Congratulations are in order for Topa Topa Brewing Company, winner of the 2018 Best in Fest brewery competition, part of Casa Pacifica’s 25th Anniversary Wine, Food & Brew Festival taking place in June.

The Ventura brewery’s Chief Peak IPA took top honors as selected by a panel of seven judges, though the competition was fierce.

The 2018 event was the first time the competition was open to the public, held at Bottle & Pint at The Annex in Oxnard. Guests were treated to selections of small bites from Pancake, Scratch Sandwiches and Seoul Sausage to accompany the 12 very generous pours.

An interactive guess-the-brewer game proved trickier than expected. The last brewery I expected to submit a pilsner was Camarillo’s Institution Ale. Sneaky. Ojai Valley Brewery wins my personal favorite of the competition with a Belgian Wit featuring pixie tangerines and orchard blossoms, and MadeWest’s rye IPA comes in a close second. My “surprisingly not-offensive” award goes to the Golden Ale with peanut butter and chocolate from Westlake Village’s 14 Cannons Brewery, a fun entry that perplexed host Curtis Taylor.

Attendees sampled 12 beers alongside the judges at Bottle & Pint in Oxnard, the first time the competition has been open to the public.

The judges, wielding professional palates sharpened by years of quaffing, chose via blind tasting Institution’s pilsner, MadeWest’s rye IPA and Topa Topa’s American IPA as the final contenders.

Judge Jason Hendrick, general manager of Barrelhouse 101, said that he was searching for a winner that encapsulated the “spirit of the festival.” Kevin Pratt, dubbed the nation’s second-highest-rated beer judge, said that the first thought that popped to mind when tasting the American IPA was “Pliny,” referencing the much sought-after Russian River Brewing Company brew. Rounding out the panel were Zach Rosen, certified Cicerone; Erin Peters, AKA the Beer Goddess; Bec O’Neal, sales rep for Stone Distribution Company; Lisa “Monie” Wickenden, beer specialist for Wine Warehouse; and Jorge Alem, co-owner of Ojai Beverage Company.

With a countdown from three, the judges raised their favorites, with a large majority choosing the American IPA. (Candidly, several said that they had a gut feeling it was a Topa Topa brew.)

The Chief Peak will be featured at Casa Pacifica’s 25th Anniversary Wine, Food & Brew Festival on Sunday, June 3, in Camarillo.