There is something big brewing in the Valley this spring; the 23rd annual Great Arizona Beer Festival is on its way and kicking off its celebration this weekend with the inaugural Craft Beer Competition.

Organized and conducted by DRAFT Magazine, this nationally sanctioned competition will involve more than 60 brewers with the first round of judging being today, Feb. 18 at Taste of Tops in Tempe. Finalists will compete for the top honor next Friday, Feb. 25 at Sun Devil Liquors.

The pre-festival events in February are what set The Great Arizona Beer Festival apart from typical one-day events, noted Colleen Pierce, marketing consultant from Breaking Gravity LLC. She said there are a variety of activities and themed functions to match every taste with one of the most celebrated being the third annual Pub Crawl from 2 to 6 p.m. next Saturday, Feb. 26, which will take attendees to Valley pubs to try the products and win multiple prizes.

"It's the local color aspect of these events," Pierce said. "People get to experience some of the finest pubs in the area."

The main event is set for Saturday, March 5, from 2 to 6 p.m. at Tempe Beach Park, 31 E. 5th St.

"This is a perfect opportunity for lovers of craft beers to experience different brews in a very unique way," Pierce said. "With over 200 brews available for sampling, the Great Arizona Beer Festival is the largest beer festival in the Southwest and the longest running in Arizona, with attendees numbering in the thousands and growing every year."

The festival itself will include a variety of games, food, music, samplings of all the brews, and a live performance by The Crown Kings.

"This is an event that lets people sample beers they otherwise wouldn't get the chance to," Pierce said. "We have so many specialty beers that are only showcased during our event and nowhere else."

Admission to the Great Arizona Beer Festival is $40 in advance or $50 at the entrance for general admission. VIP tickets range from $80 in advance to $90 at the gate.

Though beer lovers make up the largest portion of attendees, the festival encourages designated drivers to attend for $20.

"This is something fun for everyone, regardless of whether or not you drink. There are plenty of activities for all kinds of people to enjoy," Pierce said, adding that designated drivers will have their own section of the festival with food and games served especially for them.

All proceeds from the event go to Sun Sounds of Arizona, an organization that provides blind and print-impaired individuals with access to reading material such as magazines, books and newspapers by broadcasting them daily via the Internet, radio and phone with the help of more than 500 volunteers.

For more information on the Great Arizona Beer Festival, visit

Vanja Veric is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a freshman at Arizona State University.

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