Like a lot of brewers, John Fiorilli spends more time pouring ingredients into a giant kettle than he does sitting in front of a computer screen. And like hundreds of other brewers, Fiorilli was busy doing just that on July 9 when online registration opened for breweries that wanted to participate in the Great American Beer Festival.
As a result, the Mountain Sun and Vine Street pubs -- whose brewers have won eleven GABF medals between 1995 and 2012 -- missed out on one of the 600-plus spots at the festival this year and are among the 300 breweries on the waiting list.
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"I couldn't make it my first priority to get on there at 10 a.m.," explains Fiorilli, who oversees brewing operations for both pubs, as well as Boulder's Southern Sun Pub. "Anyone who did make it a priority probably got registered in time."
Registration opened at 10 a.m. and closed less than two hours later, but server problems frustrated some of the brewers trying to register. Those who logged on after noon, in the meantime, were simply out of luck.
The speed with which the spots were all taken breweries across the country, leaving many of them frustrated at the Boulder-based Brewers Association, which runs GABF.
But not Fiorilli.
"I think the BA knew it would go fast, but I don't think anyone anticipated that it would happen as quickly as it did," he says. "The Brewers Association does a great job. This was unforeseen and unprecedented. Those are the only words you can use."
There are currently more than 2,500 craft breweries in the United States, up from 2,000 in 2011, a number that wouldn't exist without the BA, he points out. With only 600 spots open at the already enormous festival, someone was going to get left out.
Some of the other Colorado breweries that didn't register in time include: Crooked Stave (which won its first medal last year) and Hogshead in Denver; Rocky Mountain and Bristol Brewing (which owns thirteen GABF medals) in Colorado Springs, Loveland Ale Works and Odd 13, a Lafayette brewery that will open for business next month.
The BA is currently analyzing its list of registered breweries to make sure they are all valid and to decide if they will be able to let some of the breweries on the waiting list into the judging - or at least into onto the floor of the Colorado Convention Center.
In fact, for the first time, the organization is considering whether to allow some breweries to pour beer on the floor even they missed out on registering their beers for the judging portion of the festival, says BA spokeswoman Barbara Fusco.
"It's a little bit of a departure but it's something we are working on," she says. "That is one way we hope to satisfy demand for space at the festival."
But it may be several weeks before the BA finishes reviewing its list of breweries - and notifying breweries on the wait list -- and releases it publicly.
Fiorilli is hoping for the best.
"It was a shocker, and the competition is a lot of fun for us brewers, but it's gravy from a company perspective," he says. "Our focus has always been just to participate, and now we are just hoping to be able to pour our beer at the festival."
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