GABF and craft beer growing pains

The increasing popularity of craft beer hasn’t made life any easier for organizers of the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Tickets to the 2013 Great American Beer Festival sold out in 20 minutes Wednesday. The Brewers Association handled the sale in two parts — Tuesday offering tickets only to members of the Brewers Association and American Homebrewers Association. That allotment lasted 90 minutes, with tickets for the Saturday afternoon members only session going first. In 2012, public tickets sold out in 45 minutes, while in 2011 tickets were available for a week.

Hundreds of tickets were available on StubHub within minutes after they went on sale through Ticketmaster, at much higher prices of course.

Not surprisingly, a post on the GABF Facebook page was followed by scores of comments from disappointed, and angry, beer fans.

Hi Everyone. We’re reading your comments, and we hear your frustration about scalpers and the secondary market. We share those concerns and wish there was a feasible fix. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect way to successfully avoid a secondary market for hot tickets—whether for popular concerts, sporting events or festivals like the GABF.

There are measures in place to decrease access for scalpers, including ticket limits we set for GABF ticket purchases (enforced by Ticketmaster), and Ticketmaster’s anti-bot and other security measures. Does this prevent scalper access? No, but it does decrease it. We will continue to evaluate options and solutions going forward.

Earlier in July hundreds of breweries that tried to sign up to serve their beer at the festival and have it judged in the related competition were frustrated when space disappeared in less than two hours. That led to changes for both this year’s festival and 2014. GABF director Nancy Johnson outlined those changes in a messages to Brewers Association members:

Here is a snapshot of where we stand for 2013 and an overview of how we plan to handle registration for GABF 2014.

Actions taken this year to address the issue include:

2013 Competition: Our 2013 annual plan called for a 7% increase in competition beers being judged. After registration closed and in recognition of the higher-than-ever demand, we moved quickly to find a way to increase the number of beers (and judges) in the 2013 competition by 200. As a result, 4,875 beers will be judged in 2013, which represents 12% more beers being judged in the competition than in 2012, and five percent more than originally planned for in 2013.

2013 Festival Hall Booth Space: Once capacity for the competition filled, eligible breweries on the wait list were offered a festival booth space. As of July 30, 616 breweries will pour 3,087 beers in the hall. That’s 11% more beers than in 2012, and note that this number does not include guild or special event beers.

2014 GABF Brewery Registration Process
The Brewers Association takes very seriously the “race to enter” registration issue that has resulted from a rapidly growing number of breweries along with increasing interest in the competition and festival. Since registration closed this year, we have been working to address this issue by devising a plan for 2014 that aims to eliminate the “race to enter” problem for future GABFs.

Based on this work, the BA plans to introduce a different entry method next year. This “all comers” style brewery registration process will achieve a few important goals:

*Eliminate the race to enter before all slots fill up

*Increase the number of breweries that can enter the competition

*Increase the number of beer entries

The 2014 GABF brewery will remain open for set number of days, and all interested breweries may enter the competition. The number of beer entries allowed per brewery will be based on doing the math of the number of breweries that registered during the sign-up period and the pre-determined capacity of beers that we can successfully judge that year.

Here is an example to illustrate:

*Total number of beers that can be judged = 5,000

*The registration period lasts (is open) for two weeks; no clambering to enter during one short time window

*Total number of eligible breweries that apply = 1,000

*5,000 beers / 1000 breweries = 5 entries per brewery

*Thus in this scenario, the competition would accept the first 5 entries from every brewery that entered

*Let’s say 2,500 breweries entered instead of 1,000: in that case, every brewery could enter 2 beers in the competition. The math would work like that for whatever number of breweries entered (Max. capacity of beers that can be judged – divided by – number of breweries entering the competition)

*Festival booth space would be handled separately

As you can imagine, many important details remain to be worked out, but we believe this 2014 GABF brewery registration plan represents a solid start toward an increasingly fair and accommodating competition for the future.

The festival will accommodate 49,000 attendees during four sessions (the Saturday afternoon one is smaller), which includes volunteers, brewer representatives and the press.