BBC15 Day 1 Recap
After leaving Raleigh, conversations dulled for a good while, as many (myself included) caught some additional (and much needed) z’s. As we started to make our way towards Asheville, everyone immediately woke up as if aroused by the smell of beer miles away. Upon arrival at the Four Points, I said my goodbyes to our awesome driver and immediately snagged my room as I wanted to unload all of my stuff.
I was starving, but needed to grab my badge and drop off my mixed 6-pack of New York and New Jersey beer. Hamilton from VA Brew Review was extremely patient as I did so, but we then took off towards Lexington Avenue for a quick lunch before the official start time. We ran into Daniel Hartis from All About Beer and Ford Craven from Cheers Charlotte Radio, and decided to head over to Lexington Avenue Brewery, home of the famous “bloodbath” for those of you who recognized the name. I enjoyed the LAB Reuben: Corned beef, swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and Brussels sprout kraut, all on Annie’s marbled rye. Sufficed to say I polished that off almost as quick as my pint of White Pony, a White IPA. While the victuals were excellent and the beer much needed, the conversation was most exciting. I clearly need to make a trip back to check out the Charlotte beer scene. Ford and Daniel made mention of a number of places to stop by and breweries to look out for, though listening to the podcast will give listeners (both local and remote) a pulse on the Charlotte beer scene.
If Julia Herz was not at the conference, I would probably never fully feel “at home.” As the Craft Beer Program Director for the BA, she handles content from craftbeer.com, to SAVOR, to the World Beer Cup, to The New Brewer in addition to her Craft Beer Muses blog. Every presentation she has made is always chock full of facts to not only help educate the masses, but also support the growing network of craft beer bloggers with relevant trend information, analysis and statistics. You can check out her full slides here, but let me point out a few of the key takeaways for me.
- Beer Bloggers Today: Overwhelmingly we blog because craft beer is our passion (89.1% list this as a reason). She also continued her previous observations that beer bloggers are not only a voice for craft beer information, but we enhance the conversation and involvement with the product as well.
- Beer Lovers Today: 32% are women (this needs to be higher). 62% are over 35 (this includes me for the record). Local selections are extremely important to the beer buyer, though it is most pronounced amongst the lower age demographic. Flavor and freshness top the list of most important characteristics when shopping for craft beer.
- Brewers Today: 3,500 breweries, 8,000 wineries. Do you still think there’s a bubble about to burst? IPAs and Pale Ale still rule the market (no surprise there), though there are positive statistics of alternative yeast use (brett, lacto, pedio).
- Beer Market Today: Smaller breweries still growing. 20% by 2020 for craft beer (quite a goal, but may be actionable).
- Homebrewing Today: AHA grew from 9,700 to 45,307 in 10 years! 1.2M home brewers, 815 shops, 1,700 clubs. WTG!
- Brewing Hot Topics: Federal Excise Tax legislation, U.S. Distribution, FDA Menu labeling, State Brewers Guilds.
Julia also made reference to some of the excellent resources that the BA offers. As bloggers, we should be referencing and pushing these materials. The “Beer Belly Is A Myth” post is something that I definitely have to bring up at parties more often…so long as I don’t call attention to my belly. Once again I was so happy Julia started off the conference again this first year back. I am glad all the first-timers experienced it too, as it helped set the tone and positive momentum for the entire conference.
Next up was a panel lead by Explore Asheville, featuring author and newspaper columnist Tony Kiss, Doug Reiser from Burial Beer, and noted author, Oskar Blues Beer Communicatrix, and 1st Conference attendee Anne Fitten-Glenn.
- Tony has been writing for 21 years! We got to hear many stories about the development of the Asheville beer scene, from the “godfather” of Asheville beer, Oscar Wong of Highland Brewing to the origin of his nickname “The Forrest Gump of Beer.” If you had some comfy chairs and great beer, I am sure you could pass days (or weeks) hearing more tales from the years.
- Doug talked about how in 2 years Burial went from a 1 Bbl to a 10Bbl urban farm brewery. He had lived/worked in other places that had great quality of life (NOLA, Seattle), so Asheville was a logical choice. Doug too was inspired by Oscar and Highland when he came here, and decided to embrace their approach to quality, their dedication to a community that works well together, and focus on terroir (yes of beer, not wine). Their product speaks for itself, as many of my fellow bloggers would testify. My favorite quote: “We make beer that we like.”
- Anne’s book, Asheville Beer: An Intoxicating History of Mountain Brewing, tells a history of beer in Asheville, but she inquired as to how we will chronicle the Asheville story moving forward. Passion is what drives the growth, which is great provided that quality is still front and center. She also mentioned how brewing is changing western North Carolina, becoming the “New Manufacturing” area; in fact, three brewing programs are available to locals who wish to learn the trade and brew with zeal. More beer tourism helps the “rising tide” to raise all boats (breweries). On the Oskar Blues front, she said that their presence in Brevard gave them a 20-state distribution. More Pinner for me? Yes, please! Seeing yet another fellow blogger follow their passion to work in the industry is totally thrilling, and at our next stop, we got to see her current work digs.
It’s no wonder why people may give up life from other areas of the country to embrace an area with not only a burgeoning beer culture, but a positive culture filled with creativity and possibilities.
For those who read my coverage from BBC10, you may remember that we had a chance to visit the original home of Oskar Blues in Longmont, Colorado. That experience was pretty unreal: drinking in the brewery with the brew crew and my fellow bloggers, even getting to try some Stranahan’s-Barrel Aged Ten Fidy. Oskar Blues Brevard also was a ton of fun. Many thanks to Craig Hendry and The Jansens for bringing beer for the trip (note to all bloggers, we need a supply for the bus rides next year).
The advantage to opening up a second brewery is that you know what mistakes not to repeat, and you know what type of setup/layout works. I personally loved that as soon as we got off the bus, The Tasty Weasel greets you like an old friend. We started there with some Mama’s Little Yella Pils and Pinner, before Anne Fitten-Glenn came out to address us again. In addition to tours (I rarely pass one up), we were going to get to try some new beer! I only got to try the Mango Habanero Dale’s Pale (delicious and made me want to do a side by side with Founder’s Mango Magnifico), but I was told that the Death by Coconut Porter rocked as well. And an exciting announcement that an Oskar Blues IPA would finally be hitting the market – a really cool exclusive for BBC15.
After marveling at all the amazing equipment from the canning line to the grist and malt delivery system, to the amazing hop storage closet (I would love to bottle that smell), I went upstairs to have a look at the pub, performance stage, and merchandise area. If I had brought a larger suitcase, I probably would have loaded up on a bunch of stuff. After coming back out, I had to resist the urge to hit up one of the food trucks, though plenty of locals went ahead and ordered up some great-smelling grub! No, we had to save our appetite for our next stop though we were all glad the beer at Oskar Blues Brevard flows as well as its counterpart in Colorado.
I lived vicariously through the social media and blog posts from the last two conferences, reading (and drooling) about brewery experiences like no other. Drinking Utopias with Jim Koch or hanging out at Stone Gardens & Bistro were just two such experiences, though little did I know I would be a part of another such event. As we rolled up to the campus, it felt almost as if we were riding into a park or arboretum as opposed to a brewery – lush, woody landscapes delicately molded to allow access by modern vehicles. Entering the parking lot (complete with solar panels) we caught our first views of the brewery itself which was nothing short of beautiful.
At the front door, we were greeted by our hosts for the evening: Ken Grossman, his son Brian, and fellow brewers from Brauhaus Riegele. Ken Grossman turned out to be our tour guide for the first group off the bus, which was such an incredible bonus and honor. Please have a peek at my photos, as words cannot do justice. Sufficed to say, there is literally not a detail out of place anywhere within the brewing facilities itself or even the hallways. Working in that building everyday must sincerely be amazing and breathtaking even after days, months or years. I especially appreciated the physical links to brewing and Sierra Nevada’s history expertly interwoven with modern technology (including the Torpedoes).
Immediately after our tour was complete, we walked around the back of the building, where we saw an open beer garden complete with an open dining area off the back of the brewery. Music, food, games, great beer, friends, family and fun…it truly brought together a local community amidst an incredible backdrop. BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! We were then led down a dirt path through an expertly curated wooden wonderland. A small artificial stream became our guide as we followed the path down to the riverside. It was as if we had taken a Tolkien-like adventure and just emerged back in The Shire, greeted by the smells of some excellent food and steins thirsty to be filled.
The beer? Oh we just happened to be the first to try it! This Märzen was the new collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Brauhaus Riegale, and it was really solid and paired well with the food. After a few chants of “Cheers”, “Pröst!” and other international equivalents with some fellow celebrants, I went ahead and got in line because I was STARVING. I loaded up my plate with a bunch of roasted vegetables and a little salad before hitting up the rabbit rillettes, duck paté and artisanal bread and cheese. Looking out on the river past all the smiles, listening to the oompah duo that played us down the path, breathing in the fresh air, listening to the laughter of everyone…it was truly a remarkable experience that really spoke to the reason why Life On Tap exists. Beer, food and the related “finer things” all are meant to be enjoyed together in harmony and celebration. I enjoyed one of Regale’s beers as we wound down our time there (as it went all too quick even with a few mosquito bites), as we strolled back up to the buses. The only two downsides: one, we had to leave and not stay there half the night; and two, I started to feel sensitivity to loud sounds and light – the signs of an oncoming migraine.
Beer Social Expo
After getting back, I continued to hydrate myself (I had a water on the bus as well) to hopefully stave/ward off the oncoming migraine. I went back downstairs where the Beer Social Expo had already begun. I started off with the NC Brewers’ Guild, where I sampled NODA’s Hop, Drop & Roll (see Day 2 post for more) as well as Innovation Brewing’s Chardonnay Oak Barrel Sour: slightly tart with some golden fruit on finish.
I then made my way over to Alabama’s table where I spent a considerable amount of time. I had a Pale Ale and Amber from Blue Pants (both solid) after leading off with Yellowhammer’s Belgian White, which was totally enhanced by the Kaffir lime and ginger. When I do get back to homebrewing, I will definitely try and incorporate that (or Poblano, Mr. Hendry) into the recipe. I also had an Alt (nice and malty with a clean moderate finish) a good Dubbel, Yellow Hammer’s Imperial Pils, and their limited Tobacco Road, nice and smoky. Overall all the beers were mighty clean and clear, with the Witbier being the most inventive. If only we could get more up in NYC…
After getting a tip on heading to the Florida table, I quickly rehydrated again before sampling a few more. I had a Belleview Biltmore Blueberry Vanilla Wheat by Two Henrys Brewing Company, which was a little sweet for my taste. Next, I tried the Reef Donkey by Tampa Bay Brewing Company, which had resin and pine all the time. Wish I could have snagged a few more of those, though I can now do so next year at BBC16. My final taste of the expo poured by former Brooklyn native @beergoggins: Wasted Sea Star Purple Pale Ale by Rogue Ales, which I would have liked to have a whole glass of.
What I loved about the Expo was that I could take my time with all the representatives to hear stories about the beer, brewers or the breweries, as well as their approach to a specific beer or style. One more event for the marathon of a day, though it was unfortunately ended abruptly despite all my attempts at hydration.
Night of Many Bottles
While registering my six bottles, I noticed someone brought a huge stash of Crooked Stave, including their Petite Sour Blueberry 2015 amongst others. Before I got to that Crooked Stave stash, I managed to resist the urge to open a dozen or so beers though I could not resist insistent pours of Russian River offerings (Consecration, Pliny and Blind Pig). After a Damascene Apricot Sour Ale by Tin Man Brewing Company (so delicious), things got a little crazy as often it does, with everyone approaching everyone with this beer “you have to try”. I can’t even recall exactly how many samples I frenetically got through, partially because my migraine began rearing its ugly head. My apologies once again for taking off early and not sticking around for the late night festivities, but there was literally no way I could continue. Ear plugs in, Advil taken (I ran out of Excedrin), a Vitamin Water and few glasses of water later, I jacked up the air conditioner, shut the shade, and went into battle with my body.