Why the Great Arizona Beer Festival Ain't So Great

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​If you've looked over the vendor list for the beer festival set to be held Saturday at Tempe Beach Park, you might have noticed something odd. At an event that bills itself as the Great Arizona Beer Festival, several of Arizona's greatest breweries -- Papago, Barrio, Nimbus, and this little place called Four Peaks -- won't be participating.

Ted Golden, beer traffic controller at Four Peaks, says Arizona's largest brewery just doesn't see eye to eye with Sun Sounds, the charity that hosts the GABF.

The disagreements, Golden says, stem from multiple issues -- the major one being a disagreement surrounding ticket sales. According to Golden, vendors are given a set amount of festival admission tickets and are expected to sell them to customers. Sun Sounds is rather meticulous on the amount of tickets they give out to suppliers relative to the amount of money they get back, and in 2008, four of Four Peaks' tickets went missing.

"They basically accused us of theft and wanted us to pay for the missing tickets, and it became an argument that was blown out of proportion," Golden says.

The disagreement has even spread to other cities and festivals. The charity also sponsors The Great Tucson Beer Festival and the Made in the Shade Beer Tasting Festival, held in Flagstaff. According to Golden, Four Peaks attempted to participate in Made in the Shade (a festival brewers said does far more for its vendors) yet was blocked from attending by the Sun Sounds board of directors.

"It's not that we're boycotting the charity," Golden says. "We raise a lot of money for charity. We raised $30,000 for local charities at our golf event and raised funds for Chances for Children Arizona at the Skirt Chaser 5k a few weeks ago. This charity just doesn't want us around."

The accusation of theft was only the straw that broke the camel's back, Golden says. Along with asking brewers to donate all their beers, they also charged them for other sundries, nickel-and-diming them for buckets, tables and parking spots -- stuff other festivals usually provide free of charge.

"I had their security guys come by and drinking my water because they don't even supply water," Golden says.

According to Ron Kloth, owner of Papago Brewing Co., multiple instances of such mistreatment led the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild to approach Sun Sounds, offering suggestions to help make the beer festival better, but Kloth said their proposals fell on deaf ears.

"We sat down with them, voiced our concerns, and they basically told us where we could go," Kloth says.

"After the festival moved to Tempe Beach Park in 2008, organizers started treating vendors like second class citizens," Kloth says. "They're kind of elitist. Because they used to be the only game in town, they think everybody should bow down to them."

Papago backed out of the GABF in 2008 after Sun Sounds' offenses reached the tipping point.

"One of my employees made a suggestion, and they said if you don't like it, you can leave," Kloth says. "So we did. It was a two-day event, and we didn't even show up on the second day."

A spokesman for the Sun Sounds Foundation said the charity has no comment on why anyone is or is not participating.

Kloth and Golden both say that with so many other festivals around, they have no reason to try very hard to get back into the GABF.

"I do festivals out of state, and they treat you right and the people there appreciate it," Kloth says.

Still, many Arizona breweries continue to participate in the beer festival and thousands of people will still descend upon Tempe Beach Park on Saturday. But when perceived disrespect from the Great Arizona Beer Festival's organizers is forcing some of our best breweries outside the state, it's not great for Arizona at all.


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32 comments
DaverAZ
DaverAZ

Seems like they have a supplier relationship problem.  They are acting like they swing the clout of Wal-Mart or some other giant retailer.   They should be taking better care of the very companies that make the event truly local.  I have no reason to not believe this article.   I will be meeting up with my friends at Four Peaks, Tempe and NOT this event.  


I support my local breweries!  You should too. 

Colleen O'Donnell Pierce
Colleen O'Donnell Pierce

As someone who has worked for Sun Sounds and the Great Arizona Beer Festival the last 2 years, I have to say that the people running the festival are anything but elitist. They are some of the most hard-working and caring people you're likely to meet anywhere in the Valley. And I have personally seen them both solicit suggestions for improvements and also implement those suggestions regularly, after each festival and throughout the year. There are also some inaccuracies that have entered this discussion -- for instance, it's simply not true that Sun Sounds or Great Arizona Beer Festival required brewers to sell tickets. Take a look at how many brewers were in the festival (about 60, many of which were AZ breweries) http://www.azbeer.com/tempe_be... - and how many breweries sold tickets (less than 10) http://www.azbeer.com/tempe_ti.... So that accusation simply does not stand up to fact. Also, I'm willing to bet a round of beers that no one at Sun Sounds is getting rich. Sun Sounds is a modest, yet efficient operation. I suggest anyone who doesn't believe that should take a tour.

TM
TM

We went to the festival in Tucson last year and it was great. There was a deal with a hotel nearby and we made a weekend out of it. My wife rolled her ankle as the event was ending and was hobbling over to us when a guy in a golf cart appeared and gave us a ride out to our car. He didn't have to do that. Can't say much about the festival here, though. Trash everywhere, unbelievable lines, and rude staff.

Abnorml12
Abnorml12

Way to go Zachary!! Let's get everyone to beat up on a charity for the blind by dragging up an incident that happened four years ago. Noticed you didn't contact anyone from the beer festival for their side of the story. You really live up to you last name.

Davisbill
Davisbill

Dear Zachary and Phoenix New Times,

We were saddened to see the accusations leveled against Sun Sounds in your column this week.

In fact, Sun Sounds has made numerous attempts to resolve a clear difference in perspective with Four Peaks Brewery since the ticket sales incident happened four years ago. And when we were asked by New Times earlier this week to comment on this story, we were in preliminary talks with Four Peaks again this year to mend fences - and acted on good faith in declining to comment while those talks were ongoing.

A couple key things people often don't realize about the Great Arizona Beer Festival are:

1) A full 100% of every dollar raised through the event goes to support the work of Sun Sounds of Arizona (www.sunsounds.org) -- a non-profit that provides those with visual impairments and other disabilities, which prevent them from being able to read, hold or understand printed material, 24/7 access to several daily newspapers, over 200 magazines, best-selling books and other information. With only 5 full-time staff members in the Valley, as you can imagine, this much work requires the assistance of hundreds of volunteers. Their collective work provides a life-enhancing service that means so much to so many people.

2) The Great Arizona Beer Festival itself is an all-volunteer effort - quite a mammoth task when you consider that about 7,000-10,000 people come through the gates each year to enjoy the great variety of beers offered -- this year more than 230 craft and micro-brewed beers from across the country, including many great Arizona breweries. And this festival also features special pours of limited edition brews, and debuts of new beers from participating brewers.

We are deeply concerned that some folks in the Valley would jeopardize Sun Sounds' ability to provide these services to our listeners. But we are indebted to the hard work of our hundreds of volunteers who step up to the plate every year to help make this festival happen, and to the more than 60 amazing breweries who donate all the beer served at the festival, so that 100% of ticket sales and all proceeds can go directly to keeping Sun Sounds on the air for our listeners.

Thank you for covering the Great Arizona Beer Festival, and allowing us the opportunity to provide Sun Sounds' perspective on this unfortunate rift.

Sincerely,Sun Sounds FoundationBill Davis, President

Thor Shreddington
Thor Shreddington

That ticket stuff is total bullshit. We get the same problems from local music promoters who try and rip off local bands by making them sell tickets!!! Isn't it the promoters job to promote? The breweries don't ask them to make beer!!! The bands don't make promoters play!!! SCREW TICKETS!!!

Annthrope
Annthrope

This was a very good piece of reporting. Thank you. It sheds light on the whole business.

JimmyT
JimmyT

This festival is basically a joke. Its not worth the time or money and every year fewer and fewer decent breweries show up. They try all sorts of things like pub crawls and competitions to bring attention to the event, but what they don't understand is that they just don't make a compelling argument to have the better brewers and beers there. Everything is done half way. Until they realize that they have no clue how to run a festival and embrace some real beer people this event will continue to dwindle away to nothing. Its a shame since this could be the premier beer event in the state. Now it is no better than tenth and doesn't even come close to measuring up to the Flagstaff and Tucson festivals put on by a different branch of the same organization. Next year somebody needs to put a real festival up against it and put it out of our misery for good.

olllllo
olllllo

I'll submit that this festival is more expensive than the Strong Beer Fest.Strong Beer Fest is stacked with beers that are just not obtainable anywhere else.This fest's beers are mostly available at Total Wine and Tops.

Yvette
Yvette

This is typical for Arizona especially Phoenix and explains why we're the big city that's still just a small town. These elitist/clique-ish attitudes spread into everything, like some sort of toxic infection. Events, clubs, etc.. there's these groups of people who think they're the end all, be all because they've been here or they did it first (usually an idea stolen from some place else they've lived or visited) and aren't really open to any new ideas or people who have the ability to give input or funding to make it better. Well let me correct that, if you're willing, you can buy your way into anything in AZ, they'll just talk about you behind your back then.

I can go on but it's pointless. I've traveled the world and own an international business, and NEVER have I seen such a crabs in a bucket, want to be elitist mentality and attitude as I have in Arizona and the funny part is, it's so unwarranted.

Jeremiah Kaya
Jeremiah Kaya

Add to the list:

1 - Ticket prices are a bit high for the overall quality/size of festival that you are getting.

2 - They basically stole the name GABF from the true owners the name, a small event in Denver called the GREAT AMERICAN BEER FESTIVAL (aka. largest beer festival in the nation and possibly the world).

Arizona needs to revisit the structure and quality of beer festivals; we have some good events, but they could be great events.

Tom
Tom

I stopped going and now I have a competing beer festival in my back yard for all my friends, so they don't go either. The event has turned into a shit show frat type party.

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