2005 | FEATURES | EXCURSIONS & TRAVEL
Craft Brewers Conference In Philadelphia
By Tom Dalldorf
Over 1,300 beer-industry professionals settled in for a massive
weeklong pub crawl in Philly with a Craft Brewers Conference
attached. The premier industry event, held April 13–16,
2005, took over the downtown Marriott and made forays into
the surrounding tavern- and brewery-rich environs effortless.
The mood was buoyed by recent news from the sponsoring Brewers
Association that the micro segment of the beer pie was once
again on the rise — by some 7 percent! By contrast,
import beer sales were flat, and big-guy beer sales were actually
down a tick.
The pre-conference sessions on distributing set the businesslike
tone of the proceedings, but the various bus trips to Pennsylvania,
Delaware, New Jersey and such put the visiting beer pros in
touch with regional brewing aspirations and innovations.
After the bus trips, a Welcome Reception was hosted by Yards
Brewery in northeast Philadelphia with great food and a wonderful
selection of regional beer available for tasting. The 7 Threads
produced by eight area breweries (don't ask) and served as
the symposium beer was superb — but only a precursor
of things and tastes to come.
The conference began the next morning with Paul Gatza's annual
State of the Craft Beer Industry Report. “The craft
beer industry is on fire with consumers, gaining 7 percent
growth in 2004, easily surpassing large brewers, imports,
wine and liquor,” said Gatza, director of the Brewers
Gary Fish, president of Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Ore., gave
the keynote speech titled “Didn’t You Know You
Were Dead?” Fish, tongue planted firmly in cheek, reminded
the assembled industry pros that at the CBC in 1996 in Seattle,
it was pretty much conventional wisdom (at least on the part
of the media) that the micro beer industry was dead.
"I mean, what are you doing, growing at the fastest
rate in the industry? Don’t you read the press?"
said Fish sarcastically. "Don’t you realize you
were only a fad?" The audience, feeling very much alive
and energetic, loved it.
"The craft beer industry
is on fire with consumers, gaining 7 percent growth
in 2004, easily surpassing large brewers, imports, wine
Fish, who was instrumental in making the Brewers Association
of America the effective tool for regional brewers that it
is, then touched on the merger of BAA with the Boulder, Colo.-based
Association of Brewers. "The industry’s evolution
has just taken another giant leap forward with the merger
of the AOB and the BAA. With consolidation all around us,
and not yet 4 percent market share, the reality of our situation
has won out. We needed unity, and we got it. The hard work
of building an industry is just beginning, but the future
is bright, and the beer is good." Fish got a standing
The conference offered four traditional learning tracks of
seminars, along with the distributing pre-conference meeting.
This year some 70 expert speakers delivered 39 presentations.
The BrewExpo America Trade Show had 110 exhibitors and sponsors
there to meet and discuss their products with attendees.
But most beer biz pros were impressed with the quality of
pubs, taverns and small breweries to be found in the Philly
area. Many used Celebrator writer Jack Curtin's locals guide
to the good beer places published in the February issue. Most
amazing was the number of quality beers served on cask! The
Independence Brew Pub was a mere stomach's-throw from the
Marriott and was justifiably packed. Its cask-conditioned
Oatmeal Stout was a thing of beauty. The 3s IPA served on
cask at Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant was equally
Many industry mavens made Monk's Café home base, while
others hung out at Firgie's Irish Pub, McGillin's Olde Ale
House (opened in 1860) or Ludwig's Garten (the food was awesome).
Best micro selection had to be Standard Tap (and its food
was great too). Truly an embarrassment of riches!
I thought about the entrenched tavern culture in Philly and
how it is evolving to include better beer. New pub owners
are expanding the beer selection to include many of the region's
most exotic offerings. Gary Fish reminded the attendees that
New Belgium's Kim Jordan gave a speech at the conference a
few years ago where she challenged the industry to a goal
of 10 percent market share in the United States for small
Fish said, "I remember people saying a variety of things,
from 'It could not happen,' to 'That’s too large of
a goal' to 'It can’t happen in my state,' among others.
Well, this year Oregon topped 14 percent [market share]. And,
before you start making excuses about 'Well, that’s
Oregon,' until you believe, no one else will either, particularly
our friends in the media who wield so much influence. So,
on behalf of the Oregon brewers, I suggest we all begin to
believe, and then, truly, 10 percent will be modest indeed."
Next year’s Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America
will be held April 11–14, 2006, in Seattle, Wash. The
biannual 2006 World Beer Cup judging and Gala Awards dinner
will be held in conjunction with the conference in Seattle.
For more information on this, the 2005 conference or the Brewers
Association, go to beertown.org.
Tom Dalldorf is publisher and editor of the
Celebrator Beer News.