Oyster City strikes gold twice at U.S. Open Beer Championships

Oyster City Brewing Company's Mangrove Pale Ale, and  Millpond Dirty Blonde, one of the original three beers Oyster City brewed when it first opened its taps in 2014, both took home gold awards.

As we sat down to write this week's Around The Brew Bend column — which is coming up on almost 3 years of covering all corners of the craft beer scene in North Florida and South Georgia — it occurred to us that in the nearly 100 articles we've written during that span, we've had never had the pleasure of writing about one of our breweries winning a gold medal in the U.S. Open Beer Championships.

Well, all that changes today.

Put your collective digital hands together for our friends at Oyster City Brewing Company in beloved Apalachicola — a favorite getaway place and home away from home for many of us here in Tallahassee — because it was announced this past weekend that OCBC won not one, but TWO gold medals in the 2020 U.S. Open Beer Championships!

OCBC's Mangrove Pale Ale, which is a sweet ale fruited with mango that clocks in at 8.2% ABV, won gold in the American Fruit Beer category. And Millpond Dirty Blonde, one of the original three beers Oyster City brewed when it first opened its taps in 2014, also took home gold in the Golden or Blonde Ale division.

Yes, the U.S. Open Beer Championships is as big of a deal as it sound; it's the Granddaddy of American beer competitions. And yes, there is an enormous field of breweries to compete against. And yes, this is arguably the CROWNING achievement of Oyster City Brewing Company in its six years of existence.

But don't just take our word for it. We'll let Clayton Mathis, longtime head brewer and GM, tell you how these wins felt.

"I was excited when I got a call from Cassie Gary (one of the original founders) about 6:10 pm on Sunday (right after it was announced). We laughed, screamed, and shared congratulations. Then we spread the word through some phone calls and text messages. We were all thrilled to win," said Clayton, who sent in eight different beers to the competition — the max allowed per brewery.

"We’ve won a silver medal for Hooter Brown in the honey beer category at the U.S. Open, and another in the Imperial Brown Ale category. And we also won a silver medal for Red Right Return Amber Ale in the Amber/Red Ale category. But never a gold -- two golds was special.

"We enter 4 events most years: The Great American Beer Festival, Best Florida Beer Champions, the World Beer Cup, and the US Open Beer Championship. The US Open is definitely kind of the Super Bowl, though. With so many entries, and it being the competition we won our first award, it will always hold a special place for us."

Hooter Brown Ale, which is Oyster City's best-selling beer throughout its Southeast markets, didn't take home anything from the U.S. Open this year, but it's been awarded two silvers in the past at this event and is coming off a gold-medal win earlier this year at the Best Florida Beer Championships in Tampa. 

We've often (half) joked with Clayton that Mangrove — which is a personal favorite of the Tallahassee Beer Society (and many other craft beer fans we know) — would one day surpass Hooter Brown both in sales and popularity. That's just how great a beer it is. So when we told him this gold medal felt like validation for US, all he could do was laugh.

Perhaps the most rewarding thing about winning a gold medal for Mangrove Pale Ale is that it was a "happy accident," mistake beer you hear breweries talk about making sometimes. The way Clayton tells it, the Oyster City brew crew went to make a batch of First Light of Day Blonde Ale back in 2014 and accidentally doubled the grain bill.

Unsure what to do with what they'd created, the mad scientists at OCBC tossed a little fresh mango in the tank, some sugar, some love and some magic — and Mangrove Pale Ale was born. 

To further delve into what an enigma this beer is, you rarely see a pale ale over 6% ABV, and Mangrove somehow clocks in at 8.2% — basically making it an IMPERIAL Pale Ale (which really isn't "a thing" except for here in North Florida!). Yet it drinks like a 5% hoppy fruit bomb.

We'll never forget the look on the face of Cigar City founder Joey Redner when he joined us on our ESPN 97.9 FM Radio show last year and we opened a Mangrove for him to try. His eyebrows raised as he picked up the can and looked it over. 

We'll paraphrase the conversation that followed:

Joey: "Wait, so what is this?"

Us: "It's Mangrove Pale Ale — an imperial pale ale with mango from Oyster City down in Apalachicola, about 80 miles Southwest of Tallahassee on the Forgotten Coast."

Joey: "And what's the ABV again?"

Us: *laughing* "8.2% -- but wait until you taste it."

Joey: *tastes it* "Wow ... OK."

Dirty Blonde, meanwhile, has its own cool backstory. It was not only one of the first three beers Oyster City tapped when it opened in 2014 — along with Hooter Brown and Apalach IPA — but it was also one of the first beers distributed on taps around North Florida when Oyster City signed with Tri-Eagle Distribution that same year.

"It’s such a great beer!" Clayton gushed about OCBC's Dirty Blonde, which is now one of five beers that Oyster City offers in cans (with Mangrove being another) and sells in grocery and package stores across the Southeast. "This is the beer we sell most in our tasting room, and we are thrilled to see it win its first medal in one of the Big 4. The blonde/golden ale category is crowded, so we are extremely proud."

And we're dang proud too. 

When we started the Tallahassee Beer Society in July 2017, there were five thriving breweries in Tallahassee, none in South Georgia and none to the immediate East or West. But then there was Oyster City, two counties over and an hour and a half away —yet they were long-established and already making award-winning beer.

It posed a minor geographic dilemma for us at first, but quickly we realized we were the "Tallahassee" Beer Society only in name and primary focus — since Tallahassee was our home. And we decided early on that if you were a brewery anywhere within a short drive from us, you belonged in the TLHBS Family. And adding Oyster City remains one of the best decisions we've ever made. 

In addition to Oyster City being an all-star member of the TLHBS, it laid the foundation to cover an additional five breweries over the next three years as they slowly opened in and around the Tallahassee area: Halpatter Brewing (Lake City, Opened 2017), Eastpoint Beer Company (Eastpoint, 2018), Georgia Beer Company (Valdosta, Ga., 2019), Southern Philosophy Brewing (Bainbrdge, Ga., 2019), and Southern Fields Brewing (Campbellton, 2020).

In short: It's been a heck of a ride for our craft beer scene over the last three years —highlighted by moments like Oyster City's double gold medals in the U.S. Open Beer Championships — and we feel grateful to be here every step of the way. 

Congrats once again, OCBC! Well-deserved awards — and here's to many more!

Danny Aller is the co-founder, along with Matthew Crumbaker, of the TLH Beer Society, a group of avid craft beer lovers. Reach the Beer Society on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or email: tlhbeersociety@gmail.com

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