It seemed like only a matter of time and then it finally happened. After canceling other festivals due to the coronavirus, the Brewers Association (BA) announced that they were canceling the country’s largest beer festival that was to be held from September 24th through the 26th. Instead, the organization has pivoted, changing the 2020 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) from the BA’s largest annual consumer-facing event to an “online immersive experience” to be held virtually on October 16th and 17th.
The writing had been on the wall. As the pandemic has unfolded, early indicators signaled that it was unlikely that the event, which typically draws over 60,000 attendees yearly to the city of Denver, would move forward in its convention form.
First, in mid-April, the city of Denver announced that it would be transforming the Colorado Convention Center, the venue that typically houses GABF each Fall, into a temporary hospital, with the ability to house 2,000 patients in the event that hospitals couldn’t handle the flood of patients impacted by the virus.
Then on April 29th, the BA announced that it would be laying off 23% of its staff, with members of its management team taking salary reductions in response to the cancellation of the Craft Brewers Conference and SAVOR, their food & beer pairing event which was originally scheduled to take place last week in Washington D.C.
And then on Wednesday, Colorado Governor 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.”
“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.”
While the virtual version of the event is still in planning with details yet to be announced, the BA has disclosed that they still intend to have the competition of the event move forward with over 100 professional judges assessing over 7,000 entries. The GABF gold, silver, and bronze medals are recognized around the world as symbols of brewing excellence. Brewery registration opens on June 9th. More information on the competition, style guidelines, and awards ceremony here.
Events like the GABF 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 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.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to the cancellation of many beer events nationally including Oregon Brewers Festival, Bend Brewfest, and Great Taste of the Midwest.
And just last month, leaders of Germany’s state of Bavaria, announced that Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival, which typically draws over 2 million attendees, would be canceled for the first time since World War II.
Future Great American Beer Festivals are scheduled for October 7-9, 2021; October 6-8, 2022; and September 21-23, 2023.