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Bear Republic Pace Car Racer MEDALS at Great American Beer Festival


Bear Republic Pace Car Racer MEDALS at Great American Beer Festival

Undeniable: Bear Republic Continues GABF Success

By Tom Edwards

It’s a remarkable occasion when every four years, our media spotlight turns to the legions of dedicated athletes who ascend out of relative obscurity and shine amidst Olympic intensity. A medal of any kind is sacredly cherished by the beneficiary, and internationally regarded as a symbol of hard work, talent, and perseverance.

For commercial breweries in the states, there is one competition that carries a translatable weight, and that’s none other than the Great American Beer Festival. Held every October in Denver, CO, GABF is the world’s biggest beer contest, pitting almost two thousand breweries against one another in a highly contested battle for style supremacy.

2016 marked GABF’s 35th year, and in an industry that has seen double digit growth for over a decade, the competition was razor sharp. Of the 7,277 beers entered, 286 medals were awarded across 96 categories, effectively covering 161 of the world’s best beer styles.

In a market where there is such a massive scope of products, trying to gauge which beers are worthy of your hard earned dollars can be challenging. Sure, there are seven zillion beer bloggers with innumerable opinions, but GABF transcends by employing only the cream of the crop to taste and rate, and that’s why medals matter.

A placing at GABF can put a fledgling brewery on the map, or reinforce a more established company’s dominance; either way, the publicity and respect is sure to drive some desirable economic impacts for the recipients.

Enter The Bear

Bear Republic is no stranger to GABF.

Bear Republic Brewing CompanyThe 2006 Brewer and Brewery of the Year has won at least one medal at every GABF for the last thirteen years, and three others between 1998-1999. With a medal streak older than a sixth grader, one cannot help appreciating this justifiably insane feat. 

Bear Republic plays many a hand in the world of beer flavor, from the viscous and roasty Big Bear Black Stout (former American-Style Stout Silver Medal winner), to the crisp and clean Double Aught (two-time Bohemian-Style Pilsner Bronze Medal winner), but it’s undeniable their bread and butter is the hop-forward ale - a genre they helped forge with such beers as the ever famous Racer 5 IPA, and the groundbreaking Hop Rod Rye - widely accepted as the first commercially produced Rye IPA.

Along with Racer 5’s hard earned Gold and three Silvers, four other IPA medals have been won over the years: Gold for Apex in the American Style IPA, Silver for Cafe Racer 15 in the Imperial IPA, Bronze for Black Racer in the American Style Black Ale, and Silver for Pace Car Racer in the Session IPA.

The Newcomer

Pace Car Racer is the latest addition to the Racer family, and this year’s medal is notable for a variety of reasons.

The Session IPA category is relatively young in the scheme of things, and it’s nice to see Bear keeping tabs on the progressive edge of the industry. In addition, the style itself is uniquely tricky to brew because it goes against conventional intuition on balance. With most IPAs, there is generally a positive correlation between ABV and IBUs; as one increases, so does the other. Session IPAs are counter intuitive in that the ABV remains very low yet the bitterness and overall hop character mimics that of a higher gravity IPA.

This unconventional gravity/bitterness balance really unmasks the hop character and if not careful, the resulting flavor can be a belligerent hop bomb. 

Bear approached Pace Car Racer with an understanding of the aforementioned Session intricacies and got to work engineering a beer that lets you scratch your hop itch, but not your BAC.

The Deets

Coming in at 4% ABV and 55 IBUs, Pace Car Racer is a straw colored ale with a diverse ingredients bill. To combat potential hop aggression, a high-end blend of pale ale, crystal, and wheat malts are used. To add a bit of zip, flaked rye is also mashed; rounding out the malt profile to a smooth margin.

To achieve it’s West Coast-worthy hop character, Bear Republic utilized some of the most tried and true varieties in the book: Centennial, Cascade, and Citra. You don’t have to be a cicerone to recognize that employing this combination is a dynamite way to present brilliant notes of citrus, pine, and grapefruit. I’m suddenly very thirsty…

If you’re wondering what foods will honor your next Pace Car Racer tasting, feel confident in soft cheeses, roasted artichokes, burgers, spicy foods, beef, or hot wings.

Undeniable: Bear Republic Continues GABF Success

Exclusive Words from the Man Himself

It’s always a treat to get into the minds of those that lead our favorite local businesses. Richard Norgrove, Brewmaster and COO of Bear Republic Brewing, was kind enough to reminisce on fond memories and future outlooks. 

1. Youve had a lengthy history at GABF. Is there a particular memory or medal that you hold above the rest? 

The medal that I hold above the rest is the bronze medal for Heritage in the Scotch Ale category in 2013. When my daughter Ryleigh was born, this is the beer that my wife Tami requested. I had been making it for years. Heritage is exactly what the name means; it’s part of our Scottish lineage. For many years I have tried to drink all the medal winning beers and classic examples of the style to try and make my own recipe of those types of beers. It was extremely important to win a medal with that beer. I was chasing this for such a long time that it got to the point where Tami said, “Why are you constantly changing the recipe?” I must have 16 or so variations of the original recipe. My daughter is 17 years old now, so when I got around to making the beer again, I went back to the original recipe that I brewed and that’s the recipe that we won the medal with. So, I actually had it all along but I kept changing little things like the malt and the fermentation profile. Heritage was also the base flavor profile for Red Rocket, which is the beer that started Bear Republic. 

2. Entering beers to GABF can be costly and time consuming, what is it about the event that makes it all worth it?

Richard Norgrove, Brewmaster and COO of Bear Republic BrewingFor us, now, it’s a level of consistency. What makes it worth it is not necessarily winning, but going to represent California. When people come to our booth, that is sometimes the first time that they’ve been exposed to Bear Republic. It’s extremely important that they get a good first impression. We treat all the beers that we send to GABF the same way we treat the beers that you would normally buy, it’s just that it’s someone’s first impression sometimes.

3. What was the inspiration behind Pace Car Racer?

As I’m getting older and wanting the beer flavor, I’m not always looking for all the calories. We wanted to make a beer that was in the style of the Racer series. Exactly as the name infers, you can have a couple of them. It’s our light beer. It’s not light in flavor at all, but it’s our answer to light beer. 

4. How did you approach designing the beer? 

The best part about it is that now, not every time is it done individually. It’s not very frequent that I actually get to sit and design one beer by myself because there are a lot of very good brewers around here. So, we did this one as a team and there were a lot of hands in the cookie jar on this. It’s why it’s so good – it’s just another form of collaboration within our team.

5. Do you sense an overall trend towards lower ABV beers?

Answer: No, I really don’t. The trends are for big, hoppy IPAs. You could drink this beer and not know that it’s 4% alcohol. That was the goal. This beer helps you feel like you’re drinking what you’re used to and be more socially responsible at the same time.

7. Any plans for future additions to the Racer family?

There are no plans at this time. I think our Racer IPA family is pretty well defined, but Bear Republic will have other IPAs and beers that will come out. Pretty much at this point the Racer series is Pace Car Racer, Racer 5, Racer X, and Café Racer 15. Look for Racer in whisky!

There you have it, folks - the only Sonoma County beer to win a medal at GABF, and the dawning of a new generation of Racers. 

For a list of where you can find Pace Car Racer, check out