Let me begin this post by telling you a little story that I’ve told a couple of times in private, but I think it’s good enoughof a story to put for for public consumption. Last February, I noticed that the 2010 Craft Beer Conference was taking place in Chicago. On a complete lark, I decided to attempt to get a media credential. Our story picks up from there.

Allow me to set the scene. I’m sitting at my computer and my lovely long-time companion Irene is doing some school work in the other room. Email from the Brewers Association arrives…

Me: How about that. You’ll never believe this, but they’re giving me a media pass for the Craft Brewers Conference in Chicago!

Short Pause.

Irene: I guess they’ll give just about any jackass that applies a pass.

End scene.


In a nutshell, the Craft Brewers Conference is a meeting of Craft Brewers, Brewery Representatives, Sales People, Distributors and Brewery Suppliers. This time allows them to learn, meet each other, see new products, and maybe most importantly, to drink some beer.

Not only is their an expo hall showing off a number of new products and ingredients available in the brewing industry, but there is a number of seminars and discussions as well. As this is an industry only event, I wanted to give you some of the sights and a few thoughts on everything I took part in.


Thursday:

I rolled into town about 1:30PM; by the time I checked in, got over to the conference, and got my bearings it was time for the Social Marketing: Creating Community in Real Time discussion. As I’ve done my fair share of social media, this was a perfect way to start off my time here at the conference.

It was certainly an fascinating discussion and looking back, it’s now interesting to see how some local brewers have leveraged social media to help their business and how some other haven’t quite seen the light.

After that discussion I met up with Schlafly brewer and Mattingly Brewing head brewer Drew Huerter. He gave me the scoop about the upcoming discussion by Dr. Michael Lewis of UC Davis about Drinkability. I can probably say this about the discussion without having much of an argument from anyone in attendance, it was certainly the most spirited if not the most contentious discussion at the Conference.

Dr. Lewis talked about the industry as a whole needing to cut back on the amount of “big” beers being made and get back to brewing more sessionable beers. He posed questions like, “Are we beginning to run out of ‘hop heads’?” and “Are we just brewing beers for the people in this room?”

Some of the things he posed I agreed with and some of the things I didn’t. Which, in my mind, is what makes for a great discussion.

That evening I was lucky enough to be invited to the New Belgium “Brews and Pig” party at Lush. Here’s a list of everything I had to sample that evening. And for the record, I did get very drunk, that’s not me bragging, it’s just a fact:

  • Allagash – Avance
  • Bell’s – Quinannan Falls
  • Bell’s – Wild One (bottle)
  • Brooklyn Brewery – Dark Matter
  • Brooklyn Brewery – Black OPS (b)
  • Dieu du Ciel – Isseki Nicho
  • Elysian Brewery – Perfesser
  • Firestone Walker – Union Jack
  • Half Acre – Daisy Cutter
  • New Belgium – LOVE
  • New Belgum – Eric’s Ale (b)
  • Odell – IPA (b)
  • Piece Brewery – Swinging Single
  • Real Ale – Devil’s Backbone (b)
  • Russian River – Pliny the Elder (b)
  • Russian River – Consercration (b)
  • Russian River – Supplication (b)
  • The Bruery – Oede Tart

Friday:

As you can imagine, after Thursday night’s amount of fun, I didn’t get a chance to attend any of the morning sessions, but I did get a chance to visit the BrewExpo America floor and see some of the wares that different companies had to offer. Let me see first off that the thing that the BrewExpo does right is that there is a beer sampling station around every corner. Because of this other expo floor will ever live up to this one.

Basically, if you’ve been to any kind of expo, you know the drill: pretty girls, sales people and a lot of free swag. That being said, this isn’t an expo for the average beer nerd. It’s mostly brewing equipment, packaging, cleaning, and some ingredients. Here’s a couple of photos that’ll give you the general idea:

The next discussion Drew and I attended was probably one of the most popular discussions attended: Toothpicks, Garlic and Chalk: Three Key Ingredients to Any Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Sour Beer Program by Russian River Owner/Brewer Vinnie Cilurzo. If the title of the discussion is throwing you, basically the biggest concern to aging in wooden casks is leakage. This is a problem that can be fixed by using a toothpick to plug the leak, and then using chalk and garlic to create paste to seal the toothpick.

Oh, and we all got a taste of Temptation.

The final discussion of the day for me was listed in the brochure as “Craft Beer and Food” but in reality was something closer to my heart: Craft Beer & the Artisanal & Natural Food Movement. This panel, which was moderated and hosted by Stone Brewing’s Greg Koch and included Slow Food Regional Governor Joel Smith, Culture Magazine’s Stephanie Skinner, Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver.

They talked about the importance of using local and sustainable food and pairing it with beer that is artisanal.  I think the quote that summed up the entire discussion for me came from something that Slow Food Founder Carlo Petrini told Garrett Oliver, he said, “The American Craft Brewing phenomenon is the purest form of the Slow Food movement.”

It’s people bringing back and saving a traditional form of food that could have been lost to corporate giants.  As brewers and beer lovers, it’s our job to help other producers of food do the same thing.

While there was still plenty of drinking and fun over the rest of the weekend, my favorite and what I would count as final event of the CBC was the New Belgium and New Holland beer dinner at The Publican. I’m not about to go over every pairing with every dish, but I’m not kidding when I say that this was by far the best beer dinner I’ve ever attended.

The pairings for this meal were absolutely divine. Even to the point they took a beer I didn’t particularly enjoy and the meal made the beer better. If that isn’t the sign of a great pairing, I don’t know what is. I’ve included the menu for you to look over:

I hope I’ve given you a small taste of what it’s like to attend this event. With any luck, maybe we can have a CBC here in St. Louis in the next few years. I think it would be impressive for many brewers to come into St. Louis and see what we have to offer even in the shadow of a giant. At minimum, while you may not be able to attend the conference, the parties that are going on all week long would completely make up for not being to attend.

Here’s to hoping I can attend next year.