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Event Recap | California Craft Beer Summit

Event Recap | California Craft Beer Summit
Corey Therrien

Sometimes, you go to an event with the highest expectations and walk away disappointed. Not because it was bad, but because it couldn’t live up to your lofty expectations. The California Craft Beer Summit is absolutely, positively, without a doubt, 100%, not one of those events.

On September 8-10 2016, the California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA) hosted the California Craft Beer Summit in Sacramento. According to a press release from the CCBA, “This year the Summit boasted 60,000 square feet of exhibit space, four hands-on ingredient labs, 82 exhibitors, 28 educational sessions and nearly 6,000 attendees over the three-day event.” There was a something for everyone here, from seminars and speeches, to finding new suppliers and meeting legends of the industry. Here is a look at your writer’s 3 day adventure at the summit:

Thursday, September 8

The first day had an afternoon start and allowed the attendees a chance to navigate the exhibit floor with less foot traffic than what was expected on Friday. Having been to trade events before, I thought I knew what I was in for.  However, I was blown away from what I encountered.

The exhibit floor had everything you would need to start a brewery or expand it. Whether you need the basics (hops, yeast, malt) or equipment (tanks, chillers, kegs), if you could think of it, it was here. They even had the less fun, but equally as important, business side covered, with multiple lawyers, insurance companies and lending companies in attendance as well (that was the biggest surprise to me). For those of you who may be passionate, but far from professional, there was hope for you too, with exhibits from UC-Davis Extension and local home brewing groups.

Lagunitas beer tent on Thursday afternoon.
Lagunitas beer tent on Thursday afternoon.

Also on the exhibit floor were eight, (EIGHT!) different beer gardens with unlimited sampling. In the four corners of the room we had booths representing regional beers that rotated thru the beers they offered, but always had about five options at each tasting station. These four stations represented the four main regions: Northern California, San Diego, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. In the center of the room were tasting stations from four of the largest breweries in the state: Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, Stone and Firestone Walker.

Friday, September 9

The second day saw a much earlier 9 a.m. start time. There were hour long educational sessions going on that would consist of a panel and a moderator, and always allowed time for a quick Q&A at the end. There were four different themes to the classes: building a brand, retail, business and technical. These sessions were insightful and allowed the attendees to hear from a variety of voices in the industry from around the state. And of course, beer samples were began pouring during the 2nd session of the day (or maybe I was just in the wrong first session).

During the “how to build a beer list” session (part of the retail track) I really enjoyed how the discussion wasn’t focused on the pricing of the beers. It was focused on beer education, balance and even considering your beer list as a work of art. Rob Archie, of Pangaea Bier Café in Sacramento, summed it up best: “I want my beer list to have a soul; I want it to speak to me.” This stood out to me because yes, you have to make decisions based on costs or popularity, but sometimes you make a decision based on what feels right, even if it’s a hard choice to make.

The educational sessions were incredible and make the event something special, not just a trade show with beer. Talking to Jenna Brimage from Blue Note Brewing she says “the marketing class I took was insightful and entertaining. And the class on how to describe beer styles to customers sort of reset me. It made me realized I need to slow down and connect with the people I want to enjoy my product rather than just throwing at beer at them.” The “how to talk about beer styles” class was led by two of the 11 Master Cicerone’s in the world (Nicole Erny and Patrick Rue). They, more so than most, know how easy it is to over talk beer and to not always have the patience to find the right beer to fit the person. However, if you put in the extra effort and find the right beer for them, you will have a convert to not just your brewery or bar, but the wonderful world that is craft beer.

"How to talk about beer styles" with Master Cicerones Nicole Erny and Patrick Rue.
“How to talk about beer styles” with Master Cicerones Nicole Erny and Patrick Rue.

Friday afternoon saw a significant increase of foot traffic on the exhibit floor compared to Thursday. There were stages set up in the corners with speakers talking about a variety of subjects, such as IPAs and new pairing concepts, bringing malting back to California and the rise of sour beers. There were a lot of opportunities to talk to some amazing people, while tasting some more amazing beers from around the state. And opportunities to meet some industry legends, such as David Walker (Firestone Walker), Chris Cramer (Karl Strauss), Steve Dressler (Sierra Nevada) and Natalie & Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River).

Saturday, September 10

Saturday started off much like Friday, with educational sessions in the morning. The themes for the sessions were: career & start-ups, homebrewing, beer trends and advanced tasting. There was a palpable buzz in the air: today was beer fest day! Everyone was pretty excited for the afternoon.  But first, there was work to do.

My favorite session of the weekend took place on Saturday. It was “hazy beer trends” and the discussion was electric. The session was set up to discuss the so-called Northeast IPA. The brewers involved in the discussion seemed to agree that it isn’t a separate style.They may use the description of NE IPA to as a way to inform the customer to expect a hazy beer, but they don’t find it necessary. The moderator wanted to pigeonhole NE IPA as a less hoppy, fruitier and hazy beer. The brewers weren’t having it. They agreed that is what it’s becoming known for, but there are northeast brewers who make hoppy beers, while using more hops than them, and make clear beers. The all agreed that they like experimenting with the different yeasts and liked being able to produce a beer with the hazy look. The brewers were animated and spoke their mind. It was both educational and entertaining.

Standing room only for "a discussion on hazy beers"
Standing room only for “a discussion on hazy beers”

After the closing session, it was time to make our way to the beer fest.  After spending the last few days inside the Sacramento Convention Center, we were going outside finally.  The beer fest would be held on a stretch of Capitol Mall between 3rd and 7th street, framed perfectly at one end by the California Capitol and the other by the Tower Bridge. According to the CCBA “The Summit Beer Festival continues to be the largest California beer festival in the state, hosting more than 165 breweries.” There was somewhere between 450-500 different beers pouring that afternoon.

CA Craft Beer Summit in front of the iconic Tower Bridge in Sacramento.
CA Craft Beer Summit in front of the iconic Tower Bridge in Sacramento.
And at the other end of the street, we had the beautiful California Capitol building.
And at the other end of the street, we had the beautiful California Capitol building.

The attendees were going to be a in for a fun afternoon, but the breweries wanted to make sure they had fun too. KB Brandl of Sudwerk Brewing told us: “We arrived early so we could set up and try some of the beers that aren’t normally distributed in this area… I was excited to get out there and beersplore!” Asked about the crowd, Brandl replied, “The crowd atmosphere was a lot more relaxed and interested in conversation than I expected… people just wanted to relax, enjoy good beer and chat.” This was an idea I heard echoed by others as well. The idea of having this many breweries in one place would lead outsiders to think it was all about binge drinking. But with the variety and quality of breweries represented, it allowed the attendees to explore an amazing selection of craft beer.

The California Craft Beer Summit was a resounding success. It was an incredible event with incredible beer. But Jenna Brimage said it best, “honestly, the highlight of the summit was just hanging out with a lot of cool people” Yes. Yes it was.

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