For the second year in a row, beer lovers will not have an opportunity to convene in Denver for the country’s biggest celebration of craft beer, the Great American Beer Festival. Today, the Colorado-based Brewers Association, the craft beer industry’s trade group and GABF operators, announced that the 2021 installment of the venerable festival will again skip its in-person public event, while still holding the beer competition that is otherwise central to the festival. Instead, GABF will be scheduled to return on Oct. 6-8 of 2022, at its usual home at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. As the BA put it, “despite vaccination efforts and the gradual reopening of the country, the health and safety concerns for large indoor gatherings, like GABF’s 60,000-attendee event, remain.”
This probably shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but it still stings. There are few yearly events that serve as more of a barometer for the craft beer landscape than GABF, but there are also few types of events more inherently risky than a massive, indoor beer festival during the age of COVID-19. There truly may be no way to safely operate such an event right now, although one wonders if perhaps it could have been done if it was mandated that all attendees be vaccinated for COVID-19. Even then, many would likely still decline due to a perceived risk of so many people in close proximity, drinking heavily.
“We are disappointed to cancel the festival portion of GABF for the second year in a row,” said Bob Pease, president and CEO for the Brewers Association. “While we will miss celebrating with beer lovers and our craft brewing community, we are excited to continue with the GABF competition and national passport program this year. We look forward to convening in person for the festival’s 40th anniversary in 2022.”
As stated, the competition at the center of GABF will continue as usual, with breweries from around the country sending in samples in various styles to be blind tasted and graded. These winners will be announced during the Craft Brewers Conference® & Brew Expo America ® on Sept. 10, 2021 at the Colorado Convention Center. Denver Beer Week, which usually coincides with GABF, has likewise been rescheduled this year for Sept. 10-18 to fall in this period.
Apparently not happening this year, however, is the “virtual” festival that debuted last year in 2020, in which boxes of beer were mailed to ticket holders for sampling. We can only imagine that this “virtual” festival must have been a logistical nightmare, and the fact that the BA’s press release this year doesn’t even mention it seems to suggest that it didn’t go over particularly well. Once again, not surprising, given that the allure of attending GABF is the sheer grandiosity of it and the crazy amount of beer variety available.
Rather than the “virtual” festival, GABF will be operating its national passport program again in 2021, running from Sept. 17 to Oct. 17, 2021. As the BA puts it: “Passport holders will have exclusive access to deals at participating breweries nationwide. More than 1,100 breweries from all 50 states participated in the inaugural program last year. Passports are priced at $20 and will be available for purchase in July. Brewery registration for the 2021 passport program opens June 29 at GreatAmericanBeerFestival.com.”
Let’s all hope that by the time fall of 2022 does finally arrive, this period will seem like a bad dream that has long since passed.