How to Find—and Sell—America's Best Beers

 
October’s GABF was the 35th annual edition of the festival, which drew some 60,000 attendees.
October’s GABF was the 35th annual edition of the festival, which drew some 60,000 attendees. Thinkstock

For restaurants, locating the winners from The Great American Beer Festival isn't always easy, which makes marketing and showcasing those brews even more imperative than usual.

Getting your hands on brands that medaled in the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) sometimes can be a feat in itself. But that’s only half the battle. Once the award-winning brews are on the menu, the next task at hand is to tell guests that they’re there and why they’re so special.

“It’s an advantage to share with consumers tableside when something is validated to be of top quality,” advises Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, the trade organization that represents the country’s small brewers and produces the GABF. “A brewer is not going to win a bronze, silver or gold unless their beer is deemed to be a world-class example of that style. When [GABF] gives out a medal, it means something; it’s one of the most established festivals and it’s the most geographically diverse competition in the U.S.”

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October’s GABF was the 35th annual edition of the festival, which drew some 60,000 attendees.

Craft brewers have, for a while now, been leading an effort to put beer on par with wine in diners’ consciousness. They’ve made significant strides in that regard, as beer has played an increasingly prominent role in the culinary world. However, there’s still a bit of a consumer learning curve when it comes to the significance of festival medals. Many are more familiar with prestigious wine competitions than they are with their beer counterparts. And the latter tend to work a bit differently than the former.

“Wine competitions,” Herz says, “historically award points and if you reach a certain point level, it means you achieve a gold, silver, double gold, etc. So you have multiple of those [winners] in a category. At the GABF, that’s not the case. There’s one silver, one bronze, one gold and a lot of times it won’t award a medal in every one of those cases.”

For instance, in the 2016 competition, bronze was the only medal awarded in the pumpkin/squash beer category.   

Despite the fact that the number of competition categories continues to grow, a GABF medal hasn’t lost any of its cachet.

“If anything, winning a medal is more prestigious than ever,” says Alex Davis, general manager of Library Alehouse in Santa Monica, California. “There are more categories, but the number of entries into competition has so far outpaced the category expansion that winning is more difficult than it’s ever been.”

Details such as those make good talking points for wait staff to promote the winning beers on tap or in bottles.

“It’s nice to use the medal as a selling point when interacting with customers,” Davis notes. “If they are unfamiliar with a given brewery then winning a medal can remove some doubt from their purchasing decisions.

Josh Fernands, bar and beverage director for Washington, D.C.’s Pizzeria Paradiso, agrees, noting that staff communication is essential.

“We make our staff aware when beers have won an award, so they can have a dialogue with customers about it,” Fernands says.

Obtaining multiple medal-winning beers at one time may not always be the simplest task, but if an establishment is able to secure a few, scheduling a special GABF Showcase night or, if possible, a full-on tap takeover’s a great way to drive excitement around the winners.

“It all comes back to what matters at tableside and what matters at tableside is not just the awesome expanded beer selection but the fact that the establishment is committed to world-class quality beer,” says Herz. “And it matters to the individual customer; if it’s between having a medal or non-medal beer, I’d often rather try the medal-winning beer.” 

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