In mid-October, when I find myself morphing into a snowbird, I immediately download the list of the current year’s winners at the Great American Beer Festival. Then I look over the list, making checkmarks next to the beers from award-winning microbreweries that are in cities I’ll be passing through on my way south. When I can, I stop, enjoy a meal, taste one or two of the medal-winning beers, and, if they sell bottles or cans, buy some to take to my destination.

In this post, we’ll note award-winning microbreweries and brewpubs along Interstate 90 and then 25 from Billings, Montana to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Later posts will look at Interstates 15 and 5.

BILLINGS, MONTANA. The largest city between Spokane and Minneapolis, this is one of the fastest growing microbrewing centers in the country. At latest count there were seven breweries in the city. This year’s medal winner: MONTANA BREWING COMPANY, MBC Wheat — gold (American-style wheat beer with yeast).

SHERIDAN, WYOMING: Just an hour’s drive south of where General Custer “met his Waterloo”, the area outside this small city has several stables where polo ponies spend their summers. This year’s medal winner: BLACK TOOTH BREWING COMPANY: Wagon Box Wheat — gold (American-style wheat beer).

FORT COLLINS, COLORADO: Driving south on I-25 toward Fort Collins, you’ll see a giant Budweiser plant to your left. There’s more beer made in it than in all of the microbreweries in the state combined. But if you leave the freeway, you’ll find some of  the finest microbreweries in the western United States. At last count there were 11 of them, with three more being drafted. This year’s medal winners: CB & POTTS RESTAURANT AND BREWERY: 6x Helles — gold (Munich-style helles); EQUINOX BREWING: Knight Ryder Munich Dunkel — gold (European-style dunkel); FORT COLLINS BREWERY: Bambastic  — gold (Smoke Beer); FUNKWERKS BREWING COMPANY: Saison — gold (French- and Belgian-style Saison), Deceit — gold (Belgian-style strong specialty ale); NEW BELGIAN BREWING: NBB Love Felix  — bronze (German-style sour ale).  FUNKWERKS (which specializes in Belgian-style beers) was also named the “Small Brewing Company of the Year” and its brewing team “The Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year.”

DENVER, COLORADO: The Mile High City has more brewpubs and microbreweries than Fort Collins — a lot more. I stopped counting at 20. Here are this year’s medal winners: BULL AND BUSH BREWING: The Tower ESB — silver (Extra Special Bitter); CROOKED STEVE ARTISAN BEER PROJECT: Sentience — silver (Wood- and barrel-aged sour beer); THE SANDLOT: Move Back — gold (Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest), Wild Pitch Hefeweisen — gold (German-style wheat ale); STRANGE BREWING: Dr. StrangeLove — bronze (Barley-wine style beer).

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO: A long hour south of Denver, this city is home to the Air Force Academy. Pike’s Peek is not far out of town. This year’s winner: TRINITY BREWING: TPS Report — bronze (American-style brett).

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO: The largest city between Denver and the Mexican border, it has been called “Portland without Rain,” a reference to its rapidly growing microbrewing scene. There are eight microbreweries and brewpubs, two nearby breweries operate taprooms in town (one is in the airport) and at least three new breweries are listed as in planning. (See my post of  May 8, 2012). This year’s winners: IL VICINO: Milk Chocolate Cherry Stout — bronze (Chocolate beer); MARBLE BREWERY: Double White — bronze (Other strong beer), Imperial Red Ale — silver (Imperial red ale).

I’ve not included awards won by breweries in the many suburbs around Denver, as I wanted to limit the list to places easily accessible from Interstate 25. For a complete list of the 2012 Great American Beer Festival award winners, go to www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/the-competition/winners/ and click on “GABF Winners”. To find out the guidelines used in judging the various styles, click on “Beer Styles” at the same website. To find addresses websites, and telephone numbers of these and other breweries, go to www.craftbeer.com and click on “Find a Brewery.”

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