Categories: Feature, On The Road ReportsPublished On: May 3, 2016


Cass Enright


The Bar Towel is proud to once again present our annual preview of the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America (CBC), taking place from May 3rd to 6th, 2016 at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Part One of the preview covered our highlights of breweries, bars and other sights of the city, and Part Two covers our picks for the conference seminars.

The Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia is here, and now’s the time get ready to take away some juicy beer knowledge alongside the delicious beer itself.  With the massive growth of the CBC in the past number of years, it the conference is almost overwhelming nowadays, with non-stop panels, seminars, demonstrations, hospitality events, meetings and vendor showcases. So let’s break it down!

The core schedule format of the CBC is consistent from recent years past, with hosted seminars and sponsored demonstrations occurring throughout the day, and the BrewExpo America trade show running simultaneously, along with various other group meetings, hospitality suites and events taking place. (See Part One of our preview for a rundown of a bar scene in Philadelphia, with links to the dozens of events happening in the city.)

BrewExpo America, a massive brewing trade show with 800 vendors offering everything a prospective or current brewery, brewpub or bar owner could need, is once again running for three days during the conference, from 9am Wednesday until 12pm on Friday.

Outside of the trade show, the CBC is heavily focused on seminars, hosted panels, talks and presentations about a wide series of topics relevant to the brewing industry. As is in years past, the seminars are divided up into streams based upon their topics: brewery operations, brewpubs, export development, government affairs, packaging breweries, quality, safety, selling craft beer, start-ups, sustainability and technical brewing.

Now let’s talk about our picks. As in the past, our picks below represent the seminars that we find the most interesting in the context of today’s craft brewing world, with a Canadian skew. Lots of quality seminars overlap, so it’s challenging to see everything. But get yourself a beer and enjoy, there’s something for everyone in the industry at the CBC. (For some handy tools to plan out your schedule, see the CBC’s online planner, mobile app and pocket PDF guide.)

Wednesday, 9:15-10:30: Welcome keynote.  In recent years the CBC has welcomed keynote speakers from outside of brewing to provide unique perspectives on business.  Last year’s by Simon Sinek was very memorable and informative, as should this year’s, from baseball executive Billy Beane. There’s parallels that have been drawn between Billy’s story of success as a small fish in a big pond which should be very relevant to today’s brewing community.

Wednesday, 1:20-2:20: The future of craft depends on quality.  It’s fitting that the CBC seminars kick off with Dick Cantwell, a craft beer hero of sorts through his dissenting opinion against the sale of Elysian, the brewery he co-founded, to Anheuser-Busch in 2015.  Now a “quality ambassador” for the Brewers Association, it is always entertaining to hear Dick talk and this subject should continue to stoke the fires of our craft beer passion.

Wednesday, 2:40-3:40: Fruit refermentation in a production brewery.  Fruit beers have been and continue to be a hot, just as the Jester King brewery of Austin, Texas is.  Head brewer Garrett Crowell will be talking tips about how to best use fruit in what should be a juicy talk.

Wednesday, 2:40-3:40: Transitioning from nano to micro: a how-to.  Growth is something most breweries strive for, and this talk from Mike Hess, owner of the impressive San Diego brewery of the same name, should be an interesting perspective of getting big in a competitive landscape.

Thursday, 1:20-2:20: A reasonable approach to trademark enforcement. Lessons from craft brewers.  Managing a trademark in a sea of beer names can be a challenging and heated task, and this subject has been present for a few years now.  But there’s no easy solution, and will be tackled by representatives from Smuttynose, Rock Art and Old Ox.

Thursday, 1:20-2:20: The cost of opening a brewery: 3 perspectives.  It seems that there’s a new brewery opening up every week around here, but it’s not a cheap endeavour.  This chat features Jeremy Cowan of Shmaltz about how he transformed from contract to production, and Sean Lawson of the famed Lawson’s Finest Liquids, who recently announced a new brewery planned in his home state of Vermont.

Thursday, 2:40-3:40: The science, art and mystery of sour beer production. Sour beer can be delicious, but it’s not exactly a walk in the park to do it right and well.  In this talk representatives from Avery Brewing and New Belgium Brewing, two quality sour beer brewers from Colorado discuss their techniques.

Friday, 12:30-1:30: Hiring and brewer retention: A brewer’s perspective.  In a growing and competitive industry like craft beer, keeping your best talent will become an increasingly important business issue.  This all-star lineup will discuss their perspectives of hiring and holding onto good people, including Mitch Steele, brewmaster of Stone, alongside representatives from Victory, New Belgium and Karl Strauss.

Friday, 12:30-1:30: Sustainable design and build strategies for craft brewers.  Craft beer is expanding rapidly, so sustainability will be of increasing importance as the industry continues to grow.  Hear from the Founder and Brewmaster of Hopworks Urban Brewery of Portland, Christian Ettinger, plus the Sustainability Manager of Sierra Nevada at this panel.

Friday, 3:20-4:20: Spontaneous fermentation in a production brewery.  Making spontaneously fermented beers can be delightful and produce delicious results.  This panel features some of the most well-known brewers in this field, including Vinnie Curlizo of Russian River, Jason Perkins, Brewmaster of Allagash, and Jeremy Stuffings, Founder and Chase Healey, Brewmaster and Co-Founder of Jester King.

Friday, 3:20-4:20: The Return of the Gourdians.  The Gourdians, a semi-regularly featured collection of craft beer personalities are back once again to tell what is surely to be a sprawling and interesting range of beery tales.  This year the panel comprises of Stone Co-Founder Greg Koch, Canada’s own Steve Beauchesne of Beau’s and beer promoter Marty Jones.

The CBC seminars always cover a wide range of interesting and informative topics and this year is no exception.  If you are heading to Philadelphia, please reach out to us @bartowel and let us know what you’re up to at the conference. We’d love to hear about the experiences of the Canadian beer world in attendance this year!