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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 Association.
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 and liquor."

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 ovation.

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 outstanding.

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 brewers.

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.


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