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Colorado's beer festivals are becoming victims of their own success

Colorado's beer festivals are becoming victims of their own success
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Craft-beer geeks in Colorado are used to good news: more breweries, new beers and the continued growth of an industry that makes most Coloradans proud, happy and pleasantly buzzed. But for anyone who likes going to beer fests — and the season kicks off this week with the South Denver Beer Festival, at Littleton's Clement Park — there were some news items last week that reminded people how craft beer's popularity can also make it a pain.

For starters, the Boulder-based Brewers Association, which hosts the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver, announced that ticket prices will be $75 this year, up $10 from 2012 — and $20 higher than they were in 2010.

That price increase would be acceptable for most people if it meant that the tickets were easier to come by, but more than likely, they will sell out in minutes, if not seconds, when they go on sale (sometime this summer), just as they did last year. In fact, the Brewers Association had to navigate a bit of a PR mess in 2012 when many tickets ended up in the hands of scalpers, leaving some longtime GABF-goers out of luck. A few angry beer geeks blamed Ticketmaster for the situation and suggested that the Brewers Association come up with another way to sell tickets — but the organization will return to Ticketmaster this year for the festival, which takes place October 10-12.

But GABF isn't the only tough ticket in town. Avery Brewing's fourth annual Boulder SourFest also sold out in seconds on April 24. One of the premier Colorado beer festivals, SourFest has to be an exclusive event, because the featured style — the sour and wild ales that are brewed with brettanomyces yeast and various bacterias — is difficult and time-consuming to make, and therefore in short supply. As a result, Avery only releases 400 tickets. Although the fest is amazing, it typically generates bad publicity — along with nice hype for the brewery because of the ticket limit.

"We just kind of prepare ourselves for it each year," says Avery spokesman Joe Osborne. "We know we'll get the most hate mail about this, and we had many passionate arguments internally on how to handle this, but we will feel like the fairest way to do it is online, because people come from all over the country to attend."

The third piece of bad news for beer-fest fans affects the aforementioned South Denver Beer Fest, a brand-new festival that takes place May 4-5. Alongside dozens of well-known and well-loved existing breweries, the organizers had originally intended to include beers from at least ten different breweries-in-planning — companies that were experimenting with their recipes but hadn't yet opened for business. To keep from violating any state liquor laws, however, these would-be breweries were going to be grouped in an area designated for home brewers. But late last week, the Colorado Department of Revenue, which handles liquor licenses, told fest organizers Jeremy Hutaff and Mike Burns that the breweries-in-planning could be jeopardizing their shot at getting a liquor license if they participated.

The problem, says department spokeswoman Ro Silva, is a rule that limits home brewers to serving their beer only at contests, and then only to judges and participants in those contests. The statute also prevents home brews from being sold to or consumed by the general public. "So they could be charged with selling without a license, which could affect their applications," Silva says.

The call was frustrating for Hutaff, who thought he had cleared the arrangement with the department's Liquor and Tobacco Enforcement Division. "They changed their mind," he says. "And we don't want to risk the future of any of these breweries or put anyone in jeopardy." As a result, the home-brew competition won't be held, and the general public won't get to try out the beers from these would-be brewers. "Hopefully, we'll be able to do it next year," Hutaff says.

 
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7 comments
OvalOptions
OvalOptions

Nice article, but exactly how are the breweries victims?  I can see how frustrating this South Denver Fest must be for the new breweries--but they're new and have no success (yet) by which to be victims.  The GABF price keeps climbing: I haven't purchased a ticket in years. Luckily I got into the volunteer pool, which is fun and free. It seems the GABF is less concerned about the current market (of beer lovers) and more about attracting new consumers. That said, GABF week is quite full with awesome beer events for us geeks. 

Still, GABF-Sour Fest-Rare Beer prices aren't hurting the breweries. These fests all sell out. Utilizing Ticketmaster is probably the biggest PR blunder as it somewhat betrays the anti-corporate atmosphere of craft brewing. 

AlannahRB
AlannahRB

Great comments here and I agree with all of them.  I have never even tried to attend GABF and at this point I definitely don't think I ever will (plus, with so many amazing local events outside of the fest, it seems like there's better stuff to attend at the same time anyway). 

I bought a ticket for Sour Fest this year and I went into it knowing that my odds were not good, but I was successful (maybe because I only bought one and didn't need to fumble with the dropdown menu?).  I thought the anger on Facebook was ridiculous - most of the comments said that "real" beer fans weren't able to attend.  I am a "real" beer fan (whatever that means) and I'm excited to get a chance to experience something I've never been to before.  So for whatever I reason I managed to get a ticket, I am grateful.  I also won't whine in the future when I get shut out and other people have the chance to go.  Demand outweighs supply and that's not going to change any time soon.

99problems
99problems

I think there's a significant difference between the GABF 'selling out' in seconds to largely scalpers and the Avery Sour Fest selling out in the same time frame because it's not all that big and Avery is kind of bad ass.  Past that, this sounds like one of the most whiny, first world 'problems' ever.  Business is going to price tickets to meet demand, as well they should, and consumers can either choose to pay up (and, on another fake problem note, since there's basically some sort of beer fest every weekend, they can also choose which events to prioritize) or find their beer elsewhere.  Luckily, we have a lot of great options to do that at home, on the town, or at any number of festivals.  If this is a problem, try living in Utah whiny bitches.

marc_bayes
marc_bayes

Great article Shikes. The fact is craft beer has become a trend a one that none of us want to see fade, since we love the stuff, but we don't want to see grow anymore because we can't involve ourselves with the events craft beer produces; such as Avery's Sour Fest and GABF to name a few. I have a cellar with 300+ bottles that are all killer beer. As much as I would love to enjoy sour fest I can easily call over close friends, not charge a thing, and open every sour Avery has ever bottled; home style sour fest. I think the idea behind great events is great but if prices continue to go up and tickets are sold out in minutes.. I'll stick to brewery releases and liquor stores. I'll start to scream when Avery sells out of their sour release while I'm standing in line.

CJW81
CJW81

This article is spot on. I can't afford to go to anymore of these festivals if they keep upping the prices. 80 bucks to VIP at the South Denver beer fest on the 5th. $80! 

There will always be the hipsters though, ready and willing to shell out whatever anyone is asking. They'll eventually move on to something else the rest of us have "probably never heard of" and the craft beer industry will come crawling back on all fours begging the average (craft beer fan) Joe to be interested.

blue13matt
blue13matt

@marc_bayes i think we should be pals, marc. count me in for the sour fest at your place. i'll bring some food or something.


 
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