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Craft Beer Takes on the Capital: Brewers Association Craft Beer Conference and BrewExpo America

craft brewers conference
Erin Petrey
Avg. Reading Time: 5 min

Last week, everyone from brewers and cicerones, to keg manufacturers and beer academics – over 6,400 of them – descended upon Washington, DC to engage in the annual Brewers Association Craft Beer Conference and BrewExpo America for a week of hard work and industry networking infused with a heavy dose of beer drinking and occasional mischief. This gathering differs greatly from the Great American Beer Festival, which is much more focused on the actual brews themselves, rather than the industry. The entire event hosts two main components: the Craft Beer Conference (seminar-based) and BrewExpo America (an industry trade show).

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The Conference component offered seminars for seasoned brewers to entrepreneurial hopefuls in 11 tracks including Brewpubs, Export Development, Government Affairs, Packaging Breweries, Quality, Selling Craft Beer, Sustainability (which was a predominant theme of the conference), and Technical Brewing. The BrewExpo played host to roughly 440 exhibitors displaying their wares, such as kegs, glassware, brewing systems, bottling machines, merchandising, labels, coasters, and even yeasts. Essentially, if it is involved in the process of making and selling beer, there was a booth representing it at the expo. Beyond the two major components, CBC attendees had the opportunity to attend local brewery tours, beer demonstrations, and a Wholesalers Conference.

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So here are my highlights from a fantastic week full of all things Craft Beer:

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Welcome Reception at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum

  • I can honestly say this is one of the coolest events I have ever attended. Combine space ships, missiles, and airplanes with hundreds of craft beers and ample delicious food (including a mac n cheese bar and a wall of brownies), you have the recipe for an adult Disneyland. The event also featured tables with beer and food pairings, a growing trend especially in brewpubs. What struck me most about the beer selection at the reception was the wealth of representation from local DC area breweries. Though the “State of the Craft Brewing Industry” (more on that later) indicated that the definition of local was growing (i.e. – radius is expanding), it was refreshing to see so many breweries present from Virginia, DC, and Maryland.

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State of the Craft Brewing Industry and Keynote Address

  • This year’s CBC general session saw the Brewers Association release of a comprehensive study of metrics and trends on the growth of the U.S. craft beer market (the full report will be published in the May/June 2013 issue of The New Brewer). BA’s Paul Gatza presented the results of the study, and the numbers were very promising: while America’s total beer market grew only by a tiny 1%, our beloved craft brews welcomed a 15% increase by volume, a 17% rise in dollar growth, and a barrel increase of nearly 1.8 MILLION. That, my fellow Porch Drinkers, is a whole lot of delicious beer. And in more good news, the international presence of American craft beer really took off, setting records for beer exports. Canada, Sweden, Japan, and Australia are currently the biggest global markets for U.S. craft brews. Move over, Molson!
  • The conference keynote was delivered by New Belgium CEO and Craft Brewing Queen, Kim Jordan. Her remarks were optimistic and sought to really forge a sense of community among those involved in craft brewing, from the brewers themselves to the Porch Drinkers who drop plenty of our paychecks on American-made brews. However, Jordan did caution the industry that quality is key – this vital aspect of brewing craft beer cannot slip if the future is to be bright; essentially, if you don’t know what you’re doing, stop, learn, and try it again, or bow out of the game. Jordan also affirmed that “We’re [the ‘vibrant, vital, & quirky’ craft brewers] are the best thing that has happened to this industry since the repeal of Prohibition.” I am inclined to agree with her.

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BrewExpo American & Hospitality Suites

  • For me, it is always fascinating to get a behind the scenes look of any industry. For craft beer, we are very used to popping open a brew on the porch or enjoying a pint at a local brewpub or bar, but we are still a bit removed from the actual process of making this wonderful and refreshing product. Even we venture to a brewery to see how the beer is made – seeing the mashing and fermentation tanks, the grain silos, the bottling lines – we still do not grasp a full picture of the business involved in getting that beer on a shelf and into your eagerly awaiting hand. BrewExpo America allowed me an insight into all of the aspects of brewing and selling beer, as well as the opportunity to talk to the vendors engaged in such ventures. The most eye-catching sites were those from label, coaster, and tap manufacturers. And who doesn’t love a bit of swag here and there?

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  • The BrewExpo was also host to numerous sponsored “Beer Stations,” where your friendly bartender would pour whatever was on tap or in bottle/can in front of you. Though I posted a few of my in-expo tastings on PorchDrinking.com‘s Twitter page, I must mention a few notables here: Mischief by The Bruery, Platinum Dragon Tripel (great name!) by Allagash Brewing, Psycho Kilter Wee Heavy Ale by Starr Hill, and my hometown favorite, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout by Lexington Brewing & Distilling (aka: Kentucky Ale). A full list of the kind souls who donated beer for CBC events can be found on the CBC Showcase Your Beer page.
  • Hospitality is what beer is all about: sharing a pint and sharing ideas. The sense of community that Kim Jordan so fervently emphasized during the keynote was evident in the hospitality suites during the expo. All attendees – media, brewers, equipment manufacturers, hop farmers, and beyond – gathered together over snacks and a fantastic selections of beers to sit down, chat, and network. Growing one’s network of like-minded craft enthusiasts is a key to the successful future of the industry: the community must grow.

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Other Lessons and Observations

  • Craft beer is not going anywhere anytime soon. This is GREAT news! Craft beer in the United States is not only a fun generator, but a job generator. The U.S. Craft Beer industry currently employs over 108,000 people. Especially in our slow economy, beer is a boon for job and economic growth throughout the United States. Growing local industries is vital to economic progress, and what a better way to achieve that goal than making more beer? So lesson to my Porch Drinkers out there: drink more and save America!
  • I met quite a few prospective brewers and Brewpub owners. This is a wonderful sign. Craft beer, as I mentioned in my last point, is such a boon to the U.S. economy (which is something Congress actually agrees on!). But not only this, Craft Beer fuels passionate people and encourages entrepreneurial spirit. This is good for America, and fantastic for us consumers!
  • Craft brew enthusiasts are awesome people. They are fun, quirky, cool, passionate, generally pretty beardy, and the perfect people to share a pint with. This also bodes well for the future, as it is so much more pleasant to do business with nice people.
  • Wheat beers are projected to fall in popularity, while bocks are expected to grow.
  • This is a rehash, but parties in museums are AWESOME!

I am truly looking forward to watching the developments in the Craft Beer industry over the course of 2013. Can’t wait for the 2014 Craft Beer Conference in Denver from April 8-11, which will be hosted in conjunction with the 2014 World Beer Cup!

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