A pair of Kern breweries took home an extraordinary five medals at the Great American Beer Festival last weekend in Denver — a testament, the local winners say, to the county's sophisticated approach to beer-making.
Kernville's Kern River Brewing Co. took home two golds and two silvers, as well as the Brewery Group of the Year honor, while Temblor Brewing Co. in Bakersfield won bronze.
"I'm still trying to absorb all this," said Eric Giddens, who owns KRBC with his wife, Rebecca. The couple had only just arrived home Monday after driving home from Denver.
At an event billed as the most prestigious beer competition in the world, the Brewers Association awarded 318 medals to 283 breweries across the United States. Some whole states didn't win as many medals as Kern breweries did.
KRBC's Belgian-style blonde, Nènette, won gold, as did the brewery's session India pale ale, Gravity Check. Its brown porter, called Brown Claw, and its double hoppy red ale, Side Hike, won silver.
Temblor's Belgian-style wit, Under a Blood Orange Sky, won a bronze medal.
Temblor's head brewer, Mike Lahti, said the honor felt good.
"I've been doing this 16 years and this is the first (Great American Beer Festival award) for a beer I've designed," he said. "One of those things that every brewer wants to do is get a medal at GABF."
Lahti added that Kern's strong showing speaks to the county's emerging national reputation.
"I think it shows that, obviously, competition amongst ourselves has all helped us challenge ourselves to make better beer, to keep up with the competition," he said.
Giddens said he and others representing KRBC celebrated the announcement of Temblor's win as they were picking up their own medals.
"I think (Kern's combined total of five medals) shows that the beer landscape in Kern County is changing," he said. "I think people in Kern County are going to start taking notice and enjoying that beer."
Though dwarfed by the brewing mecca of San Diego County, which won 18 of the 68 medals awarded to the Golden State in this year's GABF, Kern's brewing community has come a long way in the last several years. There are now five independent breweries in Bakersfield alone, with another on the way.
In all, the competition judged 9,497 beers from 2,295 breweries.
No brewery company won more medals at this year's GABF than KRBC, which launched in 2005 and expanded in 2016 to a second location next door.
"What blows me away is that this was the largest beer competition in the world to date," Giddens said. "For a small brewery in a mountain town in Kern County to come away as the most decorated brewery in the bunch just split my mind."