“You do amazing!… I love what u do independently and as a community!” exclaimed Charlie Papazian, President of the Brewers Association, in his opening remarks of the 2011 Craft Brewers Conference in San Francisco on Thursday, March 24. The General Session/Keynote Speech featured the current growth of craft beer and the early days of craft beer. 10% of the 3900+ attendees were from outside the US – an indication of the small but present interest of American craft beer outside of the US.
Highlights of the General Session
U.S Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon wants the House Small Brewers Caucus to be the largest caucus in Washington that brings solutions… in liquid form.
Paul Gatza, Director of the BA advised brewers to be vigilante at the state level about natural caffeine in beers. Bans against caffeinated malt beverages gained traction because of the non-beer caffeinated drinks on the market last year. Gatza also emphaised that the local purchasing movement is now mainstream and craft beer and leverage that momentum. However, he noted that tastes are still regional. For example, IPA is currently trending in the mountain west region, but not so much in the East so be awar of regional tastes when planning upcoming production.
Jennifer Talley of Squatters Pub Brewery won the Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Brewing. She is the first woman to receive this award and her presenters could not say enough great things about her Belgian Farmhouse Ale, Fifth Element.
A Conversation Between the Pioneers of Craft Beer
The Keynote featured Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing and Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. sharing about their stories of the early days of craft beer. In 1965, Maytag 1100 barrels per year. For that reason, he scoffed at the latest industry re-definitions of “small”, “traditional”, and “independent” (to which the crowd applauded). Back then, the small brewers survived because they were in rural areas with german population. Maytag noted that there was also a “brotherhood” among small brewers. Grossman was running a homebrew shop and bicycling shop when he first started Sierra Nevada in 1979.
Both Grossman and Maytag salvaged production parts from closed breweries . Anchor Brewing still uses equipment salvaged from the original Eerie Brewing Company (closed in 1976). On the other hand, they weren’t able to use all part they collected. For example, Grossman couldn’t use some valves in his production facility, so he cleverly re-appropriated them as doorknobs.
This keynote session was in a very casual conversation format that ended with a toast with the Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Fritz and Ken’s Ale. It was a fun moment when the conference staff passed out three bottles per row and the crowd started opening the bottles: “POP! POP! POP!”. This cued Maytag and Grossman that it was time to stop talking and start toasting. I’ve had Fritz and Ken’s Ale during SF Beer Week, however, it was a completely difference experience to drink this 9.5% ABV at 10:30am on a Thursday with plans to attend seminars for the next 7 hours. Still, I felt honored to toast the craft beer industry with this dark, roasty, and sweet Imperial Stout.
As for the other sessions of the conference, they were informative and covered a variety of topics in the beer process: from technical yeast and hops discussions to sustainability in production, to pairing beer and food in a brew pub.
Sustainability Practices at Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Alaskan
I attended the talk What’s Next in Sustainability Practices Within Craft Breweries and learned about how Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is composting, New Belgium Brewing Company is using smart grid technology, and Alaskan Brewing Company using mash filter press in lieu of a lauter tun to conserve and become more energy efficient. the savings of the small breweries were impressive:
- 30% increase in chiller capacity (New Belgium)
- 150kw reduction in Peak Demand (New Belgium)
- 1.8 million gallons saved per year (Alaskan)
- malt savings of 3-5% (Alaskan)
- 3.2 hours to brew instead of 6 hours with a lauter tun. (Alaskan)
I was able to walk away with a few personal lessons for everyday conservancy: Become very familiar with your utility bill to see how you can conserve energy. The bill will help indicate where you can make efficiency improvements. For example, there could be a faulty valve that can be fixed to help conserve water or fuel.
Reusing Yeast in Brewing
I caught the last half of the yeast panel discussion, which focused on reusing yeast. Here are the high points:
- The number of times or generations of yeast that you can reuse yeast depends on the strains.
- If your production is reusing yeast for many generation, it’s important to maintain quality assurance by testing the yeast before each batch with plating or HLP testing for viability and cell/bacteria counts. Keep in mind that after several generations, yeast mutates, making it difficult to test for a genetic profile.
Bottom line: when working with yeast, keep in mind you are working with living organisms. It can mutate, become infected, or die. Follow a quality assurance process that includes regular test in order to prevent infection and ensure viability.
Read about the “Working with Chef’s” panel that discusses pairing beer and food on my blog, Bottle Chasers: http://blog.bottlechasers.com/2011/04/2011-craft-brewers-conference-living.html
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