Passports, Promos, & Precautions: Virtual GABF Goes Local, Nationwide

The Great American Beer Festival will happen this year, but in an altered and dispersed form. Besides a two-day virtual event, hundreds of breweries around the country are offering sweet deals to passport holders. The crazy thing? It just might work.

Joe Stange Sep 25, 2020 - 4 min read

Passports, Promos, & Precautions: Virtual GABF Goes Local, Nationwide Primary Image

Photo: Brewers Association

It’s been a difficult year for the Brewers Association, though for somewhat different reasons than it has for its dues-paying members. For breweries, draft beer and taproom margins disappeared. For their industry group, it was the big, money-making events that vanished.

According to its 2019 Stewardship Report, events brought in about 58 percent of the BA’s revenue last year and 59 percent in 2018. There was no World Beer Cup and no World Brew Expo trade show in April, while the Craft Brewers Conference shifted to an online-only series of seminars. The BA’s American Homebrewers Association also shifted its Homebrew Con to an online event in June. In the spring and summer, meanwhile, the group laid off more than a third of its staff.

Now it’s autumn, somehow, and the pandemic is still with us. Normally this is when many of us would converge on Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, the Brewers Association’s marquis event. That event will happen, but in a radically different form.

The most familiar part of GABF this year is the medal competition. Brewers have submitted their beers, and judges are evaluating them—albeit wearing face shields, spaced apart, with the sessions staggered over a few weeks instead of a few days. There will be a medal ceremony, too—scheduled for October 16, to be broadcast on the Brewing Network.

The festival itself, however, will happen a couple of different ways. There will be an online event, October 16 and 17, featuring a lineup of well-known brewers as speakers. And in the days leading up to that—from October 1–18—there are events (or discounts, deals, or promotions) at 1,074 breweries from all 50 states.

To access any of it—the virtual fest or the deals at local breweries—drinkers will first need to purchase a $20 passport from the GABF website. (For $18, they can also choose to add a commemorative glass featuring the “Brewnited” theme—a neat souvenir from a year that most of us would otherwise prefer to forget.)

Based on some of the GABF passport promotions planned at those breweries, many drinkers will have a chance to get their money’s worth. Here are a few examples:

  • In Boulder, Colorado, Avery Brewing is offering buy-one-get-one-free draft pours at its taproom, plus 25 percent off vintage shirts and pint glasses.
  • In Kansas City, Boulevard Brewing is offering 50 percent off crowlers (up to three), plus 25 percent off in the gift shop.
  • In Boston at the Samuel Adams taproom, passport holders get a free vintage-style T-shirt and pints of Sam Adams at 1984 prices ($3).
  • At WeldWerks in Greeley, Colorado, passport holders get exclusive access to bottles of Peanut Butter Cup Medianoche imperial stout.

“GABF has always provided a ‘big tent’ platform to promote the best of craft beer and the stories of the breweries behind the beer,” says Ann Obenchain, the BA’s marketing director. “This year, our national marketing efforts are focused on driving beer-lover business directly to breweries at the regional and local level.”

Joe Stange is Managing Editor of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® and the Brewing Industry Guide®. Have story tips or suggestions? Contact him at [email protected].