The Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) and its trade show component, BrewExpo America are setting up shop in familiar territory for the Brewers Association (BA)—the event’s organizer—as it lands in the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, where the association each fall hosts the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). It doesn’t hurt that the organization is based in nearby Boulder. So there’s a bit of a sense of a home field advantage this year. The organization expects about 7,000 total attendees this year, a bump of about 12 percent over last year’s edition in Washington, D.C. Beverage World spoke with Brewers Association director Paul Gatza and event director Nancy Johnson about what’s fermenting for the April 8-11 event, which also features the bi-annual World Beer Cup.
BEVERAGE WORLD: There are obvious advantages in having it in Denver this year—It’s your home turf for one, but what are some of the others?
NANCY JOHNSON: Springtime in Colorado is beautiful…It’s a World Beer Cup year and having the infrastructure of experienced volunteers and contract staff who help receive and inventory the entries and steward the competition is a huge advantage. Many folks in the industry come to Denver in fall for GABF; CBC is such a different vibe. There are 29 breweries in the downtown area! There’s a fantastic local beer scene that folks will be able to experience in a way that’s not always possible during GABF when everyone is running from one event to the next. We’re going to go out on a limb here and predict that it’s going to be exciting to hold the CBC welcome reception in the Denver Broncos house at Mile High Stadium. We’re hoping to get Peyton Manning and Gov. John Hickenlooper to make an appearance.
BW: What are some of the key themes to be addressed in the general session?
PAUL GATZA: Our keynote speaker, Michael Pollan, is a fantastic speaker who holds many of the same values as many of our brewery members—small/local/genuine. We’ve always had someone in the industry as a keynote speaker. We thought it would be nice to get someone in to speak to the group who has a different perspective and thinks about things like where nature and culture intersect—farms/gardens/breweries/hop fields/restaurants. It should be stimulating. One change in the general session is that the State of the Industry information will be a combined presentation with Brewers Association Staff Economist Bart Watson and me.
BW: What are some of the big highlights in the conference sessions this year?
GATZA: In the technical areas, a launch of four new USA hop varieties should be interesting and there will be a mini-track of safety-related seminars. We will also have an update of the progress of the keg performance guidelines being published shortly. We’ll have a total of 81 seminars in the areas of brewery operations, brewpubs, export development, government affairs, packaging breweries, quality, safety, selling craft beer, start-ups, sustainability and technical brewing. One interesting seminar with [Dogfish Head founder] Sam Calagione and [New Belgium co-founder & CEO] Kim Jordan will be on respectful branding and addressing naming conflicts in a hopefully constructive manner.
BW: What are your thoughts on some of the media speculation of a so-called craft “bubble.” What’s generally your response when someone brings up the “b word?”
GATZA: We have looked at what a bubble is and it doesn’t fit what is happening with craft-brewed beer right now. A bubble is a period of overinvestment where asset prices aren’t aligned with reality. We are in a situation where the amount of capacity being added is being occupied by sales increases. If sales weren’t keeping up with expansion, one could argue that a bubble was being set up, but that capacity is being filled by craft brewers who are growing rapidly. Shelf space for craft is increasing. There will be more intense competition and there will be closings for the brewers who can’t reach or keep up on quality. It is logical that craft percentage growth will slow as the base volume gets larger each year, but to think that there is a bubble that will pop on the segment ignores the industry realities and does not have faith that beer drinkers like flavorful beers in a variety of styles from small and independent craft brewers.
BW: What’s going on on the political front, especially with regard to the Small Brewers Caucus, this being a midterm year and all?
GATZA: The announcement that the Senate Bipartisan Small Brewers Caucus co-chair Max Baucus is moving to an ambassador role leaves a leadership gap on the Senate side that we will be working to fill through education and encouragement for a prominent Senator to embrace. On the House side, co-chair Peter DeFazio has scheduled a meeting with BA staff and the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau to discuss ways TTB can serve small brewers in an era of shrinking regulatory budgets.
BW: Any special events you feel like highlighting surrounding CBC?
JOHNSON: As you know, breweries will be hosting all kinds of events all over Denver and the Front Range as satellite events to CBC. We expect to see many posted on our CBC Week Events page as details get squared away and the conference draws nearer.
In the meantime, a special event is taking place on Feb. 24, when all 145 Colorado Brewers Guild member brewers will be invited to the brew day for the 2014 CBC Symposium Ale. This commemorative beer will be called Centennial Pale Ale, named for Colorado being known as the Centennial State. It is a collaborative project involving 145 Colorado Brewers Guild member brewers, who have been developing the idea for this beer for months.
Centennial Pale Ale will be brewed with 100 percent Colorado ingredients, including Colorado-grown Centennial hops. It will be packaged in 19.2 ounce cans provided by Ball Canning using their new Dynamark printing process—becoming the first CBC Symposium Ale to be packaged in cans. Centennial Pale Ale will be brewed and canned at Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont on February 24.