Of the 275 total medals awarded last month across 92 categories at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, California breweries took home 67 of them—almost a full quarter of those given out. San Diego snagged 19 of those, plus Very Small Brewing Company of the Year honors for Rip Current Brewing Company. It goes without saying that San Diego pretty much bitch slapped the rest of the competition and left the party with the prom queen.
The fact that San Diego continues to dominate the craft beer industry isn't surprising or even terribly interesting. What is fascinating is the unique role that we play and have played throughout the years in building the nationwide and worldwide craft beer empire that now exists. To gain insight on how we've shaped craft beer over the past few decades, I posed this question to a few local experts and 2015 GABF winners still basking in the afterglow of their success:
"Why do you think San Diego won so many awards at GABF this year—and why do we tend to win a lot in general?"
Paul Sangster, co-owner & brewmaster,
Rip Current Brewing Co.
"Historically, San Diego County breweries have won as many—or more—medals than most other entire states at GABF. It's hard to pinpoint why, but many have suggested the innovative spirit that comes from our several strong home brewing clubs, such as QUAFF. I know in Rip Current Brewing's case both of our founding brewers came from QUAFF and the Society of Barley Engineers home-brewing clubs.
"I also believe that the incredible beer culture contributes to the overall success as each new generation of breweries 'grows up,' learning from their elder breweries...We all share knowledge and support each other. For example, we routinely meet with new breweries and provide tips/lessons learned, plus we sell them hops that are no longer available on the market. The mentality is that a rising tide floats all ships, so hopefully we all benefit from everyone making great beer and improving the San Diego beer scene."
Kevin Hopkins, President,
San Diego Brewer's Guild
"San Diego has always led the way for craft beer. From expansions in North Carolina, Virginia and even Germany, our brands are going further and further, and you don't find that anywhere else in the U.S.
"Our craft brands" growth formed other craft brands, which is very unique. One example is Russian River; Pizza Port helped them start out, and they grew into Blind Pig in Temecula and now Russian River in Santa Rosa. Even though San Diego is winning medals, we're also expanding brands. This year's winners have been around for years (Ballast Point for  years, Pizza Port since , etc...) All of these brands go back and help create new folks."
Jill Davidson, San Diego sales rep and brand ambassador, Pizza Port
"It can't go without saying that San Diego is a pioneer town in the beer world, but what is commonly overlooked are all the different avenues that come with being first. When you are first at anything you are taking a risk, and that's a mentality that has never been lost in San Diego beer. Our brewers are constantly pushing the envelope by working with new things, whether it's new ingredients or advances in brewing methods and quality control techniques.
"There is also an enormous amount of trust in the brewers of our community, not only by brewery employees, but by proprietors, investors and the general public. That partnered with the insatiable thirst for awesome beer definitely keeps the bar high in San Diego. It should also be noted that we have the advantage of numbers in our favor. Remember, there are 115 breweries in our county right now and growing."
Full list of San Diego GABF 2015 medalists
Veritas 015, Wood-and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Scripps Pier Stout, Oatmeal Stout