Beer Man

Five ways to freshen up the Great American Beer Festival

What's that you say? How can you mess with perfection? Easily. The Great American Beer Festival, which takes place September 29 to October 1, is the biggest consumer beerstravaganza in the world. It's on the life to-do list for beer lovers all over the globe, and it brings more cachet to Colorado than anything outside of Vail or Aspen. But, at thirty, it's starting to show its age.

Here are five ways to put a nice head on it:

5) Add another day and sell fewer tickets to each session. An extra day would allow the Brewers Association to sell more tickets over the course of the festival, while selling fewer to each session and thereby making them more enjoyable for attendees, who have to spend time in many, many lines (to get in, to buy souvenirs, at certain beer tables). Brewers Association festival director Nancy Johnson says the issue comes up every year, but that "it's more than likely not something we would do," in part because the brewers are already away from home for a long time with a three-day festival, let along a four-day affair. "And we already have our dates through 2020. We can't just go to the convention center and add a day."

4) Move it or redesign it. The Colorado Convention Center has horrible lighting that turns the beer festival into an eerie shade of orange. it also has acoustics that make a train station sound like a recording studio. Wouldn't it be nicer to have it, say, outdoors, in a place like Coors Field (where Blue Moon Brewing @ the Sandlot is attached). Johnson says this isn't happening anytime soon. "I feel like we have a really good model. We've looked at Mile High and at Coors Field. But there are so many pieces to it, and we just can't do it in near future." Okay, well then at least ask the convention center to add room dividers or screens between different areas of the hall or to reduce or change the lighting. The festival could also benefit by using more of the existing rooms that are attached to the main one.

3) Gimme shelter. Add more tables, standing bars, couches, something, anything, so that people can have places to sit or stand and relax for a few moments. It's difficult to walk around with a glass in one hand, a pencil and a map in the other and have no place to set anything down. No wonder so many people are dropping their cups.

2) Require brewers to have a brewery representative on hand at all times. Yes, I know this is a pain in the ass for brewery employees (who, rightly, want to party while they are in Denver) and I know that simply getting to Denver with one or two employees, let alone a larger staff, can be a financial hardship. But their breweries aren't well served by the earnest, but typically clueless volunteers who staff each booth. You would think that someone who volunteered to work a beer festival would know something about beer or at least take five minutes to learn a couple of quick things about the beer they are pouring. You'd mostly be wrong. Johnson says she would love to make this a hard and fast rule, but if she did, she'd have to enforce it, and that would be too difficult.

1) Better food. The Brewers Association has increasingly pushed beer and food pairings in recent years, and even set up the wonderful, but pricey ($115 per ticket) Farm to Table section of the festival which allows attendees to enjoy awesome appetizers and desserts paired with some unusual beers (and to talk with actual brewery employees). But the food that is available via the convention center's vendors is absolutely horrible: nachos and pizza that you wouldn't even serve in a football stadium. There has to be a way to bridge this gap, either with better vendors or with added-value rooms that are similar to the farm to table venue, but much less pricey. Oh, and pretzel necklaces don't count as food.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes