Nearly 9,000 people, from seasoned and aspiring brewers to packagers and equipment fabricators, attended the 21st annual Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) & BrewExpo America at Denver’s Colorado Convention Center on April 8–11.
Every other year, CBC also includes a craft-brewing competition called the World Beer Cup — which Julia Herz, BA’s craft beer program director, calls the “Olympics of beer.” Fourteen-hundred breweries from around the world (and 5,000 beers) competed this year for 281 awards, which were were doled out during a 2,700-person reception.
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Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America
2013 Washington, D.C.
As CBC’s size has swelled in tandem with consumer interest in craft beer, organizers have had to turn away both attendees and exhibitors due to a lack of space — which precipitated this year’s move from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., to Denver. “The word got out before D.C. that if you didn’t sign up early enough, you’d be left outside,” Herz said. But “we had no methodology in place to get a sense of how many people wanted to attend but couldn’t.”
As it turned out, the 8,900 people who got in this year represented a 30-percent attendance spike from 2013 — which followed on the heels of 30-percent growth between 2012 and 2013. “It was truly amazing and awe-inspiring to see 5,000 people at the general session,” Herz said. Did the size of the event spook her or her colleagues? “No,” she said. “We’re a pretty seasoned team, and we have an excellent core staff.”
The show is also increasingly popular with exhibitors. With 1,700 breweries in the planning stages in the United States — in addition to the 2,800 breweries that already operate — suppliers clamor to take part in BrewExpo, which caps the number of booths at 490. There’s talk that the existing two-day trade show may not be long enough. “We’re discussing internally the need to continue hours and access to the trade show,” Herz said. “It’s so important for brewers to shop and meet suppliers and get their equipment.”
Since 30 percent of craft beer is sold on draft (as opposed to 10 percent for mass-produced beers), this year’s emphasis was on beer quality — particularly draft-line maintenance. “One of my colleagues [says] that craft beer happens at the intersection of art and science,” Herz said, “and the science side of craft brewing is very specific.” Attendees could choose from 85 seminars in 11 different education tracks, which they could organize via an online event planner or an app.
While the move to ever-larger venues has shifted the CBC’s vibe over time — only 300 people attended the first event in 1993 — it’s also afforded new opportunities. “It’s a different feel when you go from a non-convention center to a convention center,” Herz said, but this year’s keynote speaker — author Michael Pollan — spoke to the extensive reach that craft beer is gaining. Pollan called CBC attendees “comrades in the burgeoning food movement.”
“The community needs this event on an annual basis to network and pow-wow,” Herz said. “This is the main conduit of information and main destination for brewers large and small to convene.