Beer Man

GABF Rule Changes Force Coors to Take a Much Smaller Part in the 2014 Festival

Coors has been a part of the Great American Beer Festival since its ragtag beginnings in 1982 in Boulder. The brewery won its first medals -- for Killian Irish Red and Coors Extra Gold -- in 1988, a year after the festival held its first competitive judging. In the decades since, the Golden brewery has merged with Molson and then Miller, but Coors, and its various subsidiaries, continued to win GABF medals by the fistful. The Sandlot -- located inside Coors Field -- has taken home 43 by itself, while Blue Moon and AC Golden, which are both based in Colorado, have won seventeen between them.

In recent years, MillerCoors has been represented by as many as eight different companies that poured dozens of beers on the festival floor, from the big-name brands like Coors, Keystone and Miller to niche creations made by tiny subsidiaries.

See also: Nearly 1,400 Breweries Register for GABF, 81 Percent Higher Than Last Year

But in 2014, MillerCoors will have a significantly reduced presence at the fest: while six of its subsidiaries will enter beers in the competition, only four of them -- Miller, Blue Moon, Leinenkugel and the Sandlot -- will have booths for pouring beer.

The change is a result of new rules that the Boulder-based Brewers Association, which will host the festival October 2 through October 4 at the Colorado Convention Center, instituted this year after high demand from breweries in 2013 resulted in some staying home.

The first rule limits the number of beers to twenty that a "brand family" or "control group" can enter in the competition. Since breweries were only allowed to enter five beers into competition this year, this means that companies such as MillerCoors, A-B InBev, Rock Bottom or CB Potts had to pull back on their submissions.

"This year, we only entered six breweries in GABF competition because of the control group rule change," confirms MillerCoors spokesman Jonathan Stern. They were Coors, Miller, Blue Moon, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing, AC Golden and the Sandlot.

The second rule created a lottery system by region. While the BA pledged to accept every brewery that registered into the competition portion of the festival, there isn't enough space for all of those breweries on the festival floor, where the public tastes the beer. (Although the BA made room in the hall for 726 breweries this year -- up 14 percent over 2013 -- at least 822 said they wanted to pour.)

Breweries that were left off that list are now on a waiting list. If a registered brewery drops out, the BA will select a replacement with a random drawing. There are currently thirteen breweries on the waiting list for the Mountain region. There are also a few control groups on the list that have requested a second table.

The MillerCoors family/control group included two GABF sponsors -- Denver-based Blue Moon and Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin -- which get a little extra room at the festival.

But because of that, "No other MillerCoors brands were entered in the first round of the lottery," explains BA spokeswoman Barbara Fusco. "After the first round lottery was run, all other MillerCoors brands that had been entered were in the second lottery (to fill remaining spots in regions) for a booth, but none received any."

The Sandlot -- which won the Large Brewing Company and Large Brewing Company Brewer of the Year at the 2013 event -- was later selected at random by lottery in the festival's Mountain region when another brewery dropped out. Miller won its spot in the Midwest region in the same way.

Stern, of MillerCoors, says the Miller booth "will serve Miller Brewing Company and Coors Brewing company beers," thought he declines to say which ones.

"Our effort to include more of the 3,000-plus breweries now in the U.S. is working," Fusco says. "Control groups still have a presence at the festival and more real estate has been opened for small and independent breweries."

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