2015 Craft Brewers Conference Recap, Part 2

Picking up where part 1 left off, I was very grateful for a better nights sleep and was feeling good on Thursday morning. We hurried out the door to find the last few minutes of the continental breakfast plentiful and still being served before our first sessions of the day.

By 9am we were in our sessions. Mine was “Brewpub food, moving beyond pizza and burgers”. I thought this would be interesting as we dine out in brewpubs frequently and I was right. The diners expectations are for typical “pub food”, but there’s also a way to bring comfort foods with local sourcing and elevate to what you as the brewer or chef would like. You have to find the sweet spot of what diners want and what you want to bring. Be prepared for bad Yelp reviews if/when you break out of your mold and give your regulars time to adjust to change. Also, know where your restaurant/brewery’s concept will work. It may work in one suburb or city (know your area and target) and not be right for where people are asking for you to be. Educating your staff is important with food *and* beverage (which another subtopic was having good food *and* good service). Food brings people in to have more beer consumed, yet in a beer dinner (or probably with regular dining), people get full for a dessert/beer pairing. I enjoyed this session with John Harris, Dave McLean, Adam Dulye, and Nate Yovu.

Beer and cheese pairingJon left for his “Power lunch” at Ecliptic Brewing with John Harris and Sam Calagione. I then went to the next session after my box lunch “Suds and Curds, using cheese to sell more beer”. Cheese is perfect the way it is and cheese and beer make great business. It pairs well because it’s fatty, salty and refreshes the palate. We have to visit the Cheese Bar and Chizu next time we’re in Portland.

Jon joined me for the Brewers Panel and it was interesting listening to the various head brewers talk about how they handle the business aspect of the industry. I didn’t take many notes, but what I did write down was a question on how to handle unruly children in a brewpub. Duct tape isn’t acceptable 😉 , but cajoling and educating (and crayons) can help with kids who think the dining area is a playground. There was much talked about and it was great to hear Tyler Brown talk about his popular pub/brewery in a smaller city verses the larger cities.

Our evening plans started out by walking to the Upper Lip for The Bruery tap takeover. Another short wait for capacity and we were soon upstairs consuming some of the best sours. I had to try Or Xata and Jon reminded me that I really liked Black Tuesday at the Beer Bloggers Conference last August and he had a tequila barrel-aged Sucre. I liked how The Bruery rep walked around, introduced himself and we had a nice conversation. I hope to visit the Bruery’s brewery itself when time allows.

The Bruery tap takeover

We left for the next event, and on our walk, we knew there was a Sizzle Pie near Powell’s books and I stopped in for a quick slice as I didn’t know if there would be food at our next stop (again, eating when you can!). We walked through the Pearl District to Pure Space, where Deschutes Brewery was putting on “Beer Machines, A Steampunk Ode to the Craft Revolution”. We knew we wanted to get there early (to avoid any over capacity wait), but we were really early (first ones!). We watched a news crew go in, saw Bryan from Great Beer Now, and around 8pm, the doors opened! It was quite impressive as we saw the large stage, mimes, and of course, machines that dispensed beer in different ways. Deschutes really knows how to throw a party!! A thank you to those who helped us get upstairs for a better view and I thank you for the specialty beers poured there and the food (there were food bites downstairs too!). 1500 people showed up and the place was packed! Had a great time and caught a ride from Jon’s daytime boss back to the hotel, thanks Mark!

Beer Machines

 

Beer Machine

Friday, we woke up a bit later and thought we’d be late for breakfast (that was ending at 9:15 according to the schedule), so we had a quick breakfast in the hotel that was quite yummy and satisfying. We found the conference breakfast still out at 10:00 and was told it would be there until 10:30, so that was a change from what the official conference app said. Jon went off to his North American Guild of Beer Writers meeting and I intended to tour the BrewExpo floor one more time, but I knew I wanted to visit the Oregon Brewers Guild Hospitality suite when they opened at 11. I saw they had some amazing beers (all 6 conference beers, Cascade Brewing and Deschutes’ The Dissident among the many Oregon beers represented) and had to get the word out. After walking across the street to get a connection (the room was near the front of the building, the media room was farther). I got word out and saw Sanjay Reddy because he’d heard of The Dissident and was unable to get a bottle this year and made his way to the Hospitality room to savor a glass.

My next seminar was “Build a Better Beer Dinner”. This was by far my very favorite of any of the sessions. Jesse Friedman is a wonderful speaker, very funny and engaging (I even sought out his beer later to try and now it will be available in Bend!) and what he was proposing in the session was hosting events that aren’t going to be money makers, but reputation builders. I accompany Jon to beer dinners and was looking forward to this session, even if I am a picky eater. Food and beer is in our DNA. What is the goal of your beer dinner? What’s your theme? Be seasonal, have a point of view and use the whole animal and make a statement. I believe it was Almanac Beer who had a 16 beer dinner course that sold 44 tickets in the first 23 seconds. He models his beer dinners after bottle shares and makes it fun. It’s ok to cancel if you don’t have good attendance. It was talked about how not to have the strain on the kitchen for getting X number of plates out by being engaging and playing host. Use beer sparingly in food to be effective and smart. A tie in to my other session that I noted… if there is beer that isn’t drank, that’s ok. “Life’s too short to drink a beer you don’t enjoy”. Like I said, I really enjoyed him and his session. 😀

I’m glad we got out a touch early as I knew the next session would be a full one and I had to save a seat for Jon (who was coming from the other side of the building). I had been waiting for “DIY Beerfest: Staging a Kickass Beer Event” since I saw it on the schedule (same with Beer Dinners). When Jon founded Central Oregon Beer Week, I helped organize some events and we did it by the seat of our pants in a short time. I was excited for who was on the panel: Steve Beauchesne, Barnaby StruveGeiger Powell, and Dick Cantwell. I’ve been many brewfests, but to hear from the one who created the Great Pumpkin Brew Fest (was on Jon’s bucket list and we’ve attended twice) was going to be one for the books. Who knew that all the buzz behind Elysian Brewing would happen? Who knew that Dick would resign days before this panel? I knew it would be a well attended session due to the growing popularity of the brewfests and the potential Elysian elephant in the room.

DIY Brewfest panel

The panel answered a prepared question or two (going down the line, after describing their fest) and then opened it up for questions for all. Focus on the beer, foods, entertainment and keep it local. It should feel like a “Christmas morning effect”. Differentiate, not all same version of one style of beer. Keep activities as a distraction so people aren’t just sitting and drinking to make it fun. Invite only restaurants that are going to bring their “A” game. During or after the fest, determine what you’re doing wrong and how to change it for next year. Don’t change your mind and give into pressure; be authentic and transparent about mistakes and what happened. (Hunahpu 2014 lessons learned). Don’t be overconfident, outsource services. Be safe and legal. You’re not always going to get it right, but get it better – Barnaby S. The last note I wrote was regarding food and water. No one wants to wait in line for a million hours. I can attest that one person taking cash can be easier for you (the brewery), but not necessarily for the attendee of your fest. Lines spread out (like at GPBF) with 20 lines in 5 tents is better than a very long line with 1 tent. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to figure out where the line ends so you can be at the back of it or having to wait in line after you get a pour because lines are so long that by the end of it, you’re empty again (I’d also add to that, clear signs pointing out what lines are where would be helpful too). One last note is to build by word of mouth, brewers aren’t necessarily advertisers and make sure you clean up the town (or at least the blocks surrounding your brewery, since it’s not just within your festival fences, it’s people walking to their cars/transit and possibly littering)… great advice!

After the session, I stopped for a minute while Jon went downstairs. I told him that I’d see him because he’s wearing a red shirt. Little did I know most of the 11,500 attendees were down there and we finally connected and also connected with many bloggers and Gary Fish. He is an incredibly smart business man, who is down to earth and always willing to chat. Jon and I decided to hurry to Cascade Brewery and try a beer that I’d seen on tap that day, but once we got down there, that started the comedy of errors that would follow us around. The tap was out and we decided to join everyone else at the Pioneers of Craft Beer at the Horse Brass Pub. Turns out, everyone else beat us to it and there was a wait for capacity and while Jon was parking I’d left my phone in the car. I’d left the line to see if he was parked in the back and lost my place and the line grew and was growing rapidly.

Framboise at Belmont StationWe decided to check out Belmont Station instead, as I’d decided I was hungry. We were able to get in there and Jon was able to chat with Tyler Brown (there was a Barley Brown’s tap takeover) and we were able to get food from the food cart. We missed our friend Lisa Morrison, but ran into her neighbor Mark and Juliann (we’d met Juliann the last time Lisa came to Bend) and sat down for a nice chat. Ran into Charles Culp too. The next stop would be to check out the White Owl Social Club, but they were busy and it looked like they had blown many of the taps. The next stop was driving around trying to find parking for the Ninkasi Space Oddity Ball, but it was about 10pm and we could not find parking. We went back to the hotel and walked to the Tugboat Brewery. A comedy of errors and lots of missed party hopping, but I think it worked out in the end. Tugboat holds a special place with Jon and he got to finish the official conference night with a few beers at this small brewery.

The next morning, after checking in with our family, we decided to hit up Brian Yaeger’s event “Baker’s Dozen, Coffee Beer and Doughnuts”. 13 coffee beers and 13 doughnuts. The doughnuts were cut into quarters and you went through the line for beer and doughnuts and a check mark was made once you tried each one. Great concept and I got to sample coffee with my DD donut and took bites of the other ones that Jon had. We sat with Rodney Kibzey and his girlfriend Kate and had a nice chat with them. Soon it was time for us to head over the mountain and we set off for Bend. Thanks to Brian for the extra Blue Star Donuts that we took back for our family to try!

Coffee Beer and Doughnuts

On our way home, we had to stop in at Jersey Boys Pizzeria in Redmond to check out their 50 taps! We sampled as we waited for our pizza to take back to the kids and the last sample was a great one, the bartender gave me one last cider sample that was (equal) Atlas Cherry-Pom with Boulder Chocolate Shake. It tasted like a chocolate covered cherry.

One last note: we chose to drive instead of taking the Max or cabs or bus. Jon wanted to be mobile the day of his lunch and we wanted the mobility of going into SE Portland on Friday night. That was most of our costs during the day. The final thought that was verbalized a few times by myself and others: The women’s bathroom never had a wait. The men’s room frequently had a line. 😀

Thanks again to the Brewers Association for a peek into your industry. I learned a lot, met new friends, connected with old friends. I’m sorry for the events we’d planned to go to, but did not, but I’m grateful for the events and memories that we did have over the 4.5 days in Portland.

Cheers!

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