Photo © Brewers Association

Tickets haven’t been available this close to the event since 2009.

Mike Pomranz
Updated September 18, 2018

Looking for something to do this Thursday night and happen to be near the Denver area? Here’s some news you might not expect: Tickets are still available for the opening night of America’s largest beer festival—the Great American Beer Festival—just two days before the event is set to take place.

According to Denver’s Westword, this year’s event marks the first time tickets have been available this late in the game since 2009—reversing a six-year trend of the event selling out in less than five hours. But don’t let this year’s lack of a sellout lead you to believe that after 36 years GABF has lost its luster. A deeper dive shows a number of sensible reasons why the 2018 event wasn’t an instant sellout like last year.

First, for 2018, GABF significantly increased the size of the venue—around 100,000-square-feet—and once again increased the number of tickets being sold. This increase was across all four sessions, and yet, it’s only one session that hasn’t sold out: the Thursday night session. Needless to say, a beer festival is still a beer festival regardless of the day of the week, but the idea of throwing down $85 for a four-and-a-half hour drinking session on a work night is far more daunting than ponying up for the other sessions on Friday and Saturday.

Indeed, Ann Obenchain, marketing director for the Brewers Association which runs the event, pointed out that, for the other sessions, sales were more than healthy. “While a limited number of tickets remain for the General Session, as well as PAIRED, for Thursday evening, Friday and both Saturday sessions sold out in one day,” she told us. “To date, more tickets to GABF have been sold than ever before and we look forward to welcoming more than 62,000 attendees over three days, the largest GABF to date.”

That 62,000 number is important. After the 2012, 2013, and 2014 sessions all sold out in 45 minutes, 20 minutes, and 32 minutes respectively (again, according to Westword), GABF tried to accommodate more guest in 2015 by bumping up the number of tickets. “As you know, this year we increased ticket inventory across all sessions to meet demand, ensure a higher purchase success rate, and complement the increased venue capacity,” Obenchain added. “As a frame of reference, last year we had 60,000 attendees and in 2010, we had 49,000.”

In that regard, the fact that the sale of tickets slowed this year could actually be viewed as a success. When the sellout time jumped from one week in 2011 to 45 minutes in 2012, many beer fans were upset that they weren’t able to get tickets at all. The Brewers Association wants people to be able to get tickets, and this year, that has been the case.

Of course, we’d be remiss to say that other factors aren’t also in play. Beer festivals in general have become far more common across the country than they once were. And the number of breweries in the country could be impacting interest as well. In 2012, America only had about 2,500 breweries; today, we’re pushing towards 7,000. Though GABF is still a central hub for all things brewing, the percentage of brewers that are able to be at the festival has inevitably declined. And in many ways, the more towards local breweries and away from slightly larger regional breweries has kind of “decentralized” the brewing industry in general.

Still, all that being said, the Great American Beer Festival is still America’s signature beer event. If you’re up for some weekday drinking, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place in the country to do it this Thursday night.

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