussing them via Zoom. That won’t happen.

Revised Medal Categories

Anticipating fewer entries this year, GABF organizers have combined some style categories, reducing them from 107 to 90. Last year, 2,450 brewers entered about 8,600 beers in 107 categories.

“We anticipate total entries will decrease this year,” says Chris Swersey, BA competition manager. “Accordingly, we have decreased the total number of categories by grouping smaller categories from previous years, which will now appear as subcategories of larger category groups.”

For example, Baltic Porter (which last year received 51 entries) is now a subcategory of International Dark Lager (which received 31). Belgian Dubbel (26 entries last year) has been combined with Tripel (83 entries) for a new category called Belgian-Style Abbey Ale, which also includes a new subcategory called Other Belgian-Style Abbey Ale.

Another notable change: Fresh Hop Beer is now a subcategory of Experimental Beer. Swersey says that change is because GABF originally was scheduled to be earlier this year, compared to recent years, so they expected fewer harvest-hopped entries.

“No previously listed beer styles were removed, although many were realigned,” Swersey says. “A few new beer styles were added. The category list reflects several exciting additions and updates to the Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines and also shifting entry numbers over time to keep categories relevant and competitive.”

Some other changes:

  • Emerging IPA is now known as Experimental IPA.
  • American Lager has a new subcategory, Contemporary American-Style Lager, while Light Lager has a subcategory for Contemporary American-Style Light Lager.
  • English Mild (40 entries last year) has been combined with Ordinary or Special Bitter (41 entries) to form a single category called English Mild or Bitter.
  • Australian-style pale ales now fall under International Pale Ale.

The full category list is available on the GABF website. Brewery registration for both the festival and the competition opened June 9, with competition beers due in Denver by August 28—except for Fresh Hop beers, which are due September 25.

Joe Stange is Managing Editor of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® and the Brewing Industry Guide®. Have story tips or suggestions? Contact him at [email protected].