Craft Beer’s Image: Cool and Hot

Leslie with German Hop Growers Association 2015 Hop Queen

Leslie with German Hop Growers Association 2015 Hop Queen

No doubt about it: craft beer’s image is as cool as its growth is hot. That was the message over and over at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference last week in Portland, Oregon. With 11,000 attendees pre-registered from all over the world, and unofficial word of 13,000 total, the 2015 conference was likely the largest gathering ever of craft brewers, folks in the allied (related) industries and other craft enthusiasts.

Consider that the least expensive registration ran over $600. Then factor in travel, lodging, meals and missed days at work. Attendance meant serious commitment for participants and their employers.

Exhibit Hall Brewing Equipment

Exhibit Hall Brewing Equipment

Some 80 seminars dealt with topics like practical yeast care and draught beer quality for retailers. In the exhibition hall, over 600 companies demonstrated the latest in everything from beverage cans and new hop varietals to bottle label designs and entire brewhouse systems. Hospitality tasting areas offered so many beer samples that trying them all would have been nearly impossible.

Spiegelau Craft Beer Glasses

Spiegelau Craft Beer Glasses

My vote for the funnest session went to Spiegelau Craft Beer Glasses for their “Crafting Glassware for Craft Beer” demonstration. Standing in a long line ten minutes before start time, I scored ticket number 103 of 190. When the doors opened, we rushed in like kids at an Easter egg hunt. After a brief introduction by our host, eight waiters rolled down the main aisle with a huge cart brimming with iced-down bottles of our first beer.

Soon we were pouring as instructed, comparing heads, sniffing and sipping samples from a traditional pint glass versus one crafted specifically for wheat beers. The aroma and taste differences were subtle but definitely present. We passed buckets to dump excess beer and water pitchers to rinse our glasses, then moved on to the lovely, flowery IPA sample and, afterwards, the dark, chocolatey stout.

By the end of the hour, we had shared bottle openers, observations and plenty of laughs with our neighbors. We each returned our three special glasses to their box and added that to our conference bags already laden with hops and yeast samples, complimentary key chains and other tchotchkes.

Leslie with Charlie Papazian

Leslie with Charlie Papazian

As with most conferences, one of the best parts was the networking. I was able to spend time with Ginger Johnson of Women Enjoying Beer who will handle publicity when my novel, The Brewer’s Justice, comes out, tentatively in late January, 2016. One morning, I came face-to-face with Kristi Switzer, publisher of Brewers Publications, the big dog of books on craft and homebrewing. She kindly sat down with me and offered all sorts of suggestions for getting the word out once my novel is published. At the closing event, I got to chat with Charlie Papazian, guru of homebrewers and founder and president of the organization that has become the Brewers Association which sponsors the annual Craft Brewers Conference and Brewers Publications.

Hugo, Leslie and Conor

Hugo, Leslie and Conor

The most special meet-up, though, was with a 24-year-old Iowa brewer who had been in contact with my husband Hugo. We had last seen Conor at age seven in London where his mother had gone to work for Guinness after her time with Hugo at Coors. During their Colorado years, Conor’s father worked at a microbrewery, something still on the fringes back then. When Conor was 15, his dad died of cancer and his mother left the demands of the big beer brewing world to raise their two children on a Minnesota farm.

Seeing Conor in Portland, with his Biology degree, his beard and tattoo, was to see not only the face of craft beer today but to glimpse its future. Judging from the commitment and passion I witnessed last week from Connor and his generation, the future of craft brewing appears to be in strong and skilled hands.

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