California has more breweries than any other state and not just by a few. We have twice as many as No. 2-ranked Washington. It's not just quantity, of course. What really matters is quality. California breweries do extremely well at the Great American Beer Festival and international competitions, such as the World Beer Cup.
For many years, the California State Fair included a commercial beer competition. Unfortunately, there were issues with the judging management of the contest. Over time, the event's reputation sank and so did the number of entries. Breweries simply stopped entering their beers -- until now.
The Northern California Brewers Guild took over the judging last year, recognizing the need for a statewide competition. (Full disclosure: I judged the state beer competition in both 2013 and 2014.) This year, 859 different California-made beers were entered in the competition, which included one cider and 25 beer categories. To put that in context, that's nearly 20 percent of the total competing at the nationwide Great American Beer Festival.
Dozens of certified beer judges, cicerones, homebrewers and beer experts spent four days in late June sipping and judging to determine the best beers in California, launching a series of events that is about to include you.
There were medals and ribbons aplenty, but the top honors included brewery of the year, an honor accorded the brewery with the six best beers. This year, that was Antioch's Schooner's Grille and Brewery and brewmaster Craig Cauwels.
Gold, silver and bronze medals -- and a few honorable mentions -- were awarded in each of the 25 beer categories. You'll find many familiar names on the list, which can be found on Eat, Drink, Play at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/eat-drink-play/.
Each gold medal was judged in a separate flight, then the category winners go up against one another to determine the "best of show" beers. These are some of the hardest awards to judge, because every entry is a great beer, but they're all different. So you have to determine which is best on more hedonistic grounds: Which do you like best, or think best exemplifies a particular type of beer? We all like different things, but in the end, three beers emerged as the favorites:
Best of show was awarded to Panic IPA from Sacramento's Track 7 Brewing Co. in the American IPA category. Second place went to Ol' Republic Brewery's California Common in the California Common Beer category, and third went to San Pedro Brewing's Bruin Blonde in the Blonde Ale segment. In addition, a media panel awarded Nevada City's Ol' Republic Brewery best of show for its E.S. B.
It's not over yet. You can try many of the winning beers at this year's California State Fair Brewer's Festival, which will run from 3 to 6 p.m. July 19 at the Miller Lite Grandstands at Sacramento's Cal Expo. Tickets are $15 in advance, or $20 the day of the event. Find details at http://bit.ly/CalStateFair14.
South Bay celebration
Another way to celebrate beer in the Golden State takes place later this month. From July 25 to Aug. 2, Silicon Valley Beer Week will celebrate all the brewpubs, breweries and beer-cuisine that the Silicon Valley has to offer. Last year's inaugural beer week saw 185 events at 80 different venues. This year looks to showcase even more beer-themed events throughout the South Bay, culminating with the Kraftbrew Beer Fest on Aug. 2 at the Gordon Biersch Brewery in downtown San Jose. Find details and a schedule of events at www.svbeerweek.com.