Last month, brewers and industry professionals from all across the globe filed into a banquet hall at the Pennsylvania Convention Center to see if their beer would be named one of the best in the world. The competition, known as the World Beer Cup, recognizes brewing excellence in over 90 style categories, and this year it all went down right here in Philadelphia.
From the UK to Australia, 6,596 beers from 1,907 breweries spanning 55 countries were judged based on style guidelines set forth by the Brewers Association, and on this night the gold, silver and bronze winners from each category would be announced. For Iron Hill co-founder and Director of Brewery Operations, Mark Edelson, the night is met with both excitement and nervousness.
“We have been in the World Beer Cup since 2000. We actually didn’t win anything that year, but have won in the World Beer Cup ever since. I would say that the awards ceremony is more nerve-racking now than in the early years—there is a lot more expectation placed on us as always winning. Back then, there were no expectations.”
Based on the look of most everyone in attendance, it was clear that Mark was not the only one feeling a bit anxious. Some paced, some fidgeted in their seats and some sat with remarkable stillness—eyes fixated on the stage they hoped to walk across at some point in the next two hours. For us, that sought after moment would come not only once, but a total of five times over the course of the night.
Starting things off on a good note, our first medal of the evening would be awarded during the 11th category, Coffee Beer. Overload Stout, an Imperial Stout aged on rich chocolate nibs and locally roasted coffee, received a silver medal and brought then West Chester Lead Brewer (now Lead Brewer of North Wales) Chris Endrikat to the stage accompanied by Sr. Head Brewer, Paul Rutherford.
“It was an incredible feeling. Making it more special was the fact that I got to go up on stage with my boss and mentor, Paul Rutherford. Overload Stout is Paul’s recipe, and was brewed by myself and Assistant Brewer Nadine Banks. I really enjoy the camaraderie and teamwork that is so integral to the brewery industry. This beer was no exception to that.”
The next win of the night came for Iron Hill Media’s Andrew Johnston, who would go on to receive a total of three medals throughout the course of the evening, two being for Russians—a category in which we have a history of placing.
“I was nervous about those two beers, Russian Imperial Stout and Solzhenitsyn (Aged Russian), because they were coming from the store that has repeatedly won medals with these beers at both Great American Beer Fest and World Beer Cup. I just kept thinking, ‘How am I going to look if I don’t win medals for Russian? Higher Powers that be, if I can only win two medals this year let them be for the Russians.’”
In addition to the Russians, Andrew and Regional Brewer Kevin Walter would make a third walk across the stage for Valentinus IPA, which received silver in the Double Red Ale category.
“That first and second medal I was excited—those were the Russians. The Higher Powers let me have those wins and a great weight was off my shoulders. That third medal was killer! I was blown away. In the end I was excited to have another recipe that I had designed win a medal (Black IPA winning bronze at the 2012 Great American Beer Fest was the first). Don’t get me wrong, the two Russian medals were great, but I was overly excited about the Valentinus IPA.”
With the night already going so well, spirits were high and smiles slowly began to replace previously tense expressions. What had earlier been a quiet corner of the room where the Iron Hill team patiently waited to hear their name announced was now buzzing with excitement and congratulations. However, for Voorhees Lead Brewer Justin Rodgers, whose Belgian-Style Tripel category was still to come, relaxing was not yet an option.
“I was nervous! This was the first time I had not only one, but two beers entered into any major competition. I kept thinking, ‘This is a tough category, I’m going up against the monks who have been brewing and perfecting this style for hundreds of years.’ I was just honored to be considered in the same class as them no matter the outcome.”
For Justin, the outcome would end up being a gold medal for Bedotter, a traditional Belgian-style golden ale with complex aroma and notes of plum, spice and banana with refreshing balanced bitterness. The win—which many brewers only dream of, much less achieve, during their first entry into such a competition—came as a shock to the brewer who began as an assistant only 2 years prior.
“After the third and second place winners were announced I was thinking, ‘Well, at least I made it into the competition by winning the Iron Hill panel.’ Then there was a long pause…… ‘The gold medal winner is Bedotter from Iron Hill Brewery,’ and I froze. I thought, ‘No way they just said that. Am I dreaming? GOLD?!’ Meanwhile all of my coworkers around me were screaming, cheering and congratulating me. I was still in shock the whole time walking up to the podium to receive the award. I was saying to Brian Finn (Sr. Head Brewer) ‘I really can’t believe that just happened—best in the world?!’ It was such a surreal moment and I am so thankful for my Iron Hill family who have always been there for support, comfort and sharing knowledge. That is what makes Iron Hill so great!”
For Mark Edelson, winning gold in this particular category was especially validating.
“Winning in the World Beer Cup is meaningful because we are the best in the WORLD. When we go into competition with foreign brewers, we are competing with breweries who have been brewing these styles for generations. So Bedotter winning a GOLD medal for the Belgian-Style Tripel gives us an extra sense of pride that we were chosen over the people that invented the style.”
When all was said and done, we took home five medals to add to the 25 we have won at the World Beer Cup since 2000. As Mark sees it, “Consistently winning year after year validates that we make great beer day in and day out and it was not some fluke.” This sentiment was echoed by Chris Endrikat.
“I think winning medals (whether at WBC or GABF) is a validation that you are doing things the correct way, though there are a lot of brewers and breweries making amazing beer that did not win medals. However, I think the frequency of medals won speaks volumes to the commitment to quality that Iron Hill has. It’s also always cool to see your friends win, whether they be Iron Hill brewers (Andrew Johnston and Justin Rodgers this year) or brewers from other companies.”
So what’s next for Iron Hill and our award-winning beer? Well this Friday, June 24th, you can taste the gold medal Bedotter for yourself and meet the brewer, Justin Rodgers, at our Voorhees location. The release will go from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. but our loyal King of the Hill members can order a pint starting at 5:00. Bedotter will also be available in cans starting August 2nd at all Iron Hill locations, so mark your calendars to stop by and grab one!
With 11 locations in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, there’s an Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant near you. We specialize in handcrafted beers and fresh, from-scratch New American cuisine. Monthly releases vary by location, so scout out our beers on tap and visit us soon.
Content provided by Sophia DiPersio
Photos © Jason E. Kaplan