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Friday, August 11, 2017

Education, Business and Beer: Florida Brewers Guild First Brewers Conference Delivered It

The Florida Brewers Guild presented its first Florida Brewers Conference August 7-9 at the beautiful Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek in the land of Disney. 

With an agenda of 22 presentations and panel discussions and two evening social events, the event was packed with information, education and networking. And, yes, there was even a bit of beer flowing during hospitality suite hours. Attended by brewers, distributors, retailers and industry partners, topics included brewery operations, distribution, legal issues, statistics, event planning, and marketing.




Things kicked off Monday evening with a Welcome Reception which featured Florida beer and conversation. It wasn't difficult to find the group, as decibel levels provided the route. 



Tuesday morning started off with formal welcomes and introductions by FBG President Kent Bailey and Executive Director Sean Nordquist. After Kent expressed some surprise at the full attendance in the room before 9am (apparently, the welcome reception continued after it officially ended the night before), he stressed what would become an overriding theme at the conference: Quality. Further, he's convinced that "everyone loves craft beer, [but] may not have found it yet."


Kent Bailey

Sean Nordquist

Sean began his role as Executive Director in May of this year, and one of his immediate responsibilities was to set up this initial Conference, which the FBG had wanted to present for some time. (No suspense here, the Conference was a huge success.)

Garrett Oliver with a nice hat
The Opening Keynote Address was then delivered by Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster, editor of The Oxford Companion to Beer, and author of The Brewmaster's Table. When he strolled in wearing a signature straw hat, it was obvious that this was going to be interesting. Garrett is an eloquent speaker, and he doesn't mince words, but tells it like he sees it. He began by speaking about "what is craft," and related stories about several competitors who helped out his brewery in time of need (or crisis). "No one can help you but the guy down the road who you're competing with." There was some levity also. "People who don't drink die early - they think they're going to live longer, but it just seems longer." He was especially glad to get to Florida (even in August, maybe), so that he could have some beers he "could see through," followed by a reference to the "buttery mud" in New England (Hello, hazy beer fans). 

What a thrill when Garrett signed my copy of Oxford used two years ago while studying for the Certified Cicerone exam (yeah, I brought it with). 


First name basis now. Thanks, Garrett!
And, thanks to James Retzler of
up-n-coming brewery Mathews Brewing
for the photo!


After that, it was down to business. Generally, the conference was divided up into breakout sessions, with three presentations going on at the same time. Several of the sessions were a tough call. A panel of distributors and brewers discussed distribution issues. That theme of quality surfaced again, along with shelf space, product margins and contract terms. One of the panelists pointed out that a brewery should establish itself and its beer before heading in to distribution for optimal results with consumers, who ultimately are the driving force. 


Distributor and brewer panel (left to right): Champion Brands, Playalinda Brewing, Pepin Distributing,
Cigar City Brewing, Cavalier Distributing, Moderator Kent Bailey


Bart Watson
Another well-attended session was the Statistics presentation by Bart Watson, Economist with the Brewers Association. As of June 2017, there were 8300 TTB brewery permits, with over 300 licenses in Florida. While brewery growth is not slowing, sales growth has, with larger craft breweries taking the brunt. When it comes to purchasing decisions, 55% of craft purchasers say they consider "small and independent" as a factor. Around 75% of the country's breweries produce under 1000 barrels per year. The theme of "local" and tap room experiences also weigh in on purchasing decisions. 




During the two days of sessions, lunch was served in the Expo Hall, and attendees had the opportunity to talk with vendors about products and services. 


Expo Hall main room

Tuesday was an action-packed day, with three additional presentation sessions in the afternoon, which included topics of Event Planning, brewery troubleshooting and brewery safety. 

Organizers of Funky Buddha MBCP Fest and Cigar City Hunahpu's Day:
Logistics, planning, volunteers, marketing, budgeting
Jim Koch: founded Boston Beer in 1984
Closing out Day One was Jim Koch, Founder of Boston Beer Co./Sam Adams. The presentation was humorous, as well as factual. Jim had a unique way of summarizing the history of the craft beer industry in terms of Star Wars movies (apparently, he's a fan). From the misfits of the industry in the late 1970's (Rogue One), to the Empire Strikes Back (Big Beer not too happy with the rebels, including Sam Adams), to the Return of the Jedi in the 2000's (energy in craft), he spoke of his experiences during each time. On a personal note, he said that his original business plan called for 5000 barrels of Sam Adams; his early net profit was around $17,000, without a salary for himself. His wife thought "he was crazy," and they divorced. When he began talking about "why we love beer," a huge smile lit up his face (and he had another sip from his pint glass). "Beer is not wine," and the images are different. At this point, two different images projected on the screen: one of a woman in a white dress with lovely hair and makeup holding a glass of wine, and the next of a couple of guys in overalls and boots in a brewery (that resulted in some laughs). As he explained the history of beer: "The reason we have civilization is because of beer." Yes, everything that happened had a beer reference! Three of the first four US Presidents were brewers, while John Adams relied on his cousin Sam to make beer. Further, beer is more versatile than wine, because brewers can make beer from whatever they want. In another humorous reference that drew a lot of laughs, he likened wine to a static expression of physical attraction between couples, whereas, he compared beer to a well-known book of numerous suggestions for making things more exciting (use your imagination here), stating that "if you can do yoga, you can make beer," a reference to brewers' creativity .... in brewing, in brewing. 

Then, it was off to Crooked Can Brewing in Winter Garden for socializing! Although I have had several Crooked Can beers, I was excited to visit the brewery for the first time. If you haven't been here, the setting is unique, in that the brewery sits at the end of the indoor-outdoor Plant Street Market, which includes arts, foods and other items. The Market itself is housed under what looks like a large warehouse that spans an entire block. It's enough to say that I'll have to visit again to experience all that the brewery has to offer. For this event, the tap list included four Crooked Can beers in a brewhouse bar, and an additional bar that served a number of beers from Florida breweries. I started off with the Crooked Can "Keepah" New England Hazy IPA (Hello, Garrett Oliver), a hazy, fruity, tropical IPA (no, you can't see through it). We wandered around the brewhouse and through the Market. 

The Swagger
Can't see through this NE IPA












Between the Brewers Conference and the trivia ninjas, the place was bustling on a Tuesday night. There's definitely another trip to Crooked Can in the future!

Day 2 started pretty early with the State of the Guild address. Outside the presentation room, guests could start the day at the Bloody Mary Bar. 



After noting the impressive attendance at the early hour (Bloody Marys and Mimosas might do that), Kent turned to FBG Lobbyist and General Counsel, Josh Aubuchon, who briefly ran through several recent legislative matters (self-distribution bill, franchise reform). Sean then summarized membership and upcoming events. Currently, there are 278 Guild members, with 180 being breweries, and the FBG is looking to increase membership. While he expressed excitement for this first conference, future events again include the Barrel-Aged, Sour and Cider Fest at Intuition Ale Works (Jax) in November, and the annual FBG Fest in March. In addition, look for several new FBG events in South Florida, with details to follow.



Non-traditional marketing and social media 
Discussions in the Day 2 breakout sessions included: what to know before starting a brewery; non-traditional marketing/social media; retirement planning; Florida retailer considerations; kettle sours; intellectual property law and issues; the three-tier system and legislative questions; inventory; and parts and maintenance. 



During a break before the closing address, some Florida beer poured at the hospitality area:






Joey Redner, Founder and CEO of Cigar City Brewing, then ended the conference with a talk about "Biggest Mistakes." Yes, the infamous Hunahpu's Day 2014 was the topic of discussion. He shared that his "worst moment" was that day, and that the initial decision was to cancel the event entirely, after being invaded by more folks than anticipated and running out of beer. After making good on promises and refunding ticket fees in 2014, they regrouped and brought the event back in 2015. Tongue-in-cheek shirts with the caption "Cigar City Sucks" were even printed that year. He shared that he "didn't get into craft beer to be an a***," and that's what attracted him to craft beer in the first place. With respect to Huna Day, it appears that they have worked a number of things out since 2014 (I thought the 2017 fest was rather well-done). But, as explained in an earlier event-planning session with a Huna Day organizer, there's always a new challenge. 

Yes, it was a full two days, and it was a great experience. Educational, informative, and, yes, even fun -- I mean, with a bunch of brewers, how could it not be? Personally, I enjoyed seeing many brewers I have already met through brewery visits and beerfests, and meeting new ones. 

So, what did Sean think of his first Brewers Conference? Catching his breath, he thought that the conference "went very well," and that everyone had a good time. He was surprised at the turnout, which was higher than expected (well over 300). Next year, he would like to increase traffic to the vendors and add more time for the brewers to visit vendors. 

Hey, Sean, from what I heard in talking to other attendees, this conference was a success! Congrats!

And, in concluding this summary of my 29 pages of notes, the conference program, and even more photos, it's appropriate for this last photo, which is how Jim Koch ended his talk:



That said, I'm reaching for a beer right now. 

Whew, what a couple of days it was at the inaugural Florida Brewers Conference. So much information packed into a short time by knowledgeable speakers. The Conference was well-organized, and I found the topics and speakers to be timely and interesting. Kind of like a beer school!

Thanks for reading (I'm assuming you made it through this). See you around Florida Somewhere! 

Cheers!

Til next time, 



Linda





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