Beer Man

Beer Festival Season Roars Back — And You Can Leave Your Mask at Home

Collaboration Fest is set to make a grand return on April 2.
Collaboration Fest is set to make a grand return on April 2. Danielle Lirette
With a kind of Christmas morning-like giddiness, craft breweries and festival organizers across Colorado are laying out plans to bring back some of the signature events that have been repeatedly canceled or postponed over the past two years because pandemic-era social distancing restrictions.

And so far, most of them are doing so without any mention of masks or vaccine mandates or any other safeguards that have become standard for activities and gatherings of more than a few people.

One of the most recent examples is the WeldWerks Invitational, which is now set for Saturday, June 25, after having been postponed, rescheduled or canceled four times since mid-2020. (FYI: Tickets for the highly anticipated festival, featuring 45 breweries, go on sale Saturday, March 19.)

"We feel like we have done pretty good about being on the right side of history here," says WeldWerks Brewing spokesman Jake Goodman, who points out that the Greeley brewery was "ahead of the curve when it came to being more cautious" with policies and procedures, and when it came to its customers and employees. Now WeldWerks wants to be one of the first to put its foot back on the gas.
The WeldWerks Invitational in Greeley. - JONATHAN SHIKES
The WeldWerks Invitational in Greeley.
Jonathan Shikes
"There will be no restrictions at all. We want to get back to the original experience and just go about things the way we normally would have [before 2020]," Goodman explains. "We are shifting from a restrictive mindset to a personal agency mindset and letting people make their own decisions for themselves."

One day after WeldWerks announced the return of the Invitational, Odell Brewing said on Thursday that it will revive its much-loved Small Batch Festival in Fort Collins on May 28; the event features more than fifty beers from Odell's three brewery locations, along with its wines from the OBC Wine Project.

"[We] are excited to bring back the festival at full scale," says brewery spokesman Alex Kayne. In fact, there will be two stages with four live bands, along with food trucks, games and no social distancing. Small Batch hasn't taken place since May 2019; tickets for this one go on sale in April.

The first fest to return this year is the 16th (Annual) Firkin Rendezvous, which typically takes place every February in Colorado Springs. In 2020, the Rendezvous was the last major fest before the pandemic shut everything down in mid-March, but it was nixed in 2021. This year's event, which highlights cask-aged beers, will be on Saturday, March 19, from 1 to 5 p.m., at Bristol Brewing. Tickets and info here.
click to enlarge Drinking at Odell means you are participating in its R&D. - ODELL BREWING
Drinking at Odell means you are participating in its R&D.
Odell Brewing
That will be followed by Collaboration Fest on April 2 at the Fillmore Auditorium. This annual fundraiser for the Colorado Brewers Guild is one of the biggest and most important fests in the state, and its cancellation over the past two years has been difficult for the nonprofit guild.

Other festivals that have been scheduled so far include the Vail Craft Beer Classic on June 17-18 (which was the only festival to actually happen in 2020 and 2021, owing to its unusual layout); Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, which takes place September 15-18 with a newly revamped format; and the Great American Beer Festival, set for October 6-8. GABF's organizers said last year that they would enforce a vaccine mandate in 2022, but it remains to be seen if they will actually do so.

Of course, we've all been burned before, and there is always a chance that a new variant or a new safety concern of some sort will set us all back to square one. But for now, drink up.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes