A Changing of the GABF Guard: Weldwerks Goes Big, Avery Scales Back

Avery's lines have always been long.
Avery's lines have always been long.
Avery Brewing Facebook page
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There was a time not so very long ago when Avery Brewing was the darling of the Great American Beer Festival. Despite the fact that the boundary-pushing Boulder brewery is right here in Colorado, it would attract some of the longest lines, packed with beer geeks seeking the latest barrel-aged sour or stout. More recently, Avery scored its own endcap, a larger space where Adam Avery himself poured beers from wooden barrels.

But times have changed.

Last November, Avery sold a 30 percent stake in its business to Mahou San Miguel, a Spanish mega-brewery that also owns 30 percent of Michigan's Founders Brewing. As a result, the Brewers Association, which hosts the annual festival, no longer considers Avery to be a "craft brewer" and won't allow it to be a member of the organization, use one of those prime endcap spaces or even present any educational seminars at GABF.

"We are pretty bummed about it, but understand the BA's rules," says Avery spokeswoman Vanessa Cory. "We are making the best out of the situation and will be attempting to do a smaller version of what fans have grown to love over the years at our booth. Instead of using our normal wine and bourbon barrels for our barrel tappings, we are bringing in small five-gallon barrels to do the same thing, albeit in a 'mini' way."

Weldwerks's GABF booth will look like this.
Weldwerks's GABF booth will look like this.

And while Avery has had to back off, a new Colorado brewery has ascended to take Avery's crown as the major boundary-pushing, attention-getting brewery at GABF.

Weldwerks Brewing in Greeley, with a growing local and national reputation, had by far the largest lines at last year's fest, overwhelming its small booth. Beer fans were chasing a couple of hot commodities, including Juicy Bits, Double Dry-Hopped Juicy Bits and Medianoche Imperial Stout. That last beer ended up winning a gold medal in 2017, increasing its popularity even more.

Weldwerks is now the "it" brewery in Colorado, attracting fans from all over the state, who make the trek to Greeley to get its beers. Any canned offerings that show up in liquor stores typically sell out immediately. And the three-year-old brewery pushed things even further this year by making more than 100 different beers in an effort to spark creativity and make beer fans, who love to try new things, even happier.

Last year's Weldwerks line included brewers.
Last year's Weldwerks line included brewers.

As a result of the demand, Weldwerks will upgrade to an endcap and double the number of beers it will pour at GABF this week. "We will have a good mix of staples," says Weldwerks co-founder and head brewer Neil Fisher. "Of course, we can't go anywhere without Juicy Bits, so we will have that. And Extra Extra Juicy Bits has become the same way. We'll have some Medianoche, sours and other IPAs, too."

Weldwerks is also taking an innovative approach to making the lines a little shorter by having a separate line that is just for brewers, sponsors and media. "Last year, it got chaotic," Fisher recalls. "There was never a time that we didn't have five or six or seven other brewers around the booth. We love it, but it made it hard."

Since those brewers are usually working at their own booths and don't have a lot of time to wander the floor of the festival, Weldwerks thought it made sense to give them their own line. "That way we can accommodate them without them having to wait thirty minutes," he explains. "We'll have four people dedicated to pouring for attendees and one for the brewers. That will keep things moving faster and keep the lines shorter."

Weldwerks also suggested to festival organizers that they put the brewery in an open area with more space so that the lines won't hinder other booths. "Hopefully, everyone will be happier this way," Fisher concludes.

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