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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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