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The Cleveland Craft Beer Report 

At the awards ceremony of the 2013 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver, Colo., the rest of the country found out what Ohio beer drinkers have known for a while: Ohio's craft brewers create some of the best beers in the United States.

At this year's edition of the nation's most prestigious beer competition, six different Ohio breweries took home eight medals. Fat Heads Brewery fared the best out of Ohio's 19 entrants, snagging three medals, including its second GABF gold. Hop Juju Imperial IPA beat out 148 others to claim the title of the best Imperial India Pale Ale in the country. The category was the second most entered of the 84 judged.

Of the award, head brewer Matt Cole said, "When Three Floyds Permanent Funeral IPA was announced as the silver medal winner, I got nervous, because that's a great beer. But, when they called out Juju, I literally jumped." Cole is far-and-away the state's most celebrated brewer, having previously won 11 medals while brewing at Rocky River Brewing Co. in the late '90s and early 2000s. In fact, the only year Cole entered but didn't medal was 2004.

Along with Juju's gold, Fat Heads claimed a silver medal for Trail Head American Pale Ale in the Fresh Hop Ale category, and a silver in the German-style Schwarzbier category for Black Knight. Juju and Trail Head were brewed at the production brewery in Middleburg Heights, while Black Knight was created at the North Olmsted brewpub.

Two other Northeast Ohio breweries brought home hardware this year. Akron's Hoppin' Frog Brewery won bronze for Barrel Aged BORIS the Crusher Imperial Oatmeal Stout in the Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout category. This marked the fifth GABF win for Hoppin' Frog since "un-barreled" BORIS took gold in 2008. Market Garden Brewery won their first ever GABF medal for Progress Pilsner, which struck bronze in the Kellerbier or Zwickelbier category.

Elsewhere in the state, Samuel Adams Cincinnati Brewery won Gold for Double Bock in the German-style Doppelbock or Eisbock category, one-upping the silver medal it was awarded in the same category last year and beating Cincinnati neighbor Christian Moerlein, whose Emancipator won 2013 bronze. Finally, Dayton's Yellow Springs Brewery took silver for Smokin' Handsome in the Smoke Beer category to claim the brewery's first medal.

If there was an award for the best craft beer selection in the country, Ohio would certainly be a contender. While dozens of breweries have started distributing to Ohio in 2013, this year will indubitably be remembered as the year Fort Collins, Colo., based New Belgium came to town. Details have recently emerged around the brewery's plan for Ohio entry. Superior Beverage Group has been selected as New Belgium's exclusive distributor in Northeast Ohio. Furthermore, a date for entry has been confirmed: New Belgium will be available in Ohio on Dec. 16. Initially, products will be limited to 22-ounce bottles, including flagship Fat Tire Amber Ale, Ranger IPA, Accumulation White IPA, and a few beers from the experimental Lips of Faith series. Limited draft will follow, with 6-packs and 12-packs hitting the state in 2014.

Ohio will be first to see the company's new labels and packaging, which have been refreshed from the look and feel that characterized the brand for the past 10 years. New Belgium is the third largest craft brewer in the United States, having produced just over 750,000 barrels of beer in 2012. A satellite brewery in Asheville, N.C., will add another 400,000 barrels to the company's bottom line, but is not expected to be up and running until 2015. Ohio will raise the company's total number of states of distribution to 35.

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