Like skydiving and food poisoning, Denver's Great American Beer Festival is a thing that must be experienced to be truly understood.
Three days. An arena the size of seven football fields. More than 800 breweries and 3,500 beers. Thousands of revelers, all thrumming with excitement, inebriation and varying levels of gastrointestinal distress. It's an intoxicating scene, for sure.
Tickets to this year's beer blitz were snapped up the day they went on sale. Unlike in recent years, however, the sellout took a whopping 4 hours, 15 minutes.
In a piece last month for The Denver Post, John Frank read between the lines.
"A year ago, it took only 67 minutes to sell out its 60,000 tickets. That difference generated plenty of questions about festival fatigue, GABF's future and the beer industry at large," Frank wrote.
After talking with a number of "industry experts," including those at the Boulder-based Brewers Association, which hosts the festival, Frank determined that the more-sluggish-than-usual sales were due to several factors, including a growing wealth of alternatives for beer- and fest-craving fans and a $5 jump in ticket prices, to $85 for 41/2 hours of open-season tastings at one of three public sessions.
Frank also took a look at things from the other side, speaking with Jason Yester of Trinity Brewing Co. in Colorado Springs. Yester, whose creations have earned GABF hardware, said that the direct and indirect costs of participation in the juried showcase made it a tough decision for small brewers, who are asked to donate their wares and services.
"We are a small company. We have pretty good, high demand for beer. And last thing I want to do is undercut one of my distributors by donating beer to GABF," said Yester, who estimated participation amounted to a retail loss of about $6,000, not including the cost of wages, food and lodging for employees who worked the event.
This is the third year Yester is skipping the fest.
For all who are missing out, opted out or just couldn't be bothered with GABF, here are some upcoming craft beer fest options closer to home:
- The Boos and Brews Haunted House and Brewfest is 3-7 p.m. Oct. 14 at Altered Reality Event Center on Palmer Park Boulevard. Organizers are donating 50 percent of proceeds from general admission ticket sales placed through 1 p.m. Friday to a fund providing relief and financial support to the victims and families of the Las Vegas mass shooting. Tickets start at $30 at boosandbrewsfest.com.
- Old Colorado City shops have partnered to create a tour of food, wine and craft beer tastings to complement the neighborhood's Giant Pumpkin Festival. The Giant Spirit Tour is 1-5 p.m. Oct. 21. Stroll and enjoy the public festivities for free or, for $25 per person, enjoy tastings, adult refreshments and special pricing at participating businesses. Proceeds benefit the Great Pumpkin Common Wealth Pumpkin Growers Contest. Tickets are $25 per person, plus a handling fee, through peakradar.com.
- Also Oct. 21, the fourth Haunted Brew Fest runs, in two sessions, at the Norris-Penrose Event Center. Costumes are encouraged for those attending this Halloween-themed festival, which features more than 50 breweries from Colorado and (the) beyond. Early bird tickets, through Oct. 15., start at $30 general admission and $50 VIP at hauntedbrewfest.com.
- The 11th annual All Colorado Beer Festival has a new home, at the Norris-Penrose Event Center, and - so far - 58 brewers have signed up to pour at the Nov. 11 fest, which helps generate funds for local nonprofits through The Gazette-El Pomar Foundation's Empty Stocking Fund. General admission starts at $40; a $65 "Brewer Insider" ticket buys early entry and access to exclusive tastings, a catered meal and VIP company in the Brewers Lounge. Visit allcoloradobeerfestival.com.