Brewers Association Cancels In-Person Great American Beer Festival; Event and Competition Move Online

The largest beer festival in the U.S. will not take place in-person in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

For the first time in the festival’s nearly 40-year history, the Brewers Association (BA) has canceled the 2020 edition of Great American Beer Festival, which was slated to take place September 24-26, and will instead move the event “to an immersive online experience” from October 16-17.

“This marks the first cancellation of its kind for GABF, and while we are disappointed to not be gathering in Denver this fall, the health and safety of our attendees, brewers, volunteers, judges, and employees is and always has been our top priority,” the BA wrote in an email Thursday morning. “As the world is still greatly affected by the spread of COVID-19 and will continue to be affected for the foreseeable future, we must stay true to our priorities and pursue other ways to host GABF.”

GABF is the BA’s largest annual consumer-facing event, drawing 60,000 beer drinkers to the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. The festival includes a beer competition, which will go forward with the award winners announced during a live-streamed ceremony on October 16. Competition registration opens for breweries on June 9, and the BA said it anticipates more than 7,000 entries for the competition.

On Wednesday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order declaring that the Colorado Convention Center serve as an alternate care site for COVID-19 patients. Although the order is slated to expire 30 days from its signing, the BA wrote in its email to members that it renders the site “infeasible.”

“While we are disappointed to not be gathering in Denver this fall for the craft beer community’s annual big tent event, the health and safety of our attendees, brewers, volunteers, judges, and employees is and always has been our top priority,” BA president and CEO Bob Pease said in a press release. “As the world is still greatly affected by the spread of COVID-19 and will continue to be affected for the foreseeable future, we must stay true to our priorities and pursue other ways to host GABF.”

The loss of the festival is another hit to the BA’s bottom line, after canceling three other marquee events over the last two months, including the Craft Brewers Conference in San Antonio, Texas; SAVOR beer and food pairing event in Washington, D.C.; and HomebrewCon in Nashville, Tennessee, which has also transitioned to a virtual event.

Events are a major source of revenue for the BA, accounting for 58% — $16 million of its $27.7 million in revenue — of the trade association’s revenue in 2019, according to the organization’s most recent Stewardship Report.

The fortunes of the BA, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for small and independent U.S. craft brewing companies, have mirrored those of its constituency — many of whom have been forced to lay off or furlough employees. In late April, the BA did so as well, cutting 23% of its staff.

The cancellation of the festival is also a hit for the city of Denver. The 2019 edition of GABF generated an estimated $35.3 million in economic impact for the city, according to Visit Denver data from September 2019.

Festivals across the country and around the globe have canceled their 2020 events, including Germany’s famed Oktoberfest, the Oregon Brewers Festival, Bend Brewfest and Great Taste of the Midwest.

State-level guilds have shifted their beer festivals, reliable fundraisers for the non-profit groups, to virtual experiences by providing curated beer kits and live-streaming tastings and panel discussions for participants to drink and watch at home.

The BA plans to offer a similar experience, which will be announced on August 1. GABF tickets had been slated to go on sale on August 4 for BA members.

“Festival details are still being finalized, but we plan to offer a compelling schedule of virtual experiences and live activations across the country,” the BA wrote.

The BA moved many seminars slated for CBC to live-streamed presentations over five weeks, wrapping up today.

Future Great American Beer Festivals are scheduled for October 7-9, 2021; October 6-8, 2022; and September 21-23, 2023.

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