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Craft's Best Days Are Ahead?
The Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) has come and gone in Nashville. The annual event put on by the Brewers Association (BA) has long been a place for brewers from all over the country, and even the world, to get together for a week and drink with each other, take classes that are over their heads, drink, peruse an expo floor full of shit they can’t afford and just drink more. Hell, every other year they can pay a premium to have their beer judged in the World Beer Cup. Great times right?
Look, I’ve been to three CBCs myself and each one was a fucking blast. I got higher than I have ever been in Denver. I discovered my love for the Pacific Northwest in Portland. I ate roast pork sandwiches in my first love city of Philly. My bosses paid a lot of money for us to go to these conferences to learn, network and potentially find some new suppliers for the brewery. I mean, that’s what anyone outside of the alcohol world would think when you hear the word conference. But in those three trips where thousands of dollars were spent on admission, travel, lodging and food I could probably count on one hand the amount of stuff I actually learned.
Many classes were niche to breweries of certain sizes. If you weren’t producing over 50k barrels you had no business being in there but you didn’t know that ahead of time. Other classes were glorified ads for the presenter’s company. I walked out of a presentation that, on the surface, looked like it was geared towards finding your brand’s voice but was literally just an ad for the presenter’s branding firm. And I walked out of a lot of classes just like that.
So what are you to do with your time before your next potential strike out of a class? Head to the expo floor and have random people beg for you to come over to their booths because they have candy or hats or bottle openers or some other shit that you don’t need but, holy shit, it’s free! You get a little talk, some papers to shove in your backpack—or the nearest trashcan that is out of that vendor’s sight—and on to the next.
Oh what’s this? A beer station? At 9am? Sure, I’ll have a free beer to calm my nerves of all these hyper sales guys. “What do you sell? Robots that pick up kegs and put them down? Yeah, I don’t need that but what do you have that’s free? Oh, more beer!”
This cycle goes almost all day. Then you can go to a hospitality lounge that is put on by a vendor with even more beer and more pieces of paper and more people that want to sell you stuff that you don’t need or can’t afford. Damn, I need to get out of this convention center.
Time to hit up the town! Vendor’s have sponsored events at bars and local breweries. Breweries are putting on events for out-of-towners. People that are over beer for the day begin looking for cocktail bars to keep their whistles wet. It’s essentially more drinking. Then you go back to your hotel, pound some water, take a couple Asprin—not me, I’m allergic—and do it all again tomorrow.
I did this. Many times. Way too many times. I was still less than 5 years into the industry and it was like being in Wonka’s factory but all the dangerous equipment in the chocolate factory was just booze and none of the characters actually match up on this metaphor so just fucking go with it. Okay? I was younger, impressionable and eager to be a part of the community. But I look back and I recall seeing dudes much older than me doing the same. Just getting fucking obliterated each day. For what?
I can do this shit without getting on a plane and having to pay for a hotel. I can do it at my house or a local bar and take an ride share home. And the learning stuff? I can do much of that online. There really isn’t much that I can’t learn from free articles or YouTube videos. And the shopping around the expo hall? I can do all that online too. Sure, some of them give “CBC discounts” but almost none of those discounts will make up for the amount you paid for tickets, airfare, hotel and reckless boozing.
Let’s face it. CBC is just a reason for brewery dudes to get together with other brewery dudes to drink their faces off under the guise of a business trip. Just say it. We all need some time off right? Why not have a Club Med for brewery folks? That’s what CBC is at this point. It used to probably serve a more educational purpose and it still tries to at points but now it’s just self-gratifying to itself.
At the last edition edition, from a couple weeks ago, many attendees left with a sense of being ignored. Many from the LGBTQ community felt ignored as the BA did nothing to speak out against Tennessee’s legislation against LGBTQ people. At the time of writing this the BA is still crickets on this matter.
During the key note speeches, BA President, Bob Pease spoke of “…craft’s best days are ahead” as, BA Economist, Bart Watson warned of craft’s decline in sales. This is, plain and simple, lip service. The largest craft brewers in the country, who the BA regular tries to appease over the larger group of small breweries, have almost all pivoted to products outside of beer to keep their sales from collapsing. Beer, as a whole, is down. Craft has fluctuated but hasn’t seen considerable growth in years. The drinker’s market has changed and along with that change as has the focus of smart companies. Seltzer, RTDs, NA beer, hop waters, flavored malt beverages are all in production by these companies but the BA will strut out and say craft’s best days are ahead of it. Bull-fucking-shit and you know it. They will happily take your yearly dues and your thousands of dollars in CBC tickets and bend you over, blow that smoke right up your asses and tell you that everything will be alright. Keep making just beer.
To be straight, I don’t think that it’s all doom and gloom for beer. I think breweries can still be successful with beer but at different levels of size. I believe there is still a place for small, local breweries that are not obsessed with unobtainable growth because they bought a huge brewing system and sales have just not been there. Being small and an active part of your community can still be a driver for your business. If you are smart you can sustain as small. The amount of beer you sell does not equal out to success.
I think it it’s disingenuous of the BA to take all these people’s money and walk out there and say “all is well” while presenting contradictory data and looking at their biggest members diversify their portfolios. You are supposed to be leaders of this industry. Fucking lead! Encourage your members to look at alternative products and fill your conference with speakers that can provide this information to members at all different scales. We can’t dig our heels into the sand here on beer. It’s not 2012 anymore. We can’t keep scoffing at other products with while our customers are literally wanting them.
It’s highly unlikely that I ever attend a CBC again. Hell, even if my employer wanted to pay to send me I would try to talk them out of it. Save that money. Invest it into the actual business by purchasing ingredients or new equipment or creating a better customer experience in the taproom. All of those things will go further for the company. If you want me to learn stuff I will just keeping utilizing a search engine or texting someone I think might be able to help. Maybe you could pay for a service like Skillshare or Masterclass that I can take courses online to improve my skills and knowledge. And those things are way cheaper than a conference. This will ultimately save the company thousands of dollars and my liver the massive amount of punishment.
PS - After completing this piece I came across the image that is above. This is the literal slogan for this year’s CBC, Beer & Beyond. This can be taken as those other products that the BA is so afraid to tell their members to make. It can also be taken as your people, your employees. There are other graphics for the conference that have this slogan and people of color and women and, boy, have the BA dropped the ball for those people. Just a funny, and sad, side note.
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I’d Have a Beer
I miss Pennsylvania beer. There was so much awesome stuff available when I lived in Philly. Styles that I love that you don’t see down here—hello dark mild! And breweries that just get it. What is it? It’s hard to explain but it makes sense in my head. They love their community outside of their own walls and do what it takes to support the people and other businesses that make it up. There is just the feeling of supporting businesses from my home state.
In Florida we don’t get a lot of beer from PA brewers. Yuengling is actually made in Florida down here. So while it is a PA company the product is made in Florida. Also the whole Yuengling and supporting extremists has really worn me out on them. Then there is Victory. I can find any version of the Monkeys family down here no problem. Golden, Sour and Berry Monkey are all here. I can even get them at the big time grocery stores by me. But that’s it. No Prima. No Dirt Wolf. Nothing else.
It’s because of this that I got extremely psyched when one of my co-workers told me that he spotted Sly Fox beers at a local big box liquor store. What!? When did this happen? Why didn’t I know about this sooner? Well, apparently it hasn’t been too long so I’m not totally out of the loop but it is a sight for sore eyes to see cans of Helles and Pikeland Pils on shelves in Florida.
My first purchase down here in the land of Mouse vs Unlikable Robot Man was Helles. This beer is just an absolutely perfect one. Light, refreshing and satisfactory all around. It’s 4.9% ABV is just what I want as the temperatures continually climb. Days of getting hammered are gone. Bye, I won’t miss you. I can sip one as I chase my boys around the backyard or grill up dinner.
I’ll be grabbing a sixer of Pikeland on my next trip back to that store. Welcome to Florida Sly Fox. I really hope that it does well for you. People of FL, go buy some of their stuff now!
This is a Photo
San Francisco, CA
The Bay Area is just amazing. It totally makes sense why people want to live there. It doesn’t make sense why they have made it unaffordable for most people to live there. But that’s not why we are here.
This photo is an iPhone shot from my first time ever being in San Francisco in 2017. It sat on the backburner for a long time before I really started to get into photography and photo editing. I went back over some old iPhone pictures and started playing around with the editing. The above is the result from one of those sessions. I hope you enjoy it!
I have a number shots available on my store if you want to buy a print. It’s super appreciated.
One Last Thing
Last week Alex Kidd, aka Don’t Drink Beer, announced that he had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and had begun treatment. Alex has long been known in the beer community as one of the most honest voices out there. His ability to use razor sharp wit and humor to shine lights on some of the darker sides of the industry have seen many attempts by others to be duplicated. Often times those attempts are poor at best.
I didn’t always understand some of Alex’s jokes but the ones I did were always dead on. Almost scarily so. He is an important part of this community and someone has started a GoFundMe to raise money for his treatment.
If you enjoyed what Alex did please consider contributing.
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