Craft Brewers Conference 2013

Posted on April 18, 2013 by Nathan

It’s been a couple weeks since I got back from the Craft Brewers Conference in DC, but I think I’m finally starting to digest some of the information that I got there. I also digested this little treat a few days ago as well.

Beggars and Thieves

Every year they have a couple breweries collaborate on a beer for the festival attendees, and this year the beer was called “Beggars and Thieves”. It was an “Anti-Imperial Rye Lager”. It was a really nice session beer with the spiciness contributing by the rye really accentuating the lager crispness. Thanks to DC Brau, Brewers Art, and Devils Backbone for putting together a really nice presentation for it.

It was a phenomenal conference, and I’m really glad that I got the opportunity to head out there for it. The conference was split into two distinct sections, one was the “Brewexpo America” which was the trade show. I spent a decent amount of time walking around, shaking hands, meeting new folks, and putting faces with names. People like Kevin from Brewmation (who designed my control system), John from Stout Tanks (who designed my brewhouse tanks) and David from Pro Engineering (who has offered numerous pieces of incredible advice to help me dial everything in).

Brewexpo

I also got to make some new contacts, some of which are already paying off. As many of you probably know, I was having a very painful experience with my growler supplier (and I apologize that we were out of the 32 oz “Squealers” for a couple weeks there). I started talking with the guys at Ceramic Decorating during the show (they do all the screenprinted bottles and growlers for Stone Brewing) and as a result, my first order of the 2-Liter growlers that we have in the taproom will be arriving this thursday or friday. Just in the nick of time, since I’m down to 3 of them left in the taproom!

The other contact I made was with the folks at Premier Stainless. They were the only company that I talked with at the show that had 7-barrel fermenters in stock right now.

And one of them is being crated up in the next couple days and shipped to our booming beer mecca here in Flagstaff.

With that one little conversation, our production here at Wanderlust will be taking a jump up in capacity in the next couple weeks. Everyone else was several months out at this point on a fermenter, but all the walking around and chatting with folks at the expo paid off and we’ve got a fermenter on the way.

There was a lot of dreaming on my part as well. Some of the things got put on a prioritized wish-list. Others, like this little beauty, just got admired for their craftsmanship and got a footnote of “what if….”.

Still

The other part of the conference was the symposium talks. These talks covered everything you could ever want to hear about related to running a brewery. From talks on sour beers, to wood aged beers, to cleaning procedures, to marketing and financing; it was all there. There were 3 days of talks, with 4-6 going on at any point in time in different rooms. It was a bit overwhelming at times, especially when there were several at one time going on that I wanted to attend. Fortunately, they’re available online to attendees afterwards, and I’ve been taking full advantage of it.

As with most conferences like this, the talks are a bit of a brain dump at the time, and by the end of the day, you almost can’t see straight from all the powerpoint presentations and technical deep-dives.

And the fact that there was a lot of free beer there didn’t help the concentration by the end of the day.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I gravitated towards the more technical talks at the symposium, and I was rewarded with a head full of things to think about in the brewery. Some I’ve already implemented, some are food for thought for future beers, and some just ended up adding to the wish list of items that would like to own some day at the brewery.

On that note, if you’re trying to figure out what to get me for my birthday next month, an ATP meter would be really nice……….

Here are some general observations from some of the talks that were really interesting to me:

  • Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River and Tom Nielson from Sierra Nevada gave a great tag-team talk on dry hopping. Vinnie has an incredible amount of experience and had some good insights on their theories on dry hopping. Tom brought data. Sweet, sweet data. I loved seeing how dry hopped oils stratified in a tank, and how their torpedo system combatted this problem. I also learned that they use the same statistical analysis program at Sierra Nevada that I have come to love (JMP)

dry hopping stratification

  • I have a lot of the basic lab equipment that many of these breweries use on a daily basis, and could be getting a lot more out of it. I saw a great talk on doing yeast cell counts in your beer and controlling that variable. I’ve been having issues with inconsistancy in the 928 due to varying yeast loads in the final beer, and I now know how to control that. That beer should be more consistent in terms of haziness moving forward.
  • Cleaning is a very difficult task to make prescriptive. I’ve always struggled with how to verify that equipment is completely sanitized from the previous batch. It’s especially difficult because I run 3 different strains of yeast in the brewery, and so mixing of those yeasts can cause flavors to drift over time, forcing me to dump yeast and buy a new batch of it before I need to. Rob Christiansen from Avery Brewing gave a really good description of how to use an ATP meter to verify that everything is properly cleaned. If I could come up with an extra $1500 to get one, I would do it in a heartbeat………
  • On a similar note, Avery has an amazing quality program. They are able to utilize their lab equipment to pinpoint exactly when the beer is finished and ready to filter based on chemical analysis. This has allowed them to squeeze more production (and more consistent production) out of their same system. Really inspiring.
  • I gained a new appreciation for some of the folks at some of the ‘big breweries’ here in the US. The guys as AB-InBev gave a great talk on barrel-aging beers. They aged beers with several different kinds of barrels and came up with a matrix of flavors derived from certain types of oak and certain toast levels on each of those oak. They did sensory (taste) tests, and correlated those tastes to chemical compounds which were extracted. I get the feeling that being as big as they are allows them to dedicate some resources to research like that, which may not directly affect their enormous ‘bread and butter’ brands. I’m glad somebody out there has the time and money to do it and is willing to share it more broadly.  Say what you want about those guys, they know how to brew consistent beer.
  • Chad Yakobsen and Troy Casey from AC Golden have a phenomenal depth of knowledge on sour beers, and it was overwhelming to hear them talk about how they can craft these ‘wild’ beers. It gave a lot of insight into how to give some semblance of control to a very difficult to predict process. Again, very inspiring.

That’s a long list of takeaways from the talks, and the list is getting longer as I’m able to go back through some of the presentations again (and watch some that I didn’t get the chance to see at the conference). Was it worth the time and money to go out there? Absolutely. When you hear about all of the insight and knowledge that is out there in this industry and all of the passion that is associated with that, it’s really inspiring. Conferences like this strengthen the whole beer community as a whole, and I’m proud to be a part of that community.

Conference Hall

Cheers.

Post Categories: Blog

3 responses to “Craft Brewers Conference 2013”

  1. Thomas says:

    It was great to finally get to met you, look forward to stopping in and trying your beers when I am next in Flag.

  2. Bill says:

    Is it a concern that the Premier Stainless Tanks are made in China rather than the USA? Curious to get a current brewers take on this subject as it is a predicament for me as a startup. Obviously there is some cost savings but what about quality and creating jobs at home? I appreciate any thoughts and enjoy your posts. Thank you!

    • Nathan says:

      Bill –
      To be clear, all my major equipment (brewhouse, fermenters, and brite tank) was made in china. I would say a good 90% of the stuff that I looked at during the show was made over there. From a quality standpoint, the stuff is beautiful, they do a really good job and the quality control is very good. From a job standpoint, it’s always a tough call, but when the price is so much better and the lead time is the same or better, it’s tough to pass up. The only place I talked to that was actually made anywhere in north america was Specific Mechanical, and they’re in canada. For some, it may be an issue, for me it really wasn’t because I didn’t have much of an option. Honestly, if I was ordering more than 2 fermenters, I would actually order it direct from china without going through the middleman. You pay for the design services on a brewhouse, which is done in the US, but fermenters are pretty standard nowadays so if you can justify enough tanks to fill a shipping container, the price is less to go direct.

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