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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

This Year's GABF Comes with an Asterisk

Note: post has been updated below.

Wow, what a debacle:
On Tuesday, the Brewers Association opened brewery registration for The Great American Beer Festival. Each year, the registration list fills up within days. Last year, it only took two days for 580 breweries to sign up. This year, however, it only took less than two hours for 600 breweries.

Complicating this year’s registration were server issues, something that has become quite common with limited events.
I don't know that I have a lot to add to this except the pretty-obvious observation that things are soon gonna have to give.  Each Spring the Brewers Association proudly announces the hundreds of new breweries that opened in the US, and each autumn they announce the "best beers" in the country--even though this year only about a quarter will even have had the chance to have their beer judged.

They may have to move from an "open" model of competition to an "invitational."  The crapshoot model accomplishes no one's benefit.

Update.  In comments, Vasili Gletsos, brewmaster at Laurelwood, offers a wonderful solution to all this:
Maybe move to a model similar to what they do for their National Homebrew competitons? Have a series of Regional Competitions that advance to nationals.
Yup, that's the answer.  Regional judging could be accompanied by small regional events as well, which would certainly be a boon all around.  Brewers Association?


  1. Maybe move to a model similar to what they do for their National Homebrew competitons? Have a series of Regional Competitions that advance to nationals?

  2. Actually, that's an interesting idea. Limit the number of GABF entrants to the maximum manageable number. If more than that want to enter, stage some regionals. I'd love to attend a regional here. One more beer fest!

  3. Those who got in were essentially lucky. The BA cannot legitimately claim the winners represent anything other than the best of the lucky. Something needs to change. With so many wanting access to the event, they must establish some sort of fair qualification process. Imagine the interest in regional competitions.

  4. I like the idea of something like the Firestone Walker invitational, but it elbows out newbies who might not have the wide spread love of breweries sure to be invited.
    Regional to nation is the best bet- I vote mini GABF per region then a big 'winners circle' at the end of the year. (Plus that means more localized festivals!)

  5. I like the idea of regional competitions but some regions (CA and OR) have far too many awesome breweries. If a local NW beer didn't make the regional cut it could still be far better than a beer that makes the cut from another region... At this point in time I think an invitation may be needed. I tasted some pretty poor beers last year...

  6. This year the AHA had the exact same problem at the regional level of the NHC: crashing websites and super-pissed people because everything filled up in a mere couple of hours. While the numbers for a potential GABF regional system would be less, there would need to be some better implementation to ensure that the messiness doesn't keep cropping up.

  7. The competition is the money losing part of the deal. The money winning part is the 3 day 4 session festival. A regional does not solve the required floor space in Denver.

  8. I think a regional competition for professional breweries *should* be easier to manage than one for homebrewers--it's much easier to ballpark the amount of beer which will be entered.

    As for the festival/floor space, in lieu of some unforeseeable implosion of the craft brewing industry, the demand for space will exceed supply unless an alternative is sought on either end of that equation.

    (Suggestions made with no event planning knowledge or specific knowledge of the city of Denver)
    -Go outdoors. I'm not really sure where, given that the two major outdoor sports venues would be in use. But again, I'm an ideas man. Also, outdoor festivals can get messy.
    -Multiple venues. The least pleasant idea, just because it takes away from the camaraderie of the festival. I have similar issues with alternating breweries between sessions.
    -Take over the city. I'm thinking of something like South by Southwest is for music festivals, where it's not confined to stages, but rather the city of Austin turns into a music festival. The logistics with beer, of course, are much more difficult, and maybe impossible. But Denver might be one of the few cities that could pull it off. This is my favorite but definitely craziest idea.

    -Create some sort of guaranteed entry based on past success in the competition (WBC can count as well). Sort of like they do for majors in golf and tennis. Remaining spaces could either be a free for all or incorporate some of my other winning solutions.
    -Stipulate either a barrelage or longevity minimum for preferential entry. I don't like using barrels, because it doesn't really matter for brewpubs, and there are plenty of successful packaging breweries who don't make that much beer. But I do like the idea of a longevity minimum. It doesn't have to be huge, but I think alot of chaff would be winnowed simply by saying you have to have sold your beer for a year.

    I realize that this thinking is elitist and possibly against the spirit of the festival (or of craft beer, or Charlie Papazian, or beer itself), but I think it hurts the festival if it's not representative of craft beer in America as a whole. People go to GABF because they want to try beers from around the country they always heard were great but don't get to try in their own backyard (cf. New Glarus). When GABF started, it gave "microbrewers" a venue to showcase their beer because there was nowhere else to do so. There are now thousands of very successful beer festivals around the country which fulfill that same purpose at a much more local level. One can't say that the outlet is not there. The industry is too big at this point for the GABF to claim that it fully represents independent beer in the United States. It can still represent independent beer in the US, and do so in a profitable manner that gives event-goers what they want. The industry is too big though for any one festival to try to cram everything into one showcase. Which is a good thing, it seems.