Washington Brewers Festival reports largest crowds in event history

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We just received some information from the Washington Beer Commission regarding last weekend’s Washington Brewers Festival at Marymoor Park in Redmond. The big takeaway, this was the best-attended festival in the event’s history. (Recognize that the Washington Beer Commission organizes and operates this event and is responsible for the policies that govern this event.)

In all, 20,375 people paid to attend the festival this year. The previous record was 20,235 in 2016. Last year, the 2017 Washington Brewers Festival saw 18,250 attendees. Total attendance this year, including kids, vendors and guests, was more than 25,000 for the first time in history.

Festival organizers do not deny that the weather positively impacted attendance. This was the first time since 2008 that there was absolutely no rain across the weekend.


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Participating breweries poured 177,217 beers at the event this year, up from 170,797 last year. The totals show that 177,217 tokens were used by 20,375 people, meaning the average festivalgoer sampled about 8.7 beers.

Paid attendance breakdown by day:


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  • Friday – 4,573
  • Saturday – 9,125
  • Sunday – 6,677

Token Limits

This year, for the first time in event history, the Washington Beer Commission implemented a token limit. Each attendee could only get a maximum of 11 tokens on Saturday and Sunday, when the festival is an all-ages affair. The token limit did not apply to the Friday night session (21+). According to the event organizers, the token limit proved to be a non-factor in terms of total amount of beer poured. There were some grumbles, but the Commission reports that thus far they’ve issued just nine refunds.

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The numbers are indisputable. Facts are facts. No doubt, a lot of people didn’t like the new policy, especially the kind of people who read this blog, but apparently the token limit didn’t destroy the festival.

“The 11 token limit worked nicely,” said Eric Radovich, Executive Director of the Washington Beer Commission, which operates the event. “A few grumbles on Friday night, which was not token-limited but because we would only sell them three tokens at a time. A few more grumbles over the weekend, but most [festivalgoers] had been informed prior to the event. We definitely saw a reduction in over-consumption issues on Saturday night, which is a good thing.”

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If you are unclear about why the Washington Beer Commission changed the token policy this year, I suggest that you read our previous story on the subject. No one is asking you to agree with the Commission’s decision, but you should know the real story about why the decision was made.

Top Ten Breweries at the Festival

Here are the top ten token-collecting breweries.

  1. Skookum Brewery. 4,237 tokens
  2. Heathen Brewing. 3,773 tokens
  3. Paradise Creek Brewery. 3,580  tokens
  4. The Hidden Mother Brewery. 3,570 tokens
  5. Georgetown Brewing. 3,555 tokens
  6. Fremont Brewing. 3,412 tokens
  7. Black Raven Brewing. 3,395 tokens
  8. Crucible Brewing. 3,351 tokens
  9. Ten Pin Brewing. 3,337 tokens
  10. Postdoc Brewing. 3,272 tokens

 

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13 thoughts on “Washington Brewers Festival reports largest crowds in event history

  1. I’m shocked. The policy sounds like a debacle. There are plenty of beer festivals with plenty of children. I don’t know what WA authorities are afraid of. It sounds like these numbers will help their cause.
    However, I seriously doubt that people attended thinking “Let’s go this year because there’s fewer tokens, therefore there’s going to be fewer drunks.”
    I believe people attended because they like beer. Some people got tokens from others. Was it possible to leave and come back? Granted, you’d pay full price, but maybe it’s worth it?
    Meanwhile, Kendall, I’d like to hear your opinion.

  2. I’m curious. What other event like this allows children? I cannot think of any others in Washington. I mean, events at brewery taprooms, or at other licensed premises, are different than a festival like this. People keep saying that there are kids at other events, but I seem to have a blind spot. Please enlighten me.

    My opinion is that I don’t really understand why this has to be an “all-ages” event. If it creates issues with the liquor control board, careful consideration should be given to how much the all-ages policy impacts attendance. Thing is, knowing as I do that the Festival Committee works very hard at this, and knows a lot more than I do about all of this, I do not doubt that they’re making good decisions. Those decisions may not make me happy, but I’m just one dude.

    1. I’m not sure about Washington, but there’s plenty in Oregon. The Oregon Brewers Festival allows children at all hours. It’s free. You pay for beer and food. Designated drivers and children get free soda and root beer. The newly renamed Oregon Garden Brew Camp in Silverton allows children. So does the Portland Fruit Beer Festival.
      My children are grown and I would not have brought them to a beer festival. I just can’t understand Washington’s hang up about children. Maybe people in Oregon bring their children everywhere like people in Washington bring their dogs everywhere? When children are allowed to impact how much beer you can drink at a beer festival perhaps it’s time to rethink children at a beer festival?

  3. I’m thinking they might see the policy change influence next years numbers instead of this years since so many people already had their tickets when they announced the change.

    I attended both Friday and Saturday this year. I felt there were way too many kids on Saturday and it took away from the experience. I personally think if they want to keep it all ages for Father’s Day they should do what the Fremont Oktoberfest does and have it be 21+ Friday and Saturday and have “Family Day” on Sunday. That way there is a weekend day with no kids, and a day when people can drink with their kids in tow.

    1. I agree that there were way more kids on Saturday this year. Unless you were hanging around the beer tents, It didn’t look like a beer festival. I felt like I was interfering when I walked into tiny shade spaces in amongst gadjillions of families spread out on blankets. Friday was much nicer for the people there to sample different beers. Why have a major beer festival where 2 of the 3 days are basically non beer focused?

      I agree that Sunday should be the only “all ages” day.

  4. I find it interesting that until your article, this policy change was unknown by the general public or indicated by the Commission on their website. People bought tix without knowing there would be these ridiculous limits. I believe the Commission purposely made this information unclear. Your previous article indicated that there was only one citation given at last year’s event, implied that there was underage drinking (was this the one citation?), and there was “concern” about over consumption. Only “concern”. It was the Commision’s choice to limit the tokens not the State. Refunds? Really, you think people are going to go through the hassle of getting a refund after buying Festival tix? The fact that anyone requested a refund is more telling than those that decided to go anyway.
    The Portland Craft Beer Fest is open to families on Sunday and i don’t see any limits on tolkens/tickets. They also give 15 tolkens for $25, which is about half the price of this event. This week I talked with a number of my beer friends that attended the event, and all of them had the extra WABL tolkens, and/or where able to get more tolkens thru lost wristbands or other methods, indicating to me that the 11 were not sufficient.

  5. The Commission contacted me back in May about this new policy. I was previously unaware. By the time they contacted me, the policy was explained on the ticket website. I do not believe that they intentionally withheld the info or made it unclear. In fact, they reached out to me because they wanted to make sure people knew. Still, I can imagine people buying tickets without noticing that the policy had changed. Kind of like a user agreement you don’t read.

    Yes, the citation last year was for serving minors. I am not sure if the citation was for a single violation or multiple. Yes, the LCB expressed concerns beyond the citation and the Commission acted to appease those concerns. I do not know if they were forced to do this, if it was strongly suggested that they do this, or if they just thought it would be a good preemptive move. I honestly don’t know the exact reason or rationale, but I do know that the Festival Committee considered many options and gave it a lot of thought.

  6. I bought my tickets and made a hotel reservation before any limits were posted. I wasn’t happy to see those limits as I go to taste as wide a variety of brews as I can responsibly manage.

    I attended Friday and Saturday and spent most of Friday lining up to purchase 3 tokens at a time, get a fill, repeat. About 8 times. That in itself is ridiculous as in previous years I just bought tokens once for the two days I would attend at one shot and that would be it.

    Saturday is not a good guage of how many “average tokens” are used. I observed at least half of the festival attendees hanging out in the shade on their blankets and chairs, drinking nothing but water, eating food and minding their kids. They came to enjoy outdoor time in the park, listen to the stage bands, have a picnic and play with their kids in the kids area. Oh yeah, they had the odd beer too.

    I used more than double the 11 tokens on Saturday. I drank mostly special releases and barrel aged beers over the 9.5 hours I was there. I then walked back to the Redmond Inn.

    At $2 per token, that’s $10 a pint. Like I said, I only drank special releases because of the price. Why would I drop a #2 token for 4 ounces of Fremont Lush, when I can buy a can for under $2.00.

    If the limits and high token prices continue, I will not attend again. I attend with others who will also stay away. I do echo the recommendations that Sunday (Father’s Day) be the only all ages day.

    Bring back reasonably priced tokens and get rid of the limits and I’ll be back.

  7. Top-20 token count brewery owner here. I poured all three days, all day. I also poured last year, all three days. This year’s limits really helped cut down on drunks. The people who are complaining, well, they drink too much beer. Yes, that’s s thing. I’ll cut you off whether you have a token at the festival or a credit card at my taproom. Sorry, you know the rules. Kids were well-behaved and not an issue from my perspective. Thanks everyone for a (surprisingly) great festival, despite the unfortunate lottery. Matt and Eric, you’re not quite there yet, but you’re almost there. You disappointed a lot of brewery owners, but you gave the cool customers a good show.

  8. Gonna agree with Anonymous Brewer above. Some people are there to get hammered. Period. And I don’t care if you think you “can handle 20 tokens of Russian Imperial Stout like a champ.” You can’t. We’re on the other end of the table pouring and you are just a mess…

    As for us, I wrote a whole thing then deleted it because it’s hard to say this as a brewer without negatively impacting the image of our brewery, being accused of sour grapes, lack of solidarity, whatever.

    But, generally, festivals suck and I hate them.

    And I think most brewers would privately, if not publicly, agree.

    I remember back when I was a young brewery padawan asking a much older, more experienced brewer why we never saw his brewery at beer festivals. Never one to spare words, he answered “I hate doing festivals. So why would I ask my employees to do them?” At the time I thought it was a little out of touch, he was just being old and cranky, but in the years since I’ve come to completely agree. I won’t subject my employees to anything I wouldn’t do myself.

    After last year, exhausted and putting things into the truck on Sunday, I was just like “We’re done.” This shark has jumped. We didn’t even try to get into the Washington Brewers Festival this year. Or Winter Beer Fest last December. It’s just not worth the effort, the expense, and the strain it puts on the brewers. We will now only do a few that we really like, or are super easy, and actually bother to make it worth our while. I’m just so totally over it all.

    The WA Beer Commission seems to think breweries are this infinite font of labor and support. But guess what, we aren’t. And a lot of others I brewers I know are increasingly done with them. And you can’t have a Beer Festival without beer.

  9. I noticed a couple breweries who didn’t show up. When I went to their tent spot, they weren’t there- no sign, no beer, no nothing. Does anyone know why some didn’t show (there weren’t a lot, but a couple that I was looking forward to)? I’m not sure how the lottery system works, but it seems a shame that some breweries took the space of others, and then didn’t bother to show up or plan accordingly to be able to provide the necessary systems and beer. Will the breweries who didn’t show up be allowed to be there next year?

    1. Were you there on Friday night? I noticed a couple empty booths on Friday. I assume that they didn’t get the memo. In the past, not all breweries showed up on Friday but this year they were supposed to. If they were absent all weekend, I got no clue.

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