Last month, tickets to the Brewers Association’s Great American Beer Festival sold out in a mere 32 minutes. That was 12 minutes longer than the 2013 sell-out time, but still no consolation for the thousands of beer geeks who’ll be sitting at home the first week of October while the country’s largest beer festival is in full swing.
As more people turn on to craft beer, the demand for GABF tickets will only intensify, and with finite space in Denver’s Colorado Convention Center, the annual frustration we hear from ticketless beer geeks is going to grow, as will prices of tickets on sites like StubHub and eBay, which currently list session passes for double and even triple the original $80 price. So, what’s the Brewers Association to do?
My answer: Satellite festivals. The implementation of satellite festivals would not only take some of the pressure off of the GABF—both from fans hoping to attend, and breweries registering to pour at the festival (there’s limited space for them, too)—but it would also spread the annual festival’s best qualities across the country, while bringing the main fest to a higher pedigree.
Five regional festivals would do the trick, staggered throughout the first half of the year: One each for the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast, South, Midwest, Southwest and West. Host them in Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix and L.A., and call them the Good American Beer Festivals, which feed into the headlining Great American Beer Festival (I kid!). GABF-South, GABF-West, etc., would do the trick.
For craft beer fans like us, these festivals would offer greater access to each region’s craft breweries than GABF ever could—again, the Brewers Association can only admit a finite number of breweries into the festival. Staggered festivals—say, GABF-West in January, Southwest in February, South in March, Midwest in April, and MA/NE in May—would give beer geeks a chance to hop from fest to fest, and the unprecedented ability to sample all of the country’s craft beers. Imagine spending a long January weekend in L.A., tasting the likes of Elysian, Upright, Hair of the Dog, Deschutes and Societe under one roof. Then, a couple months later, you’re in Chicago doing the same with Three Floyds, Schlafly, Perennial, Goose Island, etc. Sounds great, right?
Satellite festivals would likely sell out and diminish some of the demand for GABF tickets without stealing its thunder. And, if some fans still can’t score tickets for the event in Denver, the ability to attend a satellite festival is a pretty great consolation.
But why would breweries go for this? Like GABF, the satellite festivals would double as competitions, and winners in each category would be guaranteed pouring booths at the main festival.
This year, 1,360 breweries registered for the competition side of GABF (an 81-percent increase from last year), but only around 730 booths are available for breweries to pour for attending fans. To fill those coveted spots, the Brewers Association held regional lotteries. But satellite festivals would award a small selection of booths based on merit.
The satellite competitions would judge beers using the Brewers Associations’ 100-plus categories, or even a pared-down list of categories. But, instead of awarding gold, silver and bronze medals (because, who cares at a satellite competition?), the top scorers from each category would be guaranteed a booth to pour at GABF, possibly at a discounted rate (yes, breweries are charged fees to pour and compete at GABF). The number of passes awarded in each category would reflect the competition: Like, the top 5 breweries in popular categories like American IPA move on, while just the top brewery in esoteric categories like Dutch-style Kuit Beer score a pass. Breweries that don’t make the cut would still be able to register for GABF with everyone else.
The benefits could be amazing. GABF would, essentially, reach more people (in the form of a series of top-notch festivals). Smaller breweries would have a better shot at attending (and affording) the festival. And the annual fever pitch over scoring tickets would likely lessen. All in all, everyone would win, to some degree.