Central Oregon brewers won three gold medals, a bronze and the “small brewing company of the year” award at this year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Sunriver Brewing Co. was named the small brewing company and small brewing company brewer of the year Saturday in Denver, the Brewers Association announced.

Sunriver took gold medals for its Fuzztail in the American wheat beer with yeast category, which drew 52 entries, and Cinder Beast, in the imperial red category, with 41 entries.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” Karin Devencenzi, Sunriver Brewing chief operating officer, said Monday. “I think for us it has validated some of the decisions we’ve made about the styles of beer that we’re doing.”

The small brewing company and brewer of the year goes to a brewer that produces between 1,000 and 14,999 barrels of beer annually, according to the nonprofit Brewers Association.

The Great American Beer Festival is the nation’s largest event of its kind. This year, 2,217 breweries made 7,923 entries in 98 brewing categories, according to the Brewers Association. Oregon breweries took home seven gold medals, in addition to the small brewery and brewer of the year title.

Sweet As Pacific Ale, by GoodLife Brewing Co. in Bend, won gold in the American-style wheat beer category, which drew 39 entries.

And Three Creeks Brewing Co., of Sisters, won bronze for its Stonefly Session Ale in the session beer category, which drew 40 entries.

Fuzztail is a mainstay at Sunriver Brewing, as is Sweet As Pacific Ale at GoodLife, where managing partner and co-founder Ty Barnett on Monday said the gold award was particularly satisfying.

“This is our first (Great American Beer Festival) medal ever, and it happened to be gold, and it happened to be for Sweet As, our flagship,” he said. “We’re pretty stoked.”

Curt Plants, a co-founder of GoodLife who died in April at 33, created the recipe for Sweet As and the beer was the first brewed on the GoodLife brewing system, Barnett said.

“We’re saying this one’s for Curt; this was his baby,” he said. “He was definitely helping us out.”

At Three Creeks Brewing, General Manager Wade Underwood said Stonefly is one of the 9-year-old brewery’s original creations, too.

“We’re pleased to see it getting its due in the face of stiff competition,” he said Monday.

An award from the Great American Beer Festival, in addition to bragging rights, adds strength to brewery marketing campaigns. To Barnett, for whom Sweet As is the brewery’s No. 1 seller, a gold award means attention paid by retailers, and potentially, a better position on their shelves.

Underwood said beer aficionados will gravitate toward the award-winning beers, so he expects a blip in sales, at least in the short term. Last year, Three Creeks’ FivePine Chocolate Porter won gold in the brown porter category at the annual beer festival in Denver.

At Sunriver, Devencenzi said the gold medals and the small brewer of the year title may inform decisions the brewery makes in its marketing and expansion plans for 2018. Sunriver recently added production capacity at its brewery and expanded its distribution into Idaho.

“We’ve been talking about 2018 and where do we go from here,” she said. “Acknowledgment at GABF helps us understand that Fuzztail, which we picked as our brand, is a great choice. We’ve not done much to promote that brand and we realize it’s a great beer. Maybe we should put more energy and marketing into it and introduce it to more people.”

In 2016, Fuzztail also won gold at the biennial World Beer Cup, another event sponsored by the Brewers Association. Also last year, Sunriver Brewing won silver at the Great American Beer Festival for its Rippin Northwest Ale.

“It’s been a good year,” said Ryan Duley, Sunriver Brewing director of sales and marketing. “I’m going to use every medium I can to relay this information, not just for Fuzztail but for brewery of the year.”

Sunriver Brewing will produce just under 7,000 barrels of beer this year, he said. Brett Thomas, who, with the Sunriver Brewing team was named the small brewing company brewer of the year, could not be reached Monday.

In all, 13 Oregon breweries took home 17 medals from the beer festival. Breakside Brewery & Taproom in Milwaukie won the most medals of any Oregon brewery, four, all bronze, including for its Breakside IPA in the American-style India pale ale category, the largest category, with 408 entires. Breakside also scored bronze medals for its Stay West, an American-style strong pale ale and its Passionfruit Sour Ale and Rye Curious.

— Reporter: 541-617-7815, jditzler@bendbulletin.com

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