GABF 2013 sells out in seconds, beer fans pissed

I figured I’d go ahead and draft this since it will be on every blog and news site by next Tuesday afternoon. Tickets actually go on sale tomorrow morning at 10am for AHA members, and 10am Wednesday morning for the general public.

At 10 AM this morning thousands of beer fans all over the country poised over their keyboard, rhythmically tapping “F5” for refresh, ready to give their hard earned money over to TicketMaster registration fees in exchange for the golden-ticket of our generation: access to the Great American Beer Festival. By 10:01, every ticket had been claimed. By 10:05 hundreds of tickets were available on StubHub at a 300% (or more!) markup.

“It all happened so fast,” said one unfortunate beer fan. “This is almost as bad as when Radiohead came to Denver.”

In 2012, every ticket was snatched up within an hour.

In 2011, it took nearly a week for the event to sell out.

It is predicted that 2014  will sell out exactly one week before the tickets even go on sale as every spot will be claimed by beer bloggers, press, friends-of-friends…

Yaddi-yaddi-Yada, you get the idea.

scalpers A few weeks ago the story was about how the  Brewer’s Association server crashed while breweries across the country were attempting to register to have their beer poured and judged at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival. As a result hundreds of brewers and breweries were locked out of the festival, wait-listed indefinitely, and wondering what they were going to do with all of the beer they had planned on submitting for competition.

This isn’t too surprising, seeing how tickets for the 2012 GABF sold out in less than an hour, a great wealth of the sales going to scalpers looking to turn a quick buck on attendees with no other options.

The AHA has experienced a boon in membership over the past year. Are more people becoming interested in Homebrewing? Perhaps. But I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that even more people are taking precautions to not get shut out of this year’s festival. Which means tickets will be even more scarce. Which means the price will take another jump next year. Which means even more breweries will fight tooth and nail to get booth space as the Great American Beer Festival becomes even more high profile.

In other words: a shitshow is upon us and we have no one to blame but ourselves. The majority of the craft beer community has gone ahead and put all of their eggs in one basket and left that basket precariously close to the edge of a table.

This is a good a time as any to take a step back and consider what this festival actually means.

To a brewery: it is their chance to have their beer tasted and compared to beers from all across the nation and potentially take home a medal declaring them the best in a particular category. It is also a chance to put their brand in front of thousands of beer enthusiasts in an attempt to expand their distribution to the ever-saturated Colorado market.

To the beer enthusiasts: Lots of beer to drink, one ounce at a time. Maybe you’ll attend a few seminars to expand your understanding of the process of making beer. The comradery of thousands. The chance to try a particular beer that you’ve been studying up on after reading about it in last month’s Beer Advocate.

On Thursday night thousands will pour into the Denver Convention Center with pretzels hanging from their neck, cameras stuffed into pockets, and notepads on hand in effort to produce reviews and content for their website/blog/magazine/YouTube channel/whatever. Overall, it is a pretty  happy place to be.

But I’ll go ahead and argue that GABF is a horrible place to discover new beer.

I don’t remember much from last year’s festival – alcohol tends to do that to memory. I, like so many others, went to find some awesome beers and learn about a few new breweries. After the first hour, my notes were a mess, my camera had died, and the crowds and the lines were becoming rather tedious. After the third hour, every beer tasted like a kernel on the same cob of corn. Nothing was standing out.

So what do I remember liking and learning about from last year’s GABF? For one: the beer from Florida’s Cigar City and that’s because I had it at a Denver Beer Week affiliated Tap-Takeover at Star Bar. I remember trying my first beer-mosa with Dry Dock’s Apricot Ale at a hangover brunch the morning after the festival. If I had tried either of those breweries within the beer hall, it would have taken a lifetime of marketing collateral to get me to remember them even a month later.

Don’t get me wrong, GABF is a good time. But it’s not the end-all, be-all. And the more we keep jumping through hoops to get to the festival the more scalpers are going to make a run at the tickets and the higher the prices are going to be and the quicker the hotels are going to book up and the lower the general common denominator is going to be.

Let’s not forget that the festival is also an anchor event to Denver Beer Week. You’re likely going to find just as much variety out in any one of Denver’s numerous bars, taphouses, restaurants, and empty lots are you are in the major beer hall. Further more, your money goes back into our local economy and allows your favorite watering hole the added income to do something creative when the town isn’t beer crazy. It also means the cute bartender you’ve had eyes over might receive enough tips to take you out to a decent dinner.

What do you think? Are we beyond the tipping point of craft beer? Has the demand finally hit a spot where creative thinking and/or a total restructuring is our only solution? Leave it in the comments below. 

Still can’t stay away? Coming in from out of town? We’re working on a traveler’s guide for you because, let’s face it, the Wagon also benefits from the insanity that is GABF. 


About David Pennington

Denver based writer and editor. Managing Editor of Denver Off The Wagon. Usually up to some kind of delinquency. Photos of dogs, beer, and gnarly knee scars over at

  • tbeseda

    Shhh… GABF has been our smokescreen for at least a few years now. Let the bros dump a bunch of money and pretzel crumbs into the city for a couple days so we can enjoy the sneaky tap takeovers and uncellaring (just made that up) of some awesome brews around the city.
    *Here’s to hoping they don’t read the comments.

  • bobsforth

    I agree with you entirely. The best part of that week leading up to GABF is to have so many great beer drinking opportunities. I braved crowds at a few of those events last year on crutches.

    What I fear though is that a small brewery doesn’t have the same opportunity to do tap takeovers and the like because a restaurant wants the biggest name they can find.

    • D.T. Pennington

      I can certainly appreciate the “small guys” argument, which is why I’m making a personal investment to make sure they get as much exposure (locals, and otherwise) on this site in the weeks leading up to the event. They may not get a tap-takeover, but they’ll at least get some attention.

      • bobsforth

        Thanks! I am really excited to read these!

      • MSH

        My experience with most bars and restaurants in this city (when it comes to takeovers) is that they are willing to go with a “small guy” so long as the product is good. Now, some might say that taste is in the eye of the bequaffer, but I’ve got to hold on to the belief that standards still exist in this burgeoning industry. We can’t afford to elevate mediocrity, no matter how hip it may appear to be (right)? When all is said and done, and the last light of another brewery start-up with nary a plan has blown out, only the best — the most welcoming, the cleanest, the most consistent, the least snooty — breweries will remain standing. A girl can dream.

  • MSH

    Great post, Dave. After going to eight GABF’s, I decided two years back that I should have stopped at, say, three. You are right on the money that it’s not the place to try new beers (though half the people in the place could care less what’s in their glasses) and, despite rumored changes to who is pouring for breweries (after years of asking volunteers about the beer only to be met with a blank stare, I gave up – now I hear they are asking a rep from each brewery to be there at all times), it’s not really the place to talk beer with the pros, either. Which I suppose is what one gets when so many people and so much beer are corralled into a 582,000 ft echo chamber. “You’re likely going to find just as much variety out in any one of Denver’s numerous bars, taphouses, restaurants, and empty lots are you are in the major beer hall. Further more, your money goes back into our local economy and allows your favorite watering hole the added income to do something creative when the town isn’t beer crazy.” Hear hear. I am hoping for another Festivus, but I also know that such a singularly spectacular event doesn’t happen twice in this town. People get all “OH that was the best brew fest EVER” and suddenly Festivus is GABFMiniLite. Grumble. Smile.

  • Brian (The Roaming Pint)

    kind of over GABF. There are plenty of regional beer fests. that are
    just good and less of a shit show. I think you should go if you
    have never been, but once you’ve been there isn’t much that changes
    from year to year.

  • skeeter

    You’re just trying to convince people not to go so there may be more tickets for you.

    • D.T. Pennington


  • Keith Seymour

    I haven’t attended GABF but after attending a similar event in Portland, OR I agree that these large format tastings are nearly worthless. If I want to try a new brewer I’ll drive there, the extra time will be worth it because I’ll get to savor the beer and talk with the people who know it.

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  • skeeter

    See, that went fine [sarcasm emoticon].

  • Mark Castleman

    Truthfully if I didn’t live here I wouldn’t go. If you can manage to snag two of the increasingly hard to get Members Only Session tickets it is less of a madhouse.

  • Seth Gerard

    …notwithstanding, you and I both bought tickets anyway 😉

    Its an amazing shitshow, and could definitely use an overhaul (and everyone has opinions on how that should be done) but its a ton of fun regardless of your motives in going.

  • Beer Infinity

    For us this will be our first visit to GABF, after only managing to get tickets for the Member’s session on Sat afternoon it may well be our only visit as $700-800+ for flight, hotel and tickets each is a lot of money. Hopefully Denver can indeed offer us plenty of other events to attend and enjoy.

  • Nathan Quam

    After trying and having this happen for years… I could care less. I was going to try this year and just didn’t. No surprise it sold out probably to scalpers yet again. Most of the breweries last year had cool stuff going on. I’d rather attend the random brewery parties throughout the year than this anyway. Heck, brew at the zoo is awesome and I don’t have to worry about getting tickets. On top of that Denver Beer hosts awesome barrel room parties and Great Divide has all kinds of special tappings throughout the year. Avery always has something delicious on tap and then random brew lover restaurants scattered throughout town have amazing beer selections that change on a daily basis and most of them get beers from all over the country, not just Colorado. If you know where to look and what events to pay attention to, there are smaller more fun events all over this city all year long.

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