Why the Great Arizona Beer Festival Ain't So Great

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Not so great.jpg

​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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31 comments
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.

Bill Davis
Bill Davis

Just because it made me smile...

Turns out I'm the one largely getting roasted here in name. AND I'm also the guy who decided to take one of the extended golf carts out and give folks (including the hobbling lady) rides out toward the campground and parking lot during the event.

Sometimes no matter HOW hard you try for customer service excellence, you just can't win!

Bill Davis

Zach Fowle
Zach Fowle

Abnorml,

Sun Sounds was contacted, presented with the comments gathered from brewers and given the opportunity to respond. Unfortunately, they declined to comment on the situation, as you'll see in the third paragraph from the bottom of the story above.

This article is in no way a shot at Sun Sounds - just an explanation of why some of Arizona's best breweries won't partake in this particular festival. The charity also holds events in Tucson and Flagstaff, which I'm told by brewers are very well-run. The Great Arizona Beer Fest, however, isn't.

Anon
Anon

Ok Bill Davis aka abnorml12, apparently you can't read comments, did you fail to ignore the comments from people who have attended this year and in years past. This isn't just from 4 years ago, this is an ongoing issue with a president who presents increased revenues each year to his board at the expense of future goodwill and revenues to his charity. He is screwing over Sun Sounds in the process.

Jack Meyhoffer
Jack Meyhoffer

Mr. Davis,

With all due respect, you didn't address any of the issues mentioned. I had previously attended this event for seven years, much of that paying $75 for the VIP ticket. I hate to say it, but your event has 'Jumped the shark'. Once great, now a frat boy sausage fest. Why did you go from two days to one, when it was already over capacity? It just lost the fun. Maybe consider going back to two days, or three, and limit ticket sales. Also, the food for VIP tent was really lame the last few years. I WANT to support your Charity, but your growth needs to be responsible, and it is sad that you can't work it out with the local brewers. We SHOULD be supporting the locals first and foremost.

Eholmes420
Eholmes420

I would be willing to bet that those 5 FT employees of Sun Sounds are compensated very generously.

JoeK
JoeK

7-10K is too many people. It degrades the festival experience. And there seems to be some real questions about the respect you show to the brewers themselves. So that's great that you're raising money...it's certainly a good cause. But the festival is not fun. It's too crowded and there's nothing special about any of the available beers. It really has turned into a giant drunken d-bag party. Limit ticket sales. Respect the vendors. Make this festival fun again. Need some pointers? Check out how the Strong Beer Festival is run...it's a first-class operation all the way.

Anon
Anon

Davis, your festival sucks. First, you charge $40 dollars for 24 tickets or 24 ounces of beer. So I'm paying $10 per 12 ounce beer, not to mention the shot glasses are half filled with foam so its quite a bit less. Second, the majority of the beers you include are sold at your local Safeway, very few if any beers from local breweries in other states. Third you skip all of the major breweries in this state, Now this article explains why, you have been busy burning bridges, smart. Fourth, you charge $20 for designated drivers to go to the event. Really, why, for taking up 2 square feet at the park. The massages are bogus so don't mention that as the reason. People would much rather get in free. Fifth, the lines are horrible, but I guess you are too cheap hire more staff.

I guess the moral of the story is you are nickel and diming and making your charity a little more money but burning goodwill. Frankly, I'd never listen to Sun Sounds now knowing the festival is associated with it. And as other festivals spring up you will get burned by the competition, so make your money quick while you can.

Matt-Sleepy Dog
Matt-Sleepy Dog

99% of all the beers served at festivals are available off the shelf. And those are usually the booths that have the longest lines. Everyone always wants something "new and different" and honestly that's what home brewing is for. The romance of running a brewery fades quick when the bills start showing up in the mailbox and these festivals take real time away from the business of brewing beer. Brewing up a large batch of "different" beer takes time and money away from the beers that are selling in distribution in a true micro-brewery. So if you all are true craft beer lovers and want to see your local breweries stick around, support the ones that do go to these events. We are doing it for you all, and not for personal profit because we donate all the beer and time. And I can tell you from experience that these festivals do very little to the bottom line of a brewery or put more butts in seats. The business side of of these events should be irrelevant to the beer drinking masses. Support your local breweries. ~Peace

Jeff Moriarty
Jeff Moriarty

Hadn't thought of that, but a very good point. I had a great time at the Strong Beer Fest, but no plans to go to this one.

Jack Meyhoffer
Jack Meyhoffer

I can only speak for myself, but I think people WANT to go to your festival and love it, but it's like we've been burned too many times. Seek open and honest feedback, and adjust. I think you'd be better off over a few days, with less people who will leave HAPPY. For a while there, this was a 'don't miss' event, and not it is a 'don't attend' event. I hope you guys can pull it together- no one would argue that Sun Sounds does awesome work for individuals with vision issues, we just want the Beer Fest great, like it once was. Best.

Azsunpower
Azsunpower

Actually, not only your math was off, but your measurement. The beer sample mugs are 3 ounces each. So at 24 samples that's 72 ounces -- which is well over a half gallon of beer. And every beer at this festival is a craft beer - not the watery commercial stuff. So if that's not enough for you, well, you might want to talk to Dr. Drew.

ZakRulz
ZakRulz

The mugs were more than 1ounce so you're arguement there is a little off. And so is your math if you think paying $40 for 24 ounces of beer comes out to $10 per 12 ounce beer.

I would love to know where this safeway is that has all six of the beers that Stone Brewery had.

I'm sorry that you aren't satisfied with the representation of Arizona breweries, but I did enjoy drinking beer made locally that wasn't Four Peaks.

Of course people who aren't drinking would rather get into the event for free. It's not like this is the only festival to charge an entrance fee for DD's though.

The lines weren't that bad. Really at most I spent maybe 5 minutes waiting for a beer.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Anon - Got to agree with you. Against my better judgment I attended yesterday. The lines were ridiculous. Every booth had lines at least 50 people deep and there were not enough people serving beer, nor were there any where near enough booths to support the supposed 10,000 people that attended. It seems like every year less and less breweries attend and they push the attendance higher and higher. Its clear the charity is only interested in making their money, not providing a quality experience for the attendees. I talked to several breweries who said this is their last year attending this event which means that will probably shoot for 12,000 people next year. I also spoke to somebody from one of the breweries who told me that he was told that there were going to be lines that long and every body just has to deal with it. Whether or not the charity is legitimate, it is clear from Mr. Davis' remarks that all they care about is raising money, not the event itself and it is clear that this festival has become nothing but a money grab. The bottom line is that 100% of every dollar raised goes to the charity (some of which goes to pay the salaries of the people running the event), but if they would spend a little more of that money on making it a better event, they wouldn't have less brewers every year, they would have better quality beer and they might just find that the net take would be even better. Other brewers have told me that they don't take any of their concerns into consderation despite the fact that the brewers donate every drop of beer, at least one brewer said she sent over $1000 worth of beer this year. They certainly don't spend a cent extra on the attendees.

olllllo
olllllo

Matt,People make value propositions about the events they go to. As a consumer, I just pointed out why many people don't value this festival. I am not speaking specifically about your brewery. Almost weekly I tell people about Sleepy Dog. There are people in the Valley that have now idea that you exist and so I completely understand why you go to this festival. But your situation is only a small part of what makes this event.

You just made several arguments as to why these festivals make little sense for you as well. You said, "that these festivals do very little to the bottom line of a brewery or put more butts in seats". I'm puzzled as to why a true beer fan would support the GAzBF, since, as you say, it makes little business sense, and as I say, it's not a good value.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a much better beer culture in Phoenix and better beer festivals.

The AZ Brewers Guild puts on a superior festival. I'd ask that you support the guild in a second festival, but I understand now, that Sleepy Dog has left the Guild.

Cheers.

olllllo
olllllo

You make the assumption that every ounce is consumed. Would you make that assumption at a wine fests? The beer fests have dump buckets too.

Anon
Anon

You're right my math was off, It was $20 per 12 ounce beer. Thanks for pointing that out, it was twice as much of a ripoff. As for the rest of your statement, Check the rest of the statements; They support me, long lines, crappy service. Oh and try any Safeway in N. Scottsdale, they have at least four Stone beers or more. The one by the university does not.

Thanks for replying to our complaints Davis. Kudos again.

olllllo
olllllo

If you are saying that Sleepy Dog is not leaving the guild, then my information is incorrect and I apologize.

ASH and this festival has it's own history not unlike that of Papago and Four Peaks and so for many of us it's not irrelevant.

Matt-Sleepy Dog
Matt-Sleepy Dog

Rob, you clearly missed my point. If you think the beer selection is poor then don't go. If you think the price is too much don't go. If you think the whole thing sucks then don't go. But dont "not go" because of something that should be irrelevant to the public.

I NEVER said to support the GAzBF. Go back and read. I said support the breweries that attend these events for the public.

As far as leaving the guild, you have been misinformed.

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