Craft breweries across the country will begin registering for the Great American Beer Festival next Tuesday, but the Brewers Association has completely changed how the process works in order to avoid the ugly situation that developed in 2013.
So many breweries tried to enter last year that all of the spots filled within two hours, a rapid sellout that stunned both the breweries and the Boulder-based BA and which left 375 beer makers -- both longtime companies and rising stars alike -- on a waiting list.
That turn of events led to some frustration and anger on the part of a few breweries that boiled over on Facebook and elsewhere. The BA was eventually able to offer all 375 breweries a spot at the festival -- even if it was just a booth on the floor and not in the competition itself -- but many of them chose to stay home anyway.
This year, the organization has made some major changes to the process that BA spokeswoman Barbara Fusco hopes will result in registration being a non-issue. "It's a new system... but we are optimistic," she says.
Here are the details: The registration period will remain open from June 17 to June 26, and the BA will accept every brewery into the competition portion of the festival unless there are more than 1,400 that apply; last year, 750 breweries tried to enter.
The change means that the number of beers each brewery can enter will be determined by how many breweries want to compete. The BA has the ability to judge 5,400 beers in 2014 (up from 4,800 in 2013, a 12 percent increase). That means that if 750 breweries register -- last year's number -- each will be allowed to enter seven beers. But if 1,000 breweries register, each will only be allowed to enter five beers.
"I don't have a crystal ball, but based on how interest and demand has been growing over the past few years, I think it's safe to expect that more than 750 breweries will put their hat in the ring during the application period," Fusco says.
But not all of those breweries will be able to pour beer in the hall (not that they all want to; many enjoy competing, but don't have the money or the desire to travel to Colorado for the festival itself). If the demand for booth space does end up exceeding the supply, however, "booth selection will be by lottery for each region," reads the BA's registration instructions, which were recently sent to breweries nationwide.
In 2013, there were 624 breweries pouring in the Colorado Convention Center. This year, there will be room for about 655, Fusco says.
The BA has also limited the number of beers that can be poured in the hall by each brewer to a maximum of five -- and possibly fewer.
"In the event the number of competition entries allowed per brewery are four or less, each brewery with a festival booth may pour one additional beer over the number entered into the competition," the BA instruction reads. "No brewery may exceed five beers at their booth. The only exception is for breweries that sponsor the event. Sponsor breweries are allowed to pour up to ten beers at their festival booth."
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