If getting to taste beers from 746 craft breweries all pouring in one place sounds too good to be true, know that at this point it probably is. On Wednesday, the Great American Beer Festival, held September 24-26 in Denver, opened up general ticket sales for its annual beer bonanza, and after just an hour and 17 minutes, tickets were sold out. (The Brewers Association doesn’t disclose how many tickets were available but there will be 60,000 people in attendance including judges, brewers, craft beer geeks, and journalists.)
“Even with expanded capacity for this year’s festival, demand for tickets was extremely high. Most tickets went into carts on Ticketmaster very quickly, as soon as the ticket sale opened,” said Barbara Fusco, the sales and marketing director for the Brewers Association, which hosts the event. She adds, however, that all Brewers Association members were able to get tickets during a special presale.
America has an almost obscene number of local, regional, and national beer festivals—ask any brewer who is barraged with invitations to pour. So it’s remarkable that one festival commands such a crowd. Many in the industry say that a bulk of beer fests are akin to Miller Lite—cheap and easy to procure tickets to—and that the GABF, by comparison, is like Heady Topper—hard to get but so worth the struggle. GABF began in 1982, when there were only 22 participating breweries. In 2014, upwards of 700 breweries showed up.
“The U.S. is the most diverse beer market in the world, with more breweries than at any time in the last 125 years,” says Fusco. “We’re proud to have nearly 750 of them joining us at the festival this year.”
“These are beers you wouldn’t get to try on a day-to-day basis,” says Brandon Nappy, marketing manager for Swamp Head Brewery in Gainesville, Florida. Swamp Head has sent a delegation every year since the brewery started operating in 2009.* That’s impressive considering the brewery doesn’t distribute beer outside the state of Florida, so running into potential customers in Denver seems like a long shot. But he says it does happen. “More often someone comes up to us and says that they’ve been to our tasting room when they were in Florida,” says Nappy.
However, courting customers isn’t why Swamp Head attends each year. “It’s kind of a novelty beer fest,” Nappy says, adding that the team goes to seek out inspiration and keep an eye on what’s new and exciting—and to nerd out on beer, of course. “Everyone there is a craft beer geek, beer is our favorite thing.”
To be surrounded by 59,999 other craft beer aficionados in a convention center that reeks of hops and malt and beer breath? That makes the trip and the hassle for tickets worth it—if you were fast enough to get a ticket.
*Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Swamp Head Brewery had been attending the Great American Beer Festival since the festival first began.
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