By Jill Redding
Bigger—and stronger. America’s accelerating craft beer industry was further amplified by the more than 6,400 brewers, wholesalers, allied trade members, and media who converged on Washington, D.C. March 26-29 for the 30th annual Craft Brewers Conference, highlighted by an unprecedented Craft Brewers Hill Climb the day before the conference officially began.
On March 26, in what was repeatedly referred to as an historic moment for craft brewers, 233 small and independent American brewery owners and brewers, from 215 craft breweries and 46 states, climbed Capitol Hill to meet with congressional staff, share their stories, and discuss issues important to their small businesses.
“There doesn’t just need to be a Hill Climb one day a year,” stressed Rep. Peter DeFazio, who was presented with the Brewers Association’s Achievement Award during the general session to commemorate his five years of leadership in the House Small Brewers Caucus. “Reach out to your state and elected officials all year round. We need you.”
DeFazio mentioned that Congress could learn a thing or two from the craft brewing industry.
“You know how to create jobs, know how to balance the books, and, unlike Congress, you produce a product that Americans like,” he joked.
Indeed, with 15-percent growth in volume in 2012 and 6.5-percent market share, the craft brewing industry continues to scale new heights.
“Can craft still accelerate? Absolutely,” said BA director Paul Gatza during the general session. “Will it? We’ll have to see.”
As he did at the 2012 conference, Gatza stressed the importance of quality for the more than 2,300 craft breweries in existence and the more than 1,300 in planning.
“If you’re not making quality beer, I have some career advice for you,” he said. “Start a distillery or a winery. There’s lots of money to be made there.
“If you don’t care about quality first, you will fail at commercial brewing.”
New Belgium Brewing founder Kim Jordan, who delivered the keynote address, also addressed the topic.
“Beer drinkers are counting on us to be the guardians of quality, and what we do here matters,” she emphasized.
Jordan’s keynote came 10 years after she challenged the craft brewers assembled in New Orleans at the 2003 Craft Brewers Conference to boldly aim for 10-percent market share.
“Who knew that 10 years later, our industry could be so wildly engaged,” she told the standing-room-only crowd. “You have kicked this thing’s ass. We have fundamentally changed the culture of beer and brewing in this country.”
Noting that at almost 7 percent market share, craft’s share has more than doubled in 10 years, Jordan observed, “Our influence is outsized for our growth rate.” She predicted that craft will grow well beyond 10 percent share, but said then that the question will be, “Are we growing what we hope to grow? Will it make us smile about one another?
“I can’t wait to watch it all unfold,” she said.
Elysian Brewing Co.’s Dick Cantwell presented the annual BA awards during the general session.
The F.X. Matt Defense of the Small Brewing Industry Award was presented to David Katleski of Empire Brewing, president of the New York State Craft Brewers Guild, who has worked tirelessly on behalf of the craft beer industry in his state.
“This award is a collective effort,” said Katleski. “There are 100 breweries in New York state and we’ve banded together and decided to fight the good fight. We have always been the small dog in the fight.”
Art Larrance of Cascade Brewing/Raccoon Lodge & Brew Pub received the Brewers Association Recognition Award. Larrance has been in the industry since the early 1980s, opening Portland Brewing in 1985 and creating the Oregon Brewers Festival in 1988. He opened Cascade Brewing in 1998. Larrance’s daughter, Alissa Larrance-Corwin, accepted the award on his behalf.
A humbled Peter Bouckaert, brewmaster of New Belgium Brewing Co., accepted the Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Brewing. Bouckaert, the former brewer for Rodenbach who was raised in Belgium, said, “I never thought I would live in the U.S., but now I get to work for such an amazing company, I get to live in the best place, at the right time, in the most innovating country right now in beer.”
Education and More
The conference included 90 educational seminars in 10 different tracks including smaller breakout sessions dubbed “The Doctor is In”; 440 industry exhibitors at the BrewExpo America® trade show; and peripheral events such as the ninth Craft Beer Wholesalers Conference, the Craft Beer Bar Owners Conference, the Micro Matic Draft Dispense Institute Course, a Retailer Speed Dating session, and several national, state, and regional guilds meetings.
Conference-goers also had many outlying events to choose from including bus tours of craft breweries in the D.C. area, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia; a welcome reception at the National Air and Space Museum; and several events hosted by area breweries and better beer bars.
Hot topics in the seminar tracks included managing growth and start-ups. In a seminar titled “Why You Should NOT Open a Brewery,” Jim Schembre, national manager of World Class Beer, echoed the quality theme that permeated the week (and, an entire seminar track was devoted to that issue). “The benchmark used to be good beer—it’s got to be great beer now,” he cautioned.
In the “Planning for and Executing Rapid Growth” seminar, Sun King Brewing’s Clay Robinson talked about the importance of building a great working culture at your brewery. “If you take care of the people, they will take care of the quality,” he believes.
In his talk “Craft Continues Its Ascent, But a Few Clouds Form on the Horizon,” Benj Steinman of Beer Marketers Insights remarked, “Craft beer is getting to be its own religion. This industry is rockin’ and rollin’.”
The 2013 Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America® sponsors included 3TAC, LLC; AC Beverage Inc.; Allied Beverage Tanks, Inc.; Ball Corporation; Banner Equipment Company; Barth-Haas Group; Beer Institute; Ben E. Keith; BevForce; BFBi; Brewers Supply Group; Brewery Finance; Brewery Pak Insurance Programs; Briess Malt & Ingredients Co.; Burkert Fluid Control Systems; Cargill Malt; Cask Brewing Systems; Charles Faram & Co. Ltd.; Chrislan Ceramics; Cicerone Certification Program; Columbine Label Company, Inc.; COMPTOIR AGRICOLE; The Country Malt Group; CraftBeer.com; CROWN; DRAFT Magazine; Drinktec; Flying Dog; Glass Packaging Institute; GreatBrewers.com; Gusmer Enterprises, Inc.; Hach Company; Hallertauer Hopfen; The Hop Man; Hopunion LLC; Inland Label; KeyKeg; KHS; McDantim; Malek Brautech Gmbh; Marks Design & Metalworks; Massachusetts Beverage Alliance; MicroStar Keg Management; Muntons Malted Ingredients; Neenah Paper, Inc.; O-I; PakTech; Pall Food and Beverage; Prospero Equipment Corp.; Rehrig Pacific Company; Reyes Beverage Group; S.S. Steiner, Inc.; Satellite Logistics Group; Siebel Institute; Spiegelau; TimBar Packaging & Display; Verallia; White Labs; Wild Goose Canning Technologies Inc.; and Wyeast Laboratories, Inc.
Next year’s Craft Brewers Conference, BrewExpo America®, and World Beer Cup® will take place in April 8-11 in Denver.