September 24, 2015
Craft beer was in the news in the week leading up to the first California Craft Beer Summit, and not just for the excitement of the event but also because the second largest brewery in the state, Lagunitas, just announced the sale of a 50% stake to Heineken, and Saint Archer out of San Diego announced a full sell to Miller-Coors. The summit was abuzz with the news, and during his talk about opening new breweries in Chicago, IL and Asuza, CA, Tony Magee, the owner of Lagunitas, spoke about the deal (more on that later). There was so much more to enjoy at the event: educational classes about beer styles, marketing, food-pairing, tap-talks about sour beers, the history of IPAs, homebrewing, and several other topics. It was a great opportunity for people of all levels of beer-knowledge to learn something new about beer.
There were two primary components of the event: the ‘summit’ which was held at the convention center over two days and included talks, demonstrations, educational sessions, and plenty of beer; and the ‘showcase’ which was held on Capitol Mall and included 150 breweries pouring from all over the state. There were many breweries at both the summit and the showcase that do not yet distribute to the Sacramento region, and the opportunity to try new beers was seemingly endless. There were times I felt like a kid in a candy store with how much beer I was excited to try.
The summit was more of an industry focused event, but there was a lot to do, even for someone who just loves good beer. Educational sessions, demonstrations, and tap-talks dominated the agenda of the summit, with Charlie Bamforth’s hilarious talk about the “Reverence for Craft Beer” being my personal favorite of the tap-talks. The two main takeaways I got from this talk were that consistency in beer is one of the most important messages that a beer can convey, and that beer is “part of a holistic lifestyle that will do you good” (it is a good source of silicon and soluble fiber).
The state’s four brewing guilds, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Northern California were pouring beer from their respective members, and there were booths set-up with some of the larger breweries, like Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, and Firestone-Walker. A variety of other vendors filled up most of the other booths and were selling bottles, labels, keg systems, equipment financing, yeast, and my personal favorite the “Can Van”- a mobile canning service that travels around to breweries and cans their beer.
There were 13 different educational sessions at the summit, and Beers in Sac contributor, Mike Ungerbuhler, attended several of them. Mike wrote a couple of nice summaries of two of them:
Educational Session: Beer 101: How Beer is Made – Dr. Charlie Bamforth. Dr. Bamforth is the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at UC Davis. The “Pope of Foam”, as he is known, is the author of enough books to overflow your collection on beer and brewing science. I have been brewing for nearly three years and having been intently interested in beer for much longer. I have a decent understanding of brewing, so one might ask why I would want to attend a seminar titled, “Beer 101: How Beer is Made”. Well, it is always good to brush up on the basics as it helps one to obtain an absolution of the knowledge. I was also interested in Dr. Bamforth’s delivery, and was not disappointed on either front. The seminar covered from grain to glass, which is a barrel full of information to cover in just over an hour, however, Dr. Bamforth concisely and efficiently conveyed said information.
Of the copious notes that I took, there are a few things worth highlighting here. After grain is malted to the desired level, it should be allowed to age at least one month prior to being delivered to a brewery. Mineral additions to water are important especially if attempting to brew a beer as close to the traditional style as possible (I was already aware of this). This is not absolutely necessary to brew great beer, but is helpful. That is not to say that one can’t brew a great Pilsner with harder water than that of the Pilsen region or a great Pale Ale with softer water than that of Burton on Trent. Speaking of water, Dr. Bamforth wants Americans to understand that it is pronounced waTer, not wahder and that we need to go ahead and join the rest of the world with the metric system. Dr. Bamforth believes that the most important factors in brewing beer are consistency, hygiene and hygiene; quality = consistency.
Educational Session: Failure is an Option! Lessons Learned from Opening a Brewery- Lynn Weaver & Peter Hoey. Lynn Weaver is the owner of the quickly growing Three Weavers Brewing Company. Her background in financial planning and real estate tax paired with her team at Three Weavers has fueled the rapid growth of the brewery. Peter Hoey is the West Coast Technical Sales Manager for BSG CraftBrewing. He has been brewing professionally since 1998 at such notable breweries as Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Bison Brewing Company, and the now closed Sacramento Brewing Company. I entered this seminar believing that it was to be, “Step-by-Step Guide to Opening a Brewery”, but it was changed to, “Failure is an Option! Lessons Learned from Opening a Brewery”. I was initially disappointed by the change, but thought that I could stand to learn a few lessons from the triumphs and failures of others.
The bulk of the speech came from Weaver who shared her story and her reason for opening a brewery. She feels that branding is often overlooked when planning a brewery and that the, “Why”, should be the first thing to focus on and that it should be the most important aspect considered. Unfortunately, it was after this that Weaver began to lose me. For the remainder of the seminar we dove into a ton of financial figures and planning ideas that were delivered at a lightning pace that was hard to follow. When Hoey took the podium he stressed the importance of securing a supply chain early in the planning stages, which is great advice but felt more like a sales pitch than an “Educational Session”. All said, I do very much value the information that was shared and the hard-boiled advice that one will fail, and likely multiple times, prior to success.
The tap-talks varied in topics, and Mitch Steele, Stone’s Brewmaster, gave a really cool talk about the “History of IPA”. He covered not only the history, but the present and future of the beer style as well. He dispelled the myth that the style was started by adding a lot of hops so the beer could survive the trip to India. It turns out that British breweries, first Hodgson and later Bass, were already adding hops to a beer designed to be aged for a long period of time, and found that the Asia-bound beer ended up pretty tasty after its journey. Steele spoke about the beginnings of IPA in America, noting that Rubicon’s Monkey Knife Fight was one of the first IPAs that he’d ever had that really stuck with him, and how that now the American and West Coast IPAs are becoming a worldwide renowned style that is becoming increasingly popular. The current trend in IPAs is to add stone or citrus fruit in the brewing process, which helps bring out even more of the hop character in the beer.
Tony Magee’s tap-talk was interesting to say the least. He spoke about opening two new Lagunitas breweries, one in Chicago and one in Azusa. High quality water was the primary reason for choosing the Azusa spot, which is also the reason the Miller-Coors brewery is also located in that area. The part of Magee’s talk I found most intriguing was that in Chicago, officials with the City offered him several million dollars in low-interest loans to entice him to build there, but he already knew he wanted to build in the Windy City, so instead of the loans he negotiated a deal where he received extremely expedited permit approvals for the brewery, which he noted was worth far more than the loans to him. I found it funny that in a city known for rampant corruption, Magee so openly talked about striking deals like this. Not that what he did was illegal, but it likely ruffled the feathers of other people waiting for permits at the same time.
By the end of his talk Magee had conspicuously not mentioned the Heineken buyout at all, but during the Q&A someone shouted out something about it. This was the primary reason I think most people came to hear his talk, and the crowd quickly filled in. He explained that the buyout was unique in that Heineken bought only 50%, thus the Lagunitas shareholders still retain control while gaining liquidity and the capability for huge growth. Magee did a good job of making it sound like the deal was good for Lagunitas and Heineken, and even for the people who drink the beer, but only time will tell how it really will play out.
The founder of Stone, Greg Koch, gave the keynote talk on Saturday afternoon and spoke a fair amount about the new brewery that Stone is opening in Berlin. He reiterated that American IPAs have put the US on the radar of beer drinkers in Europe, one of the primary reasons for building a brewery there. Koch had a different take on the craft beer buyouts than Magee. When asked if Stone would ever sell, he replied “No. Hell no”. He suggested that we are in a short window of time where there is high-quality beer being brewed for low prices, and implied that buyouts could drastically impact the quality and not just the distribution of beer.
Overall, I thought the Summit and Showcase were a huge success. I don’t know if ticket sales were as high as organizers would have liked (but this made it nicer for the rest of us), and the event definitely catered more towards the industry rather than just consumers (again, this made it nice for the rest of us). There was a ton to learn, lots of really smart and interesting beer people to chat with, and of course a ton of tasty brews. Sacramento did a great job of hosting and it would be awesome if the Association decides to come back again next year.