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It’s that time of year again. San Diego’s brewers just made their annual easterly migration toward the Rocky Mountains. Their destination: Denver, Colorado. Their mission: bring back as much hardware as possible from the largest annual craft brewing competition in the country—the Great American Beer Festival (GABF).

Each year, gold, silver, and bronze medals are handed out for the top three versions of 84 beer styles. The results of those individual competitions also dictate which companies are named the Large, Medium-sized, and Small Brewing Companies of the Year as well as the Large and Small Brewpubs of the year. This is a competition that San Diego brewing companies have fared well in historically.

Much of the region’s recent success has come via the San Diego-based Pizza Port chain of brewpubs. Last year, Pizza Port’s brewpubs accounted for a total of 13 medals, five of them gold. For the past three years, Pizza Port Carlsbad has won Large Brewpub of the Year, and last year, the chain’s Ocean Beach location won Small Brewpub of the Year, making it a clean sweep for 2011. But since then, there’s been some shake-up.

Jeff Bagby, who’s quite possibly won more GABF medals than any individual brewer in history, has left the company to open his own North County coastal brewpub. On top of that, Pizza Port Ocean Beach head brewer Yiga Miyashiro has since shifted his energies from the coast to establishment of the business’ fourth location—a combination brewpub and production facility in Carlsbad’s inland Bressi Ranch community (though, he almost certainly played a prominent role in brewing the beers shipped to Denver for GABF judging). It will be interesting to see if Pizza Port can maintain its dominance this year.

In 2011, the bottled beers produced by Pizza Port’s The Lost Abbey and Port Brewing garnered a silver and bronze apiece as well. Other San Diegans to medal included AleSmith, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, and Rock Bottom’s La Jolla brewpub, bringing San Diego’s total medal count to 20.

This year’s GABF—the 31st iteration of this beer blowout—will be the largest yet, with well over 4,000 total entries from 676 breweries and brewpubs (including 154 first-time entrants). With over 50 operating brewhouses in San Diego, our region certainly has a large number of horses in the race (not that all of them entered the competition)—but then again, so does everybody else as the number of craft breweries in America continues to rise at an astronomical rate.

Remaining as successful as our county’s brewers have has been will be no small feat. It’s a trend that’s only going to get harder maintain, but hope, like hoppy double IPAs from local tap handles, springs eternal. Check back tomorrow for a list of winners following the GABF awards ceremony.

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