Where to begin, where to begin, where to begin…
The Craft Brewers Conference last week in downtown San Francisco was my first one, and I’m already in party-bus-planning mode for the event down in San Diego next year. Shenanigans were hindered by the fact that Mario, Joe T., and I were commuting daily back and forth from North Bay, but between the seminars, the hospitality suites, the Ratebeer outreach activities, the industry events… I felt like I was suddenly in a magical, mystical place in which my watch habitually lied to me. I’ve heard CBC described as being like GABF without all the little people.
(Except Walt was here.)
There are certain things I can’t talk about. Frankly, there are (for a variety of reasons) probably more things that I can’t talk about than things that I can – but all of this comes back around to the core point of this post. Which I’ll get to.
Do you really want me to get straight to it now? No. You should want me to talk about the Trade Show. You should want me to talk about all the brewers milling about, just as lost as I was, reading their official glossy Craft Brewers Conference pamphlets while attempting to ignore the debatably lecherous stares of a certain intrepid reporter. And you should want me to talk about the latest in tap handle alloys, in glycol chiller technology, and how a mash filter press can result in overall malt savings of up to six percent!
But you probably don’t, do you? … Well, it’s that kind of lackadaisical attitude that keeps you from making small talk with a very kind gentleman in lederhosen.
In fairness, my fellow Hop Press writers Lisa Morrison and Mario Rubio have already given their own insight into the event. And if that isn’t sufficient, Brian Stechschulte’s photographer is built in, and he’s got some really great photos and coverage of the CBC over at Bay Area Craft Beer. He makes me feel lazy.
But the thing that I’m really trying to get to, in a typical roundabout and inscrutable fashion, is how a typical Ratebeerian (or, let’s instead say, a typical consumer with a discerning eye towards awesomeness) might have seen the Craft Brewers Conference this year. There were some compelling numbers that have a direct impact on all of us: 11.3% growth by volume and 29% growth in exports for craft brewers, while (as one example) the share of craft beer packaged in cans is a surprisingly low 3%. How does one put those newbits alongside the ones from this week: Goose Island being purchased by Anheuser-Busch, or Bell’s plan to start canning their lineup (following a recent wave of other brewers moving in that direction)? Or the news that big beer allegedly had a hand in killing off the Brewmasters show on the Discovery channel? Shit’s getting complicated.
Mario’s already covered the business angle of the CBC, but that’s sort of the crux of this whole thing. As consumers, we miss a lot of the behind-the-scenes reality of making a successful craft beer business: equipment purchasing, advertising decisions, discussions of market segments and <shiver> “asset utilization.” In a nutshell, we’ve had it easy: buy craft beer, drink it, engage smugness.
But we have a lot more choices now than we ever have before, and many of the internal concerns of the craft beer business have gradually made their way to the foreground of our daily newsbits: sustainability and environmental impacts, the “moral parameters” of craft beer business (in polite conversation, trademark lawsuits = bad), and perhaps just the harsh realization that not everyone’s here to make nice with one another. There’s money involved. And there’s more and more money involved every day. That’s good. And it can be bad in some ways.
Is there a takeaway message from all of this? Probably not. It’s April Fools, so I could pretty easily take a humorous detour and add a brief “ta-da!” at the end of things, and pretty much be in line with the rest of things today. But I’ll instead say this: at the core of things, that ability to function as informed consumers is going to matter more and more as things get messy. Don’t lose that. Stuff it under your pillow at night. And remember it’s what got you into craft beer in the first place.