The Bar Towel is proud to once again present our annual preview of the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America (CBC), taking place from April 14th to 17th, 2015 in at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon. Part One of the preview covered our highlights of breweries, bars and other sights of the city, and Part Two covers our picks for the conference seminars.
The Craft Brewers Conference in Portland is only days away, and now’s the time to begin planning to get the most out of your experience. As the largest conference of its kind in the U.S., the CBC can almost be overwhelming nowadays, with non-stop panels, seminars, demonstrations, hospitality events, meetings and vendor showcases. Oh, and the thousands of beer industry folks from all over the world descending on the Oregon Convention Center for three days of camaraderie, connecting and, of course, drinking.
The core schedule format of the CBC is consistent from recent years past, with sponsored demonstrations and hosted seminars occurring throughout the day, and the BrewExpo America trade show running simultaneously, along with various other group meetings, hospitality suites and official nightly events taking place. (See Part One of our preview for a rundown of a number of events happening around Portland, not officially affiliated with the conference itself.)
The big news this year is the addition of an extra half day of BrewExpo America. (Previously only running on the Wednesday and Thursday, BrewExpo America now runs from 9am-5pm on Wednesday and Thursday, and 8:30am-12pm on Friday.) This trade show attracts 600 vendors and is a brewery owners’ dream, as suppliers offering everything from basic needs such as equipment and ingredients to neon signs and specialty merchandise are all here. And with over a dozen beer stations throughout the show, it’s easy to stay liquified as you wander up and down the aisles. And speaking of beer, keep your eyes open for the six Symposium Beers produced by Oregon brewers for the CBC.
Outside of the trade show, the CBC is heavily focused on seminars, hosted panels, talks and presentations about a wide series of topics relevant to the brewing industry. As is in years past, the seminars are divided up into streams based upon their topics, and this year they are: brewery operations, brewpubs, export development, government affairs, packaging breweries, quality, safety, selling craft beer, start-ups, sustainability brewing and technical brewing. The seminars are also identified by level of sophistication: Fundamentals, Intermediate and Advanced.
Now let’s talk about our picks. As in the past, our picks below represent the seminars that we find the most interesting in the context of today’s craft brewing world, with a Canadian skew. Lots of quality seminars overlap, so it’s challenging to see everything. But get yourself a beer and enjoy, there’s something for everyone in the industry at the CBC. (For some handy tools to plan out your schedule, see the CBC’s online planner, mobile app and pocket PDF guide.)
9:15-11:00: Keynote Address and General Session
The keynote address is the formal kickoff of the CBC, and it’s always a must-see. Similar to last year, the keynote is not being delivered by a beer industry representative, but by the leadership speaker and author Simon Sinek. The choice is indicative of the maturity of the industry, that as craft breweries evolve into formidable businesses, it is wise to understand and adopt broader perspectives on leadership, innovation and customer loyalty. The keynote is then followed by the traditional “state of the nation” of craft beer, which will undoubtedly highlight the explosive growth of the industry, but with a dose of reality as well as to where things could be headed.
1:20-2:20: Maintaining Flagship Brands (Intermediate)
In today’s world of constant beer flavour innovation and non-stop seasonal and one-off releases, the business of beer is still driven in large part by flagship brands, both in Ontario and abroad. This panel features representatives from Sierra Nevada, Deschutes and Solemn Oath about managing flagship brands and balancing leading brands within a portfolio.
2:40-3:40: Beyond the Daily Grind: Community Partnerships and Sustainability (Fundamentals)
Our friend Steve Beauchesne from Beau’s Brewing makes another appearance at the CBC, this time on a panel about connecting with the local community and sustainability practices, something Beau’s has certainly excelled at. He’s joined on this panel by representatives from successful Colorado brewers Odell and New Belgium.
2:40-3:40: Kettle Souring: Three Brewers Talk Methods and Practices (Intermediate)
Sour beers have been booming in recent years, but they’re certainly not the easiest style of beer to make well. This panel features head brewers from local Portland breweries The Commons, Breakside and Gigantic to discuss the secrets to their successes.
2:40-3:40: Merchandise and POS to Build Your Brand (Fundamentals)
Most brewers know that beer merchandise can be an integral strategy to build a beer brand, whether its at festivals, in-bar or at events. But with the possibility of change coming to the retail environment in Ontario, brewers will be facing POS (point-of-sale) opportunities like they never have before. Hear from representatives from Pretty Things, Allagash and Firestone Walker about their experiences at this panel.
9:00-10:00: Brewpub Food: Moving Beyond Pizza and Burgers (Fundamentals)
Many beer focused bars and restaurants in Ontario have done a great job in pairing premium food with premium beer. But this panel features Dave McLean, owner of Magnolia of San Francisco, one of our favourite places anywhere. Check this one out.
1:20-2:20: Canada Market: Insights on Exporting to Alberta (Fundamentals)
There’s always a few export focused seminars at the CBC, and often ones that focus on specific regions in Canada. Alberta gets the spotlight this year, with a talk from a beer category manager at two private retailers. It’s always interesting to see how other provinces handle importation, especially in light of Ontario’s challenging system and potential changes that could be afoot.
1:20-2:20: Where to go Next? Using Brewing Industry and Economic Data to Grow Your Business (Fundamentals)
At last year’s CBC Bart Watson, Chief Economist of the Brewers Association, gave an interesting talk about the positive economics of beer festivals. He’s back for another this year, speaking alongside Lester Jones about leveraging data for brewery development, an ever-increasingly important strategy for business decisions.
Breweries are opening up in Ontario at a rapid rate, and the smart owners know that creating an area to drink house brews is a way to bring in guests and sell more beer. This talk from the owners of Mother Road from Flagstaff, Arizona promises their tips to success.
1:00-2:00: Brewery Building Basics (Fundamentals)
It seems like there’s a new brewery opening up every week in Ontario. And for those who haven’t, here’s your chance to get some insights into getting off the ground, featuring owners of local Portland brewers Hopworks and Breakside.
2:20-3:20: Build a Better Beer Dinner (Fundamentals)
Beer lovers in Toronto have been blessed with some fantastic and sophisticated beer dinners over the years, but its arguable that their popularity has been waning. This panel is being given by Jesse Friedman of the successful ‘gypsy’ brewer Almanac Beer Co., promises to discuss new ways to revitalize this tried-and-true beer event.
2:20-3:20: Planning an Exit: How to Prepare for an Ownership Transition (Advanced)
It’s already begun to happen: pioneering craft brewers have sold their breweries as different stages of life occur, with varying degrees of outside criticism (Anchor, Goose Island, Elysian). This seminar features senior executives from Boulevard and New Belgium along with wealth management experts discussing a topic that will only get more prominent in the future.
3:40-4:40: Mixed Culture Fermentation in a Production Brewery (Intermediate)
It is often the case that the final slot of the seminar schedule at the CBC has a talk about unique methods of brewing. This year is no different, with a panel about mixed culture fermentations featuring the head brewers from some very renowned breweries: New Belgium, Jester King, Sante Adairius and Crooked Stave.
3:40-4:40: DIY Beer Fest: Staging a Kickass Beer Event (Fundamentals)
Closing out the seminar schedule is an all-star lineup discussing how a brewery can host their own festival rather than simply participating in ones organized by third parties. This panel features Ontario’s Steve Beauchesne yet again, alongside representatives from Cigar City and Three Floyds, plus the well-known co-founder of Elysian, Dick Cantwell (its also notable to see Dick making a formal appearance at the CBC, as Elysian was recently acquired by Anheuser-Busch). Any tips from the founders of Beau’s Oktoberfest, Dark Lord Day and Hunahpu’s Day are worth hearing.
The CBC seminars cover a wide range of topics so there’s always something for everyone in the industry. It will be interesting to see the trends and hot button topics that arise from the seminar discussion this year. The brewing growth has been so massive over the past few years, that its going to be hard to contain all the opinions and questions into just two and a half days of seminars. But this year’s lineup promises to be a good one yet again, so enjoy!
If you are heading to Portland, please tell us about your CBC experience. Follow us @bartowel and let us know when you’re at the conference. It would be great to meet up with some Canadians for a few great beers. Looking forward to seeing everyone there!