By Jill Redding
“Bigger and better” were the key words at the 29th annual Craft Brewers Conference May 2-5 in San Diego. More attendees than ever before—more than 4,500—converged on the Town and Country Resort for four days of educational seminars, social events, the BrewExpo America® trade show, and the biennial World Beer Cup® competition. A record 3,921 beers from 799 breweries in 95 style categories were judged in the World Beer Cup.
The annual conference is a chance for industry camaraderie, education, and an opportunity to celebrate the craft beer industry’s continued growth. In 2011, craft beer volume sales increased by 13 percent, and 250 new breweries opened.
“We are not in a bubble,” said Brewers Association president Charlie Papazian during the general session. “We are knee deep in foam and the foam is still rising.”
Benj Steinman of Beer Marketers Insights, who presented a seminar during the conference remarked, “We’re in the most fertile creative period in American beer industry history. I’ve been writing about beer for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
With 10 craft breweries in the city and 60 in the region, San Diego proved once again to be a hospitable venue for the conference, which it also hosted in 2004 and 2008.
“I’m more excited than any of you—I have been waiting for this conference,” proclaimed Jerry Sanders, the mayor of San Diego. “Craft beer has become part of the culture of San Diego.”
On the Rise
Steve Hindy, founder of Brooklyn Brewery and a former Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, delivered the keynote address, offering a “toast to the first 47 years of craft beer and the next 47 years of craft beer.”
Hindy remarked that he’s often asked if he ever imagined his brewery, which he co-founded in 1988, would ever get this big. Brooklyn Brewery sold 140,000 barrels in 2011.
“I always answer ‘Hell yes!’” exclaimed Hindy, who became enamored with beer when he first tasted the homebrew of diplomats in the Middle East.
“Your beer is part of the identity of your community,” Hindy told the crowd. “Every day craft brewers touch millions of Americans in a profoundly unique way.”
Brewers Association director Paul Gatza delivered his annual “state of the union” address with statistics from the previous year as well as a look at national trends. Gatza noted the rise of nanobreweries (“Two more opened since the time I started this speech,” he joked) as well as the staggering number of breweries in planning (more than 1,100 were listed in the BA database at the time of the conference).
“If you're here, and quality is not at the top of your list, get out,” Gatza warned. “Just go.”
Also during the general session, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) gave remarks for the third straight year. “I think of beer as part of the solution to our national problems,” said DeFazio, a homebrewer and a member of the House Small Brewers Caucus. “Beer is the only bi-partisan thing going on in D.C.”
Elysian Brewing Co.’s Dick Cantwell, a member of the Brewers Association’s board of directors, presented the annual BA awards during the general session.
The F.X. Matt Defense of the Industry award was presented to Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association. McCormick dedicated the award to “all the state guilds and particularly the state guild leaders” who are at the front lines of the defense of the industry.
“All of us are incredibly lucky to be in this industry,” said McCormick. “To wake up every morning and spend my day working to defend the rights and privileges of my friends is a pretty good gig.”
The Brewers Association Recognition Award had three co-recipients this year: Doug and Wynne Odell, and Doug’s sister Corkie Odell, who started Odell Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colo. in 1989. The Odells have a charitable committee to support local non-profits; offer a profit-sharing plan for employees; and have supported local homebrewers in their paths to starting their own professional breweries.
“It’s been a great ride,” said Wynne Odell. “We’ve been in this industry for 69 years collectively and we’re in this for life. It seems like no one ever willingly leaves this industry.”
James “Otto” Ottolini of the St. Louis Brewery, Inc. was awarded the 2012 Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing. The list of his creative brewing solutions ranges from redesigning milling processes to reduce brewers' exposure to dust, to extensive research on dry hopping.
“This is an awesome family to be a part of,” said Ottolini. “This is a fantastic family reunion.”
The conference included 69 educational seminars including smaller breakout sessions, more than 250 industry exhibitors at the BrewExpo America® trade show, and peripheral events such as the eighth Craft Beer Wholesalers Conference and the Craft Beer Bar Owners Conference. Conference-goers also had many outlying events to choose from including bus tours of craft breweries in San Diego and beyond, a welcome reception at the San Diego Zoo, and several events hosted by area breweries and better beer bars. The World Beer Cup gala awards dinner featured a five-course beer pairing dinner coordinated by Chef Adam Dulye of the Monk’s Kettle in San Francisco.
Conference seminars were arranged in 11 different tracks, including everything from managing stuck fermentations to promoting your brewery. A marketing-related seminar from “The Gourdians” (Elysian’s David Buhler, Wynkoop’s Marty Jones, and Stone’s Greg Koch) once again included live music, with a guest performance from Alice Cooper guitarist Keri Kelli.
“We are involved in a very serious overthrow of the status quo,” said Jones, who showed his brewery’s April Fool’s video announcing its new faux offering, Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout.
One joke that made its way around the conference was that a last-minute seminar titled “So You’re Opening a Second Brewery in North Carolina” was added. Oskar Blues announced during CBC week that it would be building a second brewery in Brevard, N.C., joining New Belgium and Sierra Nevada in that state.
A beer and cheese pairing seminar paired six different beers with six different cheeses. Panelist Janet Fletcher, the cheese columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, is the co-author of more than 20 books on food and wine, including Cheese & Wine. But she’s working on a new book, Cheese & Beer. “Exploring cheese with beer has been so much easier,” said Fletcher, who is married to a winemaker. “I feel like the clouds have parted.”
The 2012 Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America® sponsors included Ball Corporation, Banner Equipment Company, Beer Institute, Beerjobber.com, BevForce, BFBi, BRAUWELT International, Brewers Supply Group, Brewery Finance, Brewery Pak Insurance Programs, Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., Burkert Fluid Control Systems, C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., Canny Awards (Mumm Products), Cargill Malt, Cask Brewing Systems, Chrislan Ceramics, Cicerone Certification Program, Columbine Label Company, Inc., COMPTOIR AGRICOLE, The Country Malt Group, CraftBeer.com, DRAFT Magazine, Drinktec, German Hop Growers Association/Hallertau Hop Growers Association, Graphic Packaging International, Inc., GreatBrewers.com, Gusmer Enterprises, Inc., Hach Company, The Hop Man, Hopunion LLC, Imerys Filtration Minerals, Inland Label, KeyKeg, Longview Fibre Paper and Packaging, Inc., MicroStar Keg Management, Muntons Malted Ingredients, Neenah Paper, Inc., O-I, Pall Food and Beverage, Prospero Equipment Corp., RBY Laboratories, Rehrig Pacific Company, Reyes Beverage Group, S.S. Steiner, Inc., Siebel Institute, Spiegelau, TimBar Packaging & Display, TurboTap USA, TurnKey Brewery Consulting Group, Verallia, Vermont Information Processing, White Labs, Wild Goose Canning Technologies Inc., Wyeast Laboratories, Inc., and ZIEMANN Group.
The 2013 Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America® will be March 26-29 in Washington, D.C.
Jill Redding is editor-in-chief of The New Brewer.