2013 Craft Brewers’ Conference

This year’s Craft Brewers Conference, held in Washington, D.C.’s convention center from March 26-29, was the largest ever held.  Attendance was 6,400, about a third higher than last year’s Craft Brewer Conference in San Diego.  BrewExpo America, the trade show associated with the conference, had 440 vendors, with enough booths to fill an entire city block. 

At the keynote session on the 27th, Brewers Association executive director Paul Gatza presented statistics showing that the craft-brewing segment of the beer industry is growing steadily.  The Brewers Association reported that there were 2,347 craft breweries in the U.S. in 2012, including 97 “regional craft breweries” producing over 15,000 barrels a year.  These craft breweries increased sales by 15 percent over 2011 sales.  Vermont continued to have the most craft breweries for its population, with one brewery for every 25,030 residents.  The number of breweries in Vermont, Gatza said, was increasing so rapidly that at the current rate, “by 2025, Vermont will have a brewery for every resident.”

Gatza also reported problems that might make conditions for craft brewers worse. Wholesalers have been steadily consolidating, and Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors have been buying more of them.  This consolidation meant that small brewers will have to work harder to get their products on the shelves.

In addition, Gatza said that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working on two sets of regulations that could affect craft brewers.  The agency is currently formulating regulations about food served in chain restaurants that could impose onerous reporting requirements on any brewer that sells to a restaurant chain—unless the FDA exempts alcohol from the regulations.  The FDA is also preparing spent grain regulations that could make it far harder for brewers to dispose of spent grains than in the past.

At one presentation, Nielsen vice-president Danny Brager discussed survey research data the company had collected about how and where people buy beer.  According to Nielsen, the younger you are, the more likely you are to buy craft beer.  People born after 1964 were 28 percent more likely to buy craft beer than the average, while “pre-Boomers” born before 1946 buy craft beer about half as much as the average beer drinker.  Baby Boomers think craft beer is a treat they try on special occasions, while Millennials born after 1980 were more likely to buy seasonal beers and local brews.  The top three craft beer markets are in San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, but the three fastest growing markets are Louisville, Memphis, and the Tampa Bay area.  (Nielsen, however, doesn’t report in ten states with government-run liquor stores or with other restrictions that prevent them from collecting data on beer sales.)

BeerExpo America had vendors for every conceivable aspect of the beer industry—and if you were tired of beer, Burleson’s Honey of Waxahachie, Texas would happily sell you honey and the British soda maker Fentiman’s offered its full range of craft sodas, which are made in the U.S. by The Lion under contract.

Some vendors had new products specifically for the beer lover.  The printing company Quad/Graphics unveiled new beer cartons with “interactive print applications” that can be scanned by smartphones.  The one on display was for Sprecher’s barrel-aged root beer, providing consumers with a little comedy skit about how the root beer was made. Other applications, Quad/Graphics says, could provide customers with coupons or other useful information.

The German glassmaker Spiegelau unveiled new beer glasses especially designed for Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head. Spiegelau held a session with brewers from the two companies at last year’s Craft Brewers Conference holding. They then held a second session onsite, further refining choices to come up with a glass designed to enhance the aroma and flavor of Sierra Nevada’s hefeweizen and Dogfish Head’s pale ales.  The two new glasses will be sold on Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head’s websites beginning in May, with Spiegelau offering more generic versions at a later date.

Next year’s Craft Brewers Conference will be held in April in Denver.

Martin Morse Wooster is a writer for Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. 

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