The 2017 California Craft Beer Summit
I’ve been on many a brewery tour, spoken to several brewers, and even gotten a Craft Beer Appreciation certificate from a local university. I thought I had a pretty good idea of the many elements that go into building and running a brewery.
Even so, walking through row after row of exhibits at my first California Craft Beer Summit (held every September in Sacramento), was amazing. Seeing more than 100 industry vendors showcasing their wares on the Expo floor was a lot to take in.
Most beer drinkers are familiar with the basic ingredients (water, hops, malt, and yeast), and of course they were all represented.
Wait. Water, too?
Absolutely. A lot more goes into water than simply connecting to the local utility.
Is the water suitable for brewing? What styles suit it best? How do you tweak it to brew they styles you want? Water treatment and manipulation systems can help with that.
All ingredients, and the entire brewing process, need to be analyzed and calibrated with absolute precision. Lab equipment sellers and techs were available.
What about the actual brewery? Companies offering everything from individual brewing components to complete custom systems of nearly any size, including laboratory and sanitation services, were represented.
To power breweries in this energy-concsious state, alternative energy companies were available to help brewers get off the grid and reduce their carbon footprints.
To help get the brewery built to begin with, firms specializing in everything from location sourcing, licensing, permitting, and contracts, to trademark protection, workers’ compensation, and business insurance, were on hand to help navigate maze of city, state, and federal regulations.
Once the brewery is located, built, ingredients secured, i’s dotted and t’s crossed, it’s time to get the beer to the people.
Keg, bottle, can, growler and crowler manufacturers were there, as well as case-box and six-pack carrier suppliers.
Oh, and labels. All those packages need labels. What will they look like? Store shelves and tap lists are getting more and more crowded, how does a beer stand out?
For creative types who have already designed their brand image, printers were ready to help. Full-service branding and identity design firms specializing in complete marketing plans, everything from signage to glassware to clothing, and even advertising campaigns, were available for those needing help with their vision.
Speaking of advertising, beer-centric media of all kinds (print publications, websites, even podcasts) were on-hand to help reach that specific audience.
For expanding breweries looking for new territories, distributors were showing off their portfolios, and job placement agencies and recruitment services for hiring sales people were accessible.
You Want Knowledge with That?
But the Summit is about more than just networking with vendors. Everyone, from the established brewer looking to evolve and grow their brand to the newbie wondering how open a brewery, could use a bit more education.
The Summit included seminars covering everything from selling and tasting beer, to industry compensation and regulations, to brewing techniques, to distribution issues. “Tap Talks” with veterans like Ken Grossman and Charlie Papazian discussed the history of the industry. Chefs partnered with brewers to demonstrate food and beer pairing possibilities.
According to the California Craft Beer Association (CCBA), craft beer contributed $7.29 billion to California’s economy in 2015, and supports more than 50,000 jobs in the state. Seeing the visual manifestation of that activity was very inspiring.
And also very intimidating.
The Imposter Syndrome
As I mentioned, this was my first visit to the Summit. I’ve enjoyed covering the industry here for the last several years, but since I still work full-time to pay the bills, I just haven’t had the time to make it anything more than a hobby.
Basically, this blog lets me “pretend” to be a writer.
And there I was with a media pass, like a full-fledged journalist. I couldn’t help feeling like I pulled something over on someone.
Let me tell you, the Imposter Syndrome is real.
Seeing all the players at the Expo talking shop and socializing, I assumed they were discussing lofty brewing techniques and theories I couldn’t possibly understand. At that point, all my tours, talks, and education just didn’t matter.
Beer is serious Business. For serious people. Not “pretend” writers.
And I felt like everyone knew, that they could see on my face that I didn’t belong there.
So, I kept to myself for the most part.
The Tap Talks were a great way to seek refuge. Watching Ken Grossman sharing his thoughts on the industry to an appreciative audience, I thought about how amazing it was to see what craft beer has become since he was fashioning together a brewery out of whatever he could find in a small Chico warehouse in the early ‘80s.
In spite of everything, I was grateful to be there.
During the talk, I spotted Natalie Cilurzo in the audience. Afterwards, as the audience dispersed, she walked right towards me.
Instead of introducing myself and asking if she would be kind enough to do an interview, the Imposter Syndrome reared it’s ugly head, and I only managed a weak smile.
She smiled back, and kept going.
I spent the rest of the afternoon kicking myself.
After a couple more talks and a few more samples, it was time for the media reception. Sure, I still felt completely out of place, but I owed it myself to at least check it out.
I was expecting a large space full of reporters, sales reps, publishers, and the like. You know, “real” media types. I hoped I could find someplace inconspicuous and just blend in.
Instead, there were maybe 20 people, including CCBA board members.
Great, how am I supposed to hide in this “crowd”?
So I got a beer, found a place to stand, looked down at my shoes and wondered what my next move would be.
Okay, Be Cool. Just Be Cool.
“Dean! Dean, come here and join us!”
I looked up and it’s Natalie, waving me over (she could see my name on my badge).
Beer geeks often debate about whether Russian River (Pliny the Younger, specifically) deserves the hype that it gets. Aside from that, it makes some of the finest beers anywhere up and down their vast lineup, and they are regarded (rightfully, IMHO) as one of the finest breweries in the country.
And here I am talking to one-half of the couple that runs it. In beer circles, they are celebrities. Or at least I think so.
I’d had my share of samples at that point so I tried my best to hold up my end of the conversation and not be too star-struck.
I honestly can’t remember what we talked about (blame the aforementioned samples). But I apparently didn’t embarrass myself, as Natalie and I have since done the interview, which will be posted in due time.
Overall, while I’m slightly embarrassed I let the Imposter Syndrome inhibit me as much as it did, I left the Summit more impressed (and uplifted) than ever with the spirit of cooperation, collaboration, and camaraderie among groups who, in most other industries, would be fierce competitors. Most are genuinely thrilled with each other’s success, and they are united in a common goal to make craft beer a staple of California (and American) gatherings.
Most importantly, it’s an industry where even the most highly regarded take the time to make a commoner feel invited and welcomed, and deserving of a place at the table.