Beer Bloggers’ Conference #3: Trade Show and Julie Herz’ keynote

Beer Bloggers Up to This Point…bloggers meet in Chicago for dinner at Goose Island and pub crawl, then take a bus to Lafayette Brewing for lunch.

Last Friday afternoon our bus rumbled into downtown Indianapolis and pulled up to the Marriott.  Since we’d just had a faboo lunch at Lafayette Brewing Co., it didn’t feel like a long trip at all, despite having come from Chicago.  Seriously, I’d been in the Midwest for less than 24 hours, been to five brewpubs, sampled at least thirteen different, new-to-me, really good beers, had two scrumptous meals, and now the actual Beer Bloggers Conference would begin; in my mind all was well with the world.

We all got ourselves checked in and settled a bit, then migrated down to our version of a Trade Show – which was a room full of local and national breweries offering samples!  I tasted Sam Adams’ new oak-aged bottle-conditioned Thirteenth Hour stout/ale blend, which would be absolutely perfect with a dark berry tart with just a dollop of creme fraiche; in fact I snagged a bottle of it to bring home.   The full line of Angry Orchard ciders was there, which made me glad – more cider in the world!

At this point I am still feeling a little shy; it is hard to walk up to the tasting tables and start conversations with all these strangers.  Beer is a universal friend-maker, though, and shyness passed quickly.

Three levels of beer geekdom: beginner, enthusiast, beer geek; or “What do I order?” “What do I buy or what should I serve?” “What food does this go well with?”Julie herz holding microphone

I doubt anyone who’s paying attention to beer – even if it’s just noting what’s available at the grocery store – hasn’t noticed we’re in something of a renaissance of beer crafting.  The creativity and quality of skill are very high. Especially after this weekend, I am struck by how many truly fine crafters are out there.   Our opening keynote speaker, Julie HerzCraft Beer Program Director of the Brewers Association, gave us a cogent talk full of facts and figures illustrating the cultural shift to craft beer in the US, framed in a larger context of the U.S. beer industry since Prohibition.  Being A Lady Of A Certain Age, analytical presentations work well for me, and I found her talk really interesting.  Later in the ladies’ room I asked whether she had her presentation posted on the Brewers Association website, since I’d like to have it as a resource; we mulled over the possibility.  Guys, never underestimate the places women find to connect with each other.

Julia pointed out that according to Forbes Magazine, the top 15 Mom bloggers influence more people than the New York Times.  (I should take that as encouragement?)  One of my favorite quotations was from Greg Koch from Stone Brewing, which went something like Craft beer is to the world of beer like rock ‘n’ roll was to the world of music.  Now that it’s here, it will never die, and someone will always complain ‘It’s too loud!’.”

Facts ‘n’ figures.  I can like them.  In 1978 there were 42 brewing companies; now there are more than 2,000 small and independent craft breweries.  Fully half are brewpubs.  1,184 more breweries are in planning.

140 global US beer styles are documented now, though only 80-odd are judged at the Great American beer Fest.  The wine industry makes $40B a year, spirits $65B, beer overall $95.5B, craft beer $8.7B.  Craft brewing sales share in 2011 was 5.7% by volume and 9.1% by dollars – the brewers association goal for craft brews is to reach 10% of total sales volume.  Go Craft!

I can type really fast and I take pretty good notes.  Only later did I discover all this on the Brewers’ Association website.

Wine Spectator magazine wrote a piece about the new angle on food matching: “One reason for beer’s versatility is that beer makers have more tools to work with.”  When you think about all the factors that go into making beer – I make beer, wine, and mead, and beer is far and away the most complicated – many kinds of hops, lots of different malts, all the facets and features you can coax from a malt through mash temps and times, yeast interactions, never mind two-stage yeasting or barrel aging…a very good brewer able to create his or her own consistently drinkable recipes really is a kind of artist.

small canisters of different kinds of malt
From Pale to Roasted Barley

Julie gave us malt kits, sixteen little plastic canisters filled with a range of malts organized by color, from pale to roasted barley.  It puzzled me at first, until I looked around the room and started doing the math.  A rough guess was that somewhere between a third and half the beer bloggers there were not brewers; the rest were pros or home brewers as well as bloggers.  It’s one thing to know there are lots of kinds of malt, but if you don’t work with them, this made a great visual.  I expect I’ll use it when I teach classes.  If you make a tea from malt, the aroma really mirrors the malt’s character well – it’s a great teaching tool.

Another great quotation from Julia’s presentation – from a food critic who will remain unnamed –  “Brewpubs will not truly have arrived until every Food Network star and food journalist can say they know what a growler is and that they’ve tourned their local brewery.”  (Heh, in a side converation a friend in the UK has been warning me about using the word “growler”, as it is a very specific female anatomical reference.  He says, to be fair, most brewers would know what I meant.)

Julie contrasted alcohol vs. capsaicin spice. I think anyone who’s had a spicy curry has already had this experience. Alcohol is a solvent and opens the pores on your tongue, thus intensifying your heat experience.  That’s why a 12% ABV wine is a train wreck paired with spicy food dishes.  Lower ABV craft beers shine as they soothe the heat.  Too, wine gets in trouble because it is always paired to the protein in meal – what wine goes well with fish?  It’s a common generalization in the food world.  The craft beer world is being much more discerning, pairing to the preparation, protein and all the ingredients included on a plate.

Deary me, I’ve just written a whole lot and I’m only an hour and a half in.  I will break here – next up, Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and Live Beer Blogging! Well, it was more like live beer tweeting, in my case; look for #beerbloggers. Five breweries in fifty minutes, highly entertaining; I could hardly take notes fast enough to taste the next beer…

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