Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville…random thoughts

Having just returned from the Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, I am trying to collect my many random thoughts from an intense week of the largest annual gathering of Craft brewers and industry representatives in North America, while they are fresh.

It appears from the official stats that over 15,000 attendees converged on Nashville, up a couple thousand from last year. The traffic increase was noticeable at our booth at the BrewExpo. From listening to exhibitor comments from the year prior (where attendance was flat from the previous year), some attributing the difference to it being two years in a row on the East Coast (from Philadelphia the year prior to Washington DC last year), and that it was held during Easter Week, a common Spring Break week for many schools across the U.S, when brewers with family on school break had to make a decision… business or family? The other factor was a late addition second floor of the Expo Hall after the first floor had been sold out…which effectively split the BrewExpo traffic in DC, causing notable diminished traffic to long-time supporters of the BrewExpo who shell out considerable coin to exhibit there.

My hat is off to the Brewers Association for listening to comments and maintaining the BrewExpo floor to one (incredibly huge) hall with over 700 exhibitors There were massive social events (Canarchy, a three-day outdoor music and beerapalooza…how about watching The Big Labowski on a giant outdoor screen after dark while networking with other brewers?), a categorical listing of all the hospitality sessions that were open to all attendees (instead of relying on direct invites). The opportunity to network from breakfast to closing hours were exacerbated by the downtown Nashville setting, with the legendary honky tonks and music everywhere, which provided a great backdrop to the global Craft beer industry. The biggest challenge? Getting enough sleep.

And the educational opportunities for Craft brewers to hear from the best in the industry were so good, that we heard how many attendees had to choose from multiple topics of personal interest to them, being presented simultaneously. The good news? All of these seminars were recorded so that ANY BA member can go back and soak up the knowledge.

We know first-hand the vetting process that the BA goes through in not only determining which seminars to present, but also making sure that they stay on topic. These seminars are not intended to promote any one company, and a committee evaluates topics and presentations prior to the event.

The process to determine these seminars actually starts two-thirds of a year prior. The Request for Proposals for the following year’s CBC is distributed in mid-August, with a Proposal deadline of mid-September. That is an awful lot of pre-planning for anyone to say, “hey, I have this thought of a problem, challenge or issue that Craft brewers would like to learn about.”

A committee evaluates all of the proposals submitted by topic, and makes their selections with notifications of approval by early December. In January, preliminary presentations are required to be submitted, and the committee evaluates them and responds with thoughtful questions, comments and recommended changes (or clarifications). Final presentations are required to be submitted just weeks prior, and speakers are coached through the process to make sure that the seminars offer the best content to CBC attendees who paid dearly for the opportunity to learn.

We went through this process first-hand with the Brewers Association staff and seminar committee for the Craft Brewers Conference, as we presented a seminar on the topic of “UNDERSTANDING DISTILLED HOP OILS”. As an exhibitor, it created a double-duty of focus and work to provide the best seminar content that we could, as well as presenting a booth presence that answered questions and provided value to attendees. I could honestly say that sometimes in the planning process, the decisions of what to bring and what to present were frankly “fluid”. You go with your gut, sometimes.

We were fortunate to have had three of the smartest guys in the room, Mitch Steele, who literally wrote the book on IPAs, Tim Schnars, who authored the Hopzoil™ SOP, and Mike Sanders, a pioneer in hemp and cannabis extraction, (three smart guys plus me), share a Big Picture overview, the Standard Operating Procedure, the Efficiencies and Economics and the Chemistry Composition of what we know today as Hopzoil™.

We had one major brewmaster from Brazil come up to me immediately after our seminar presentation and tell me how he has already attended 4 or 5 seminars and that this was the best one he had participated in, in terms of both content and how engaged the seminar attendees were, judging by the sheer volume of questions that were posed after the presentations. It was pretty rewarding to hear that. A link to the entire seminar, which was recorded, will be posted by the BA very soon, we are told.

The results of both our booth presentation and the seminar validated the many months of work that we invested in our CBC presence. The Craft beer industry is an interesting one, compared to all of the previous industries I’ve been in. The sharing of knowledge in this industry, among all who want to ask any question, is uncommon.

To quote Tim Schnars, the Head of Brewing Operations for Meadowlark Brewing, “We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and the view is quite brilliant because of that.”