April 6, 2011

Jake's Craft Brewers Conference 2011 Recap

CBC Symposium Beer
A special perk of working for Northern Brewer is being able to attend some of the best beer-related events in the country.  We travel throughout the year to attend everything and anything that has do with homebrewing and craft beer.  For the past couple of years, we have been going to the Craft Brewers Conference, which is kind of like the National Homebrewers Conference for the craft beer industry. This year's CBC was held March 23-26 in San Francisco, and I wanted to share my impressions.

The relationship between homebrewing and craft brewing has always been solid: after all, the American Homebrewers Association gave birth to the Brewers Association, and many professional brewers started as homebrewers.  Every time we attend a craft beer event, we run into old friends, make new ones, and re-establish that lineage.

That's me (l) with Blake Crosby (r)
Attendance for Northern Brewer is crucial now that we carry Harry Mason beer engines and will soon carry Hereford casks.  Breweries, brewpubs, and distributors are already ordering these products and we hope to serve the craft beer industry with the same quality service, fulfillment, and general excellence that homebrewers have come to know and love (and expect).

Some of the highlights this year included spending some time with Blake Crosby of B.Crosby Hop Farm.  Brewing TV had the pleasure of visiting Blake's operation in the Willamette valley last year for our Hop Madness episode.  We also sourced rhizomes from Blake this year, so if you're planting some Chinook, Columbus, Mt.Hood, Nugget, Brewers Gold, Williamette, Sterling, or Nugget stock purchased through NB, chances are it came from his farm.  Blake was there as a speaker, representing the Oregon hop growers on a panel discussing the versatility of American hops.  The talk was very informative, and gave a glimpse into some future trends of the craft beer industry's hop use, and supply chain issues.  Brewers from New Glarus, Sierra Nevada and Moonlight Brewery were also on hand with special beers made for the talk.  Each brewery brewed two versions of a particular beer, one with traditional German hops and the other with an American substitute.  Needless to say, we got to try some amazing beers!

 NB's Juno Choi with two versions 
of Two Women Lager from New Glarus
It was a treat to have a beer I had been lucky enough to previously try at New Glarus when we visited their brewery last Summer.  New Glarus will always have a special place in my heart as we're embedded on their homepage! Dan Carey was there to explain the hop choices and field questions.  To see two of the people we've worked with over the last year addressing the craft industry at large was great.

Another panel discussion moderated by our good friend Jamil Zainasheff (Brewing Network, Heretic Brewing Company, and our Jamil's Evil Twin kit) broke down some nitty-gritty details about yeast storage, propagation, and health.  It was fascinating to understand how the same principles we use as homebrewers scale to a professional level.

Jamil at the podium
Jamil's audience

The room was packed!  To see Jamil, a homebrewing icon, address a room of well-known craft brewers about yeast was certainly special.  We're very proud of Jamil.  We've sponsored his show on the Brewing Network for about 6 years now, developed a beer kit with him, included him in multiple NB events, BTV shoots, and can't wait to see what's next for "The Pope".  Way to go JZ!

Of course, it wasn't all talks and panel discussions.  We ran into industry folks from Muntons, Wyeast, White Labs, LD Carlson, Crosby and Baker, and many others.  It's always a great opportunity to share some good times, while talking shop and strengthening relationships.  This is paramount in getting our customers the best products, service and value. I get crap from friends all the time when I travel for these events, and the criticism always lands somewhere around, "oh, that must be grueling work" (said in an overly sarcastic tone).  Truth be told, these conferences and events are grueling.  You're on your feet all day, working, being social, but still getting work done.  By the end you feel like you didn't get to do either...but there's a beer in your hand and surely a grin on your face.

                        Juno Choi, Brian Perkey of Muntons, and Andrew Bartleson (Purchasing Manager NB)

Of course, some of the off-site events offer a reprieve from all the shop-talk.   The events are always great ways for breweries, vendors, etc to reinforce vital components to both the craft beer and homebrewing industry; hospitality, good times, and great beer.  With my BTV media pass, I was also invited to exclusive beer tasting events. This allowed me a little extra access to the hospitality-side of the conference.  After long days of negotiating, networking, and learning, the nights ended on the glue that holds all together....beer. 
Bitter American in cozy - 21st Amendment media event at their brewpub 

Deschutes Black Butte XXII - poured at a media-only event at the City Beer Store
After 4 days of hand-shaking and picture taking, I was more then ready to get back home and back to the office.  As it turns out, Andrew and I were on the same flight as our good friend Chris German of Brewer's Supply Group.  We shared a beer or two, had some lunch, and caught up.  We've known Chris for quite some time, and created Emma's Brown Ale, a beer kit to raise awareness about his daughter's battle with Neuroblastoma.  100% of the profits from sales of this kit go to help fund pediatric cancer research and treatment at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Chris let us know that Emma is doing well, and that she's almost done with her treatments.  This was by far the highlight of my trip.

As I settled into our return flight, Chris sitting in front of me, Andrew to my left, I couldn't help but think that running into an old friend, getting some truly good news , and sharing a beer somehow summed up the craft beer and homebrew industries.

Some say beer (both craft and homebrew) is an industry, some say it's a community, but for me, it's a family.  We help each other in tough times, and we celebrate accomplishments together.  It's a group effort, and there isn't a place for in-fighting and grudges.  What we need is partnership and respect.   I know this view is not shared by all, but I'd like to think it's shared by the people, breweries, and companies Northern Brewer chooses to work with.  I'm proud to represent Northern Brewer, and I'm proud, and thankful, to work in such a great industry, community, and family...I think that's what something like the CBC is really about.


   Symposium beer - Sour Brown from Sierra Nevada and Russian River - enjoyed in a Mine pint at home

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