Insane California Beer Week

Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River and Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada

Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River and Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada

What an insane news-making week it’s been in the California craft beer world!

On Tuesday, September 8, craft enthusiasts were stunned when Lagunitas and Heineken issued a joint press release announcing that Heineken had purchased 50% of the Petaluma-based brewery. On Thursday, the rumored acquisition of San Diego-based Saint Archer by MillerCoors was confirmed. On Friday, Stone Brewing announced that the search is on for a CEO since co-founder and CEO of 19 years, Greg Koch, plans to transition into the Executive Chairman position of the company with a production facility and two restaurants in the San Diego area. Meanwhile, on Friday and Saturday, over 2000 fans were flocking to the first ever California Craft Beer Summit in Sacramento put on by the California Craft Brewers Association.

Stone Brewmaster Mitch Steele

Stone Brewmaster Mitch Steele

A who’s-who of California’s craft A-listers spoke in educational sessions, tap talks and chef and brewer demonstrations at the Sacramento Convention Center. The event culminated with a humongous Brewers Showcase on the Capitol Mall featuring over 150 California breweries.

As with any beer conference, the liquid star of the show was flowing in abundance. The largest breweries, like Sierra Nevada and Stone, set up their own booths. Smaller locals were grouped into four regional pouring stations—San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and northern California. An army of volunteers, many from homebrew clubs, manned these very popular and crowded bars.

Michael Lewis, Professor Emeritus, UC Davis

Michael Lewis, Professor Emeritus, UC Davis

Attendees were drawn by the beer, opportunities for networking and education, and, yes, a little time off from their regular work. The biggest attraction for many, though, was the speaker line-up that included Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Tony Magee (Lagunitas), Greg Koch and Mitch Steele (Stone Brewing), and Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo (Russian River). I managed to see all of them, plus the legendary Fritz Maytag, who bought Anchor Steam in 1965 to save it from demise and Michael Lewis, the venerable UC Davis professor who arrived in 1962 and did more than anyone else to establish the outstanding brewing program Davis has today.

Greg Koch of Stone Brewing

Greg Koch of Stone Brewing

With so many activities, it was impossible to hear every speaker. I missed Charlie Bamforth from UC Davis and David Walker of Firestone Walker. The man I was most bummed to miss was beer writer and author Jay Brooks, due to an organizing gaffe.

When I learned of the summit and registered several months ago, the website stated it began at 9:00 a.m. on Friday. Later communications, including my VIP ticket, had it starting at noon. I corrected my calendar and cancelled the Thursday night hotel reservation. Image my surprise when I arrived to find the summit was several hours underway and that I’d missed Brooks.

That problem aside, it was a fantastic event that unfolded very smoothly for its inaugural run. Lines at the bars, the evening reception and the breakfast were generally short to non-existent. The beer and food were good to excellent.

Natalie Cilurzo of Russian River

Natalie Cilurzo of Russian River

Natalie Cilurzo, who spoke on “Women in Brewing,” gave a terrific talk to the SRO crowd of about 200. She related the story of a young woman who arranged a visit to Russian River and a meeting with Cilurzo. The woman was enthusiastic in her praise and admiration until she discovered that Cilurzo didn’t brew. Stopped short, she expressed her disappointment. Cilurzo used this story to make her point that the success of the industry doesn’t belong just to brewers. “In a brewery, you need people to handle social media, to do the hiring, to count the money. We have to have executives and owners, hop sellers, glassware vendors, whole sellers and bloggers. And there are plenty of women in those jobs.” Shout out for including that last group!

Tony Magee of Lagunitas

Tony Magee of Lagunitas

I can’t speak on the success of the Brewers Showcase on the Mall since I left before it started. I had a 186-mile drive home and I’d drunk a lot of great beer on Friday and more early on Saturday. I skipped what appears to have been a great beer fest.

Predictions that in a few years, California’s Beer Summit could rival Denver’s Great American Beer Festival may be a bit preliminary, but the first year was absolutely a resounding success. Cheers to the California Craft Brewers Association and Director Tom McCormick on a terrific event!

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