Why the Great Arizona Beer Festival Ain't So Great

Why the Great Arizona Beer Festival Ain't So Great

​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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