Breakfast for 13,600

2016 World Beer Cup ballroom

2016 World Beer Cup Awards Ceremony (Photo © Brewers Association)

Imagine serving breakfast for 13,600.

That was only one of the details the Brewers Association handled with remarkable ease over three and a half days last week at the 2016 Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America in Philadelphia.

The BA, as it’s commonly called, is the not-for-profit trade group dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s small and independent craft brewers. Today, those early years of CBC, when the conference was held at a Boulder, Colorado hotel a couple of miles from the BA’s office (then called the Association of Brewers), are a quaint memory.

Each year now, in addition to providing breakfast and lunch for attendees, organizers coordinate a multitude of seminars, meetings, hospitality suites, brewery tours and an entire bookstore selling primarily books produced by the BA’s publishing arm, Brewers Publication.

Brewer examining a foudre display

Brewer examining a foudre display

And then there’s the trade show. This year’s featured a whopping 835 exhibitors, eager to talk to attendees about everything from hops and yeast to cardboard 6-pack carriers and foudres. Shiny new rotating bottling lines sped along, attempting to catch the passing brewer’s eye.

Want to further your education in brewing or any other aspect of the industry? A cadre of representatives from universities and institutes touted their programs, including the famous brewing school, Siebel Institute of Technology, and Portland State University in Oregon, which offers a program that doesn’t teach how to brew. The Business of Craft Brewing, part of the School of Business Administration, teaches the rest of the business. Reps from the University of Nottingham swiped through colorful PowerPoint slides on iPads to showcase their program at the International Centre for Brewing Science in Leicestershire, U.K.

Need experts to help you build or expand your brewery? Want to see the latest in brewery system technology? In analytics programs? Maybe you’re looking to make your brewery greener. Need new furniture for your pub? A loan to grow your business? You could find it all in the exhibit hall—and use the handy 2016 CBC phone app to find it quickly.

Almost everything moved along smoothly, the only exception being the frequently long lines in the hospitality suites that opened at 3:30 each afternoon. There, the free beer flowed, provided by so many breweries that not even the biggest, most barrel-chested, macho brewer could sample it all.

Every two years since 1996, the grand climax of the CBC has been the World Beer Cup Awards Ceremony held on the final evening. This year’s entries increased 38.5% over 2014, with 1,907 breweries from 55 countries entering 6,596 beers. For days, 253 expert judges from 31 countries sat at 7-member tables tasting one round of beers after another.

Judge Graciela Cervantes working the Lallemand booth and moi

Judge Graciela Cervantes, working the Lallemand booth, and moi

While college frat guys might think that sounds like the ultimate job it’s actually hard work. Judges must adhere to strict style guidelines. The tastings are blind, meaning judges don’t know who brewed a beer or where it came from. “We take our job very, very seriously,” Graciela Cervantes told me. “It’s exhausting.”

Julia Herz, director of CraftBeer.com and a Certified Cicerone®, writes on the website, “Personally, it took me more than ten years of beery exercise before I became a confident beer judge.”

The awards ceremony began with an optional $95 dinner in the grand ballroom of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Iced buckets with bottles from participating breweries sat every few feet along tables for 12. Diners shared the goods, thus sampling a wide variety, as waiters swept away empties, replacing them with new brews.

As dinner wrapped up, the doors of the massive hall opened and hordes of people who chose to skip the pricey dinner poured in to spend the better part of the next 2 hours standing packed together.

What followed resembled a European futbol championship celebration as the competition manager read off the names of 287 winners in 96 style categories. The information flashed on two Jumbotron screens, dance music thumped and the crowd clapped and cheered as the victorious brewers made their way to the front amidst shouts, fierce bear hugs, high fives and handshakes.

Winning brewers

Winning brewers (Photo © Brewers Association)

Up on the stage, the bands of brewers, sometimes as many as 8 or more, received a plaque and a fist-bump from the man most responsible for the creation of the Brewers Association and all that had led to this evening, Charlie Papazian. In haute brewer fashion, most proudly wore flannel shirts or their brewery’s t-shirts, hoodies or hats. Beards, tats and long hair or no hair were in abundance, in marked contrast with Papazian’s bow tie and tux.

(I heard that at the 2014 awards an announcement was made that Papazian would fist-bump in lieu of shaking hands. It seems the hundreds of handshakes from strong, ecstatic brewers who had imbibed a few beers in 2012 forced the change.)

Winning brewers recieve their award from Charlie Papazian

Winning brewers with Charlie Papazian (Photo © Brewers Association)

With the excitement building, I cheered hard for several winners from our area and tweeted congratulations to Discretion in Soquel and Drake’s and 21st Amendment in San Leandro.

Afterwards, I emailed Kathleen Genco, co-owner of Discretion. With 54 entries in the Rye Beer category, Discretion won a bronze award for Uncle Dave’s Rye IPA, a beer I really like. Later, they beat 37 other entries to take the gold in English-Style Mild Ale for Song In Your Heart, which also won gold in 2014. What’s it like,” I asked, “in that moment, when you hear your brewery’s name called?”

“The CBC awards ceremony is, indeed, an amazing experience,” Kathleen replied. “For me, the moment when they announce our brewery and our beer as a World Beer Cup winner (I’ve experienced this three times now!) is dream-like and takes a while to sink in.  It’s a huge hope that you’ll hear your name, and when it happens, it’s like being gathered into the circle of participants rather than remaining an onlooker.  It’s a validation and an honor to be in the company of so many who make such great beer. What a thrill!”

Now that the 2016 CBC is a memory and I’m back home, I feel a little like Cinderella, minus the prince experience. I’m already planning my next trip: a visit with Uncle Dave up in Soquel.

A bow-tied Charlie Papazian smiling for one more photo of hundreds with admirers

A bow-tied Charlie Papazian smiling for one more photo of hundreds with admirers during the evening

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