This year's 2013 Great American Beer Festival was an overall success for all who attended. But there were unprecedented hiccups from the beginning, mainly due to an increased demand for participation by the continuously growing number of breweries in America. 2,347 craft breweries were operating in 2012, up from 1,970 in 2011 according to brewersassociation.org.
Initially, for brewers looking to submit beer for judgment and to pour at the festival, the sign-up was a nightmare. The window for registration was a matter of minutes for some -- not unlike tickets to the public, which sold out in 20 minutes -- and many breweries, even those who had earned medals last year, were waitlisted. In the end, most issues were resolved but there were breweries so miffed by tangles of red tape and logistical concerns that they didn't attend -- local favorite Eagle Rock Brewery among them.
In response to this year's problems and changes for 2014 we turned to Barbara Fusco, Sales & Marketing Director at the Brewers Association. "The rapidly growing number of breweries in the country, along with increasing interest in the competition and festival, mean that a change to the registration system is in order," says Fusco. "Since registration closed for the 2013 competition, we have been devising a plan for 2014 that eliminates the need for breweries to register all at once and increases the number of breweries that can participate."
Breweries pursuing entry for medal competition in 2014 will experience a new registration method. The revised system will:
- Eliminate a time crunch to enter before all slots fill up (you will have two weeks to apply)
- Increase the number of breweries that can enter the competition
- Increase the total number of beer entries, up to 5,000
In 2012, 4,338 beers were entered, in 2013 there were 4,809. 2014 will accommodate up to 5,000 beers for competition. To allow an open number of breweries to enter, the number of beers from each brewery will be limited. The pre-determined number of beers for judging (5,000) will be divided by the number of breweries that apply, resulting in the maximum number of beers each brewery can enter. Meaning that if 1,000 breweries apply, the first five beers submitted from each brewery will be entered in competition.
As for the 49,000 person maximum capacity of public ticket holders, brewers, media, volunteers and staff (which has met capacity for at least the last five years), changes are in store for 2015. The Brewers Association is said to be in talks with the Colorado Convention Center for increasing the layout and accommodating more people. In other words, the world's largest commercial beer competition is only getting bigger.
The most significant increases in number of medals in California, by county, were:
- Los Angeles -- 7 in 2013 up from 2 (2012)
- Alameda -- 3 in 2013 up from 0
Counties that saw significant losses in number of medals:
- Orange -- 2 in 2013 down from 7
- San Diego-- 11 in 2013 down from 15
Counties that remained consistent:
- Santa Barbara -- 6 in 2013 down from 7
- San Luis Obispo -- 4 in 2013 and 2012
- Sonoma -- 4 in 2013 up from 3
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While there are any number of factors that contribute to a region's winnings, from increased competition in a particular style (American-style IPA had 252 beers submitted) to a brewery's interpretation of a style, you don't have to be Nate Silver to draw one absolute conclusion from this year's report -- Los Angeles beer is finally stepping up.
Erika writes at erikabolden.com and @erikabolden. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.