In Colorado, drinking good beer is more than just a way to celebrate. With nearly 140 breweries — big or small, independent or corporately owned — cranking out a vast array of suds, beer has become the object of many of our celebrations. And although beer festivals take place throughout the year, there is something about the summer — filled with flip-flops, bikini tops and that buzzy feeling you get from drinking during the daylight — that pairs well with hops and malt. So it's no surprise that some of Colorado's many summer beer fests — even the ones that focus on locally made craft brews and charge higher prices to drink unusual and exceptional brews — melt down into drunken debauchery.
Last year, the organizers of the Colorado Brewers' Festival in Fort Collins tried to weed out some of the drunks — and appease annoyed and overwhelmed merchants — by moving the entire thing from Old Town Square to Civic Center Park, raising the ticket price from $10 to $35 and tinkering with other details. For instance, fest-goers were limited to one three-hour session rather than being allowed to drink all day long at all three. But that pissed off the beer lovers, many of whom are Colorado State University grads from Denver who reunite every year during the brewers' festival.
"It made it a little less appetizing for them," acknowledges Peggy Lyle, event director for the Fort Collins Downtown Business Association, which organizes the fest. "They wanted to come and hang out with their friends all day."
Colorado Brewers' Festival
As a result, her group has made a few more changes to the 22-year-old fest, which is slated for June 25 and 26 and will include thirty brewers from around the state. Ticket prices will drop back down from $35 to $10, but attendees will pay $1 for a four-ounce pour of beer, meaning it will cost $3 for a full beer.
There will also be tents where the brewers will have staffers on hand to talk about the crafting of beer. "What we attempted to do this year is get back to our roots," Lyle says, noting that the fest was co-founded by Odell Brewing, which is still one of the hosts. "We really wanted to get back to some of the brewer emphasis and brewing emphasis that we had aspired to in the beginning." New Belgium Brewing, for instance, poured its first-ever beers at the fest twenty years ago this year. The company is now the third-largest craft brewer in the country. This year, a new craft brewery called Pateros Creek (the ninth to open its doors in Fort Collins) will pour its first-ever beers there.
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"So it's coming back around," Lyle says.
But most important, the festival will once again be an all-day affair.
For summer festivals, that can be a good thing or a bad thing, says Odell spokeswoman Amanda Johnson, who works them. "It's hot and there's a lot of pouring time. If it's an event that's running all day long, that's a huge factor when you are in the sun," she explains. "Food vendors help."
Smaller pour sizes also help deter drunken disasters, as do higher prices. For Odell's Small Batch Revival, which took place May 28, there was no entry fee, but the brewery charged $4 for a beer across the board. "That helps keep people from overdoing it," Johnson observes. "Our feeling about the Colorado Brewers' Festival is that we want the opportunity to educate the consumers" — not overserve them.