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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) and World Beer Cup (WBC) came to Philly

For a full slideshow of CBC/WBC pictures, click here.

If you follow me on social media, then you know I was wrapped up in the CBC/WBC crush that took over Philly for five days earlier this month. But no one quite knows if it was five days, four, three, six, or.... Point is, there was a lot happening and I found my way into the midst of both with media credentials and as interested consumer.

If you only read my stuff exclusively on here, you'd likely have no idea. If I could explain the madness of the last six weeks for me both personally and professionally, you might begin to understand my tardiness on this subject. Or you might not care that much. Suffice to say, I've been incredibly busy.

Enough with the excuses though. Let's see if I can deal with a wrap-up of CBC/WBC in an expedient fashion so we can move on to the topic of Philly Beer Week and an assortment of other tasty goodies.

In a city overrun with thousands of beer industry professionals, hundreds of quality beer venues, and dozens of both public and private events, it was near impossible to see everyone I thought I might. One thing I learned quite quickly is that CBC is much easier to cover/follow and be a part of when it's not occurring in your hometown. Here following is my meager attempt to absorb and regurgitate the tiniest fraction of what transpired during CBC/WBC.


Allow me first to bring attention to the medal winners of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware.

DE - Silver - Iron Hill (Wilmington) - Double Red Ale - Valentinus IPA
   -always a favorite location of mine for being by the water and the ballpark.
NJ - Gold - Kane (Ocean) - Wood & Barrel-aged Strong Stout - A Night To End All Dawns
   -one of NJ's finest; a must-visit (and a must-find beer if you can) when near the central NJ shore points.
NJ - Bronze - Departed Soles (Jersey City) - Gluten-Free Beer - A Dark Night
   -these guys were just coming on line when my book was released, so they're in the appendix. honestly didn't know how the gluten-free beers would play. looks like they're off to a good start.
PA - Gold - Iron Hill (Lancaster) - Belgian-style Tripel - Bedotter
   -this gold follows up a 2014 GABF silver medal for Bedotter.
PA - Gold - Lancaster Brewing (Lancaster) - American-style Black Lager - Jump Seat Black Lager
   -love seeing the "old-timers" still taking the stage, esp. for lager brewing for which the region is so well-regarded.
PA - Gold - Stoudts (Adamstown) - German-style Bock or Maibock - Maibock
   -suppose I can simply ditto the last comment. such a solid and deserving beer.
PA - Gold - Susquehanna (Pittston) - Fruit Beer - Shady Spot
   -they've got some classics going on outside of Scranton. they took a bronze at GABF in 2015 for their Goldencold Lager and now this.
PA - Silver - Conshohocken Brewing (Conshohocken) - Classic English-style Pale Ale - Puddler's Row ESB.
   -not long after discovering this a couple years ago, became a regular and a top 5 beer in the region in my playbook. also, amongst the 20 beers to try when in Philly for CBC, just sayin'.
PA - Silver - Iron Hill (Media) - Aged Beer - Solzhenitsyn
   -I don't know what a Solzhenitsyn is, but it's now one of two WBC silver medal winning beers for Media location of this perennial powerhouse.
PA - Silver - Iron Hill (Media) - British-style Imperial Stout - Russian Imperial Stout
   -speaking of perennial, this beer keeps on winning. maybe it will make America great again. depending which location actually put its name on the submitted beer, if my count is accurate, this is the tenth award (GABF or WBC) for this beer at the Media location in the past ten years and the fourth WBC in a row (2010, 2012, 2014, 2016).
PA - Silver - Iron Hill (West Chester) - Coffee Beer - Overload Stout
   -Tim Stumpf has moved over to West Chester from Phoenixville and, while I'm not sure if his stamp was on this beer, I wouldn't be surprised. This makes five awards for the Iron Hill Family at WBC 2016.
PA - Silver - Roundabout (Pittsburgh) - Old Ale or Strong Ale - Heini's Good Cheer
   -just stopped here in April. my third visit over the past couple years. really like what they're doing here and apparently the judges agree.
PA - Bronze - Straub (St. Mary) - German-Style Koelsch - Straub Kolsch
   -one of my favorite visits while researching my book. hopefully this is on the Eternal Tap.
PA - Bronze - Spring House (Lancaster) - Chocolate Beer - Kerplunk! Imperial Chocolate Stout
   -this might be considered one of Spring House's more "normal" beers. that makes three medals for Lancaster-area breweries.


- Monday, 5/2 - Local breweries Free Will (John Stemler) and McKenzie Brew House (Nate Walter) teamed up with Trinity Brewing (Jason Yester) from Colorado on a base beer that they all treated a bit differently. "Saison Delivery" was unveiled at Khyber Pass and all three breweries were in attendance. Probably should have read that the three ABVs were all in the 9-11% ballpark before having one of each.

Nonetheless, a solid plate of food (as is always expected at the Khyber) helped mitigate the impact. Loaded up the car with visiting judges from France and Belgium and headed across town Kite & Key where New Belgium had just wrapped up its night where its Beer Rangers all met up along with 14 beers from the Fort Collins, CO industry-leading brewery.

After a couple of tasties - including Eric's Ale, Love Felix, and Le Terroir - we headed off to Alla Spina, which played host each night of CBC to a pairing of a local brewery and out-of-town brewery. This night, it was Yards and Weyerbacher (old-timers) hooking up with 2SP (newcomer) for a "Local Jawns" night to kick things off. If the first night was any indication, Alla Spina pulled off a really nice after hours base camp throughout the week.


- Tuesday, 5/3 - On my way to pick up my media credentials at the Convention Center, it seemed prudent to duck into Kite & Key once more to see the Firestone Walker crew and check out this Krieky Bones beer (Flanders Red) that I'd heard plenty of good stuff about. True to the madness of CBC week, however, no one seemed to stay in any one place for too long, often double- or triple-booked throughout the days/nights.

The FW crew was already gone from its scheduled lunch event, but that allowed me to make new friends with their neighbors in San Luis Obispo, Central Coast and its owner George Peterson. This was a nice introduction, given that they later won a gold medal for its Lucky Day IPA out of 118 entries in the category for American-Style Strong Pale Ale.

The Krieky Bones beer from FW? An out-of-the-park WOW beer and so glad that I made the 20 minute stop. Off to get credentials, bump into a few friendly faces, and then on to Johnny Brenda's where the Brotherly Suds official CBC beer was being unveiled to the media. All the brewers involved (Sly Fox, Iron Hill, Yards, Flying Fish, Victory, Stoudts, and Tröegs) were all on stage for a 15-minute press conference discussing the beer and their take on the current state of the industry.

One more quick stop at City Tap House by Logan Circle for the Bell's Eccentric Cafe makeover event and I was off to the Opening Reception at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Other than a fantastic lineup of Bell's beers and a few menu items from their Kalamazoo-based cafe, not much to say about the event except there was no doubt word had gotten out about the event. Fortunately, old friends (and I say that in the most appreciative way) Bill and Rebecca had a table and I was able to share it for 30 minutes and a couple beers.

The Art Museum, however, is where the most fantastic event of the day was held. What a great job they did in showcasing one of the city's - and world's - gems. Not only did conference-goers get to drink and eat with spectacular views of the city, they were able to explore the museum which was open for wandering, complete with beer stations that could be found in some of the remote corners of the museum.

If you wandered, you were likely to find some of our local breweries pouring beers in addition to random conversations between, say, Tom Baker (Earth Bread + Brewery; Bar Hygghe/Brewery Techne) and Peter Bouckaert (New Belgium). Because enough just is never enough, one last stop took me to Bishop's Collar, a very easy few blocks of walking from the front steps of the Art Museum. Let's see - Dogfish Head drafts for $3; a packed house; Jimmy Meirs (ex-Origlio) on guitar; Corey Reid (Sly Fox) on drums; and Joanna Manzo (ex-Smuttynose, new to Austin Eastciders) channeling her inner Prince on the microphone. Twas a great day and a better night.


- Wednesday, 5/4 - This was the only full day I took off from the day job to attend. Really wanted to hear the industry remarks from the Brewers Association as well as the keynote address from Billy Beane. Nothing like intersecting three of my passions - baseball, statistics, and beer.

Some key takeaways/quotes worth sharing here with you include:
  -"2,000 attendees in 2006. 13,000+ in 2016. 40,000 sq. ft. of exhibiting space then. 500,000+ sq. ft. this year with 835 vendors. Now more than 4,400 breweries and 120,000 employed by the 'craft segment'. " (Bob Pease, President & CEO at Brewers Association)
  -"State of the Union of Beer is strong...but." (Pease)
  -"Can not. Must not rest on laurels. Landscape is changing rapidly. Storm clouds are out there." (Pease)
  -"The big guys are disrupting the original disrupters...limiting access to the market." (Pease)
  -"The TTB is underfunded...needs to modernize and be able to better meet small brewer needs" (Pease)
  -"Early on, the challenges were ignorance and inertia. Now, challenge is to call out those that blur the lines between large multinational and small/independent. Must continue to educate the consumer" (Pease)
  -"Three major initiatives at Brewers Association: #1 remind the market meriting more consideration is cold storage, menu placement, food pairing #2 American Craft Beer Week and #3 the new National Museum of American History Brewing Program" (Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director at Brewers Association)
  -"What we all do is bigger than any one's effort...it's collective" (Herz)
  -"BA doesn't define what a craft beer is, just what a craft brewer is" (Rob Tod, Chairman of the Board at Brewers Association)
  -"If you fall outside the BA definition of small, independent, then you are different" (Tod)
  -"You have access to raw ingredients, access to distribution in retail, to capacity, to economies of scale that small independent do not" (Tod)
  -"Even if a few dozen breweries leave the BA because of ownership change, etc. they'll be fine with their ability to survive and does not change the BA" (Tod)
  -"Ranks are swelling; it is important it is to stick together; we "own" the term craft" (Tod)
  -"The definition matters, it matters more than ever" (Tod)
  -"One of smallest teams, just like small beer...is limited by marketplace and revenue streams like small beer..is challenged to innovate to survive....but must thrive like small beer" (Billy Beane, EVP of Oakland A's)
  -"Sometimes need to change traditional business models. Sometimes outsiders, fresh eyes can bring new approaches....new ideas, no secrets, just reusing common knowledge" (Beane)
  -"Need to properly price the right skills. Don't just analyze the outcome of an event, but the dynamics of the event in motion" (Beane)
  -"Innovate by taking advantage of the gap between traditional approach and new ways" (Beane)

Then it was off to exploring the trade show, full of vendors showcasing everything you could fit into 500,000 square feet of convention hall space - gaskets, coasters, kettles, labels, software, grain, hops, etc. etc. etc. And if the endless aisles of demos and exhibitors was not enough, there were plenty of beverage stops sprinkled amongst the booths. A full inventory was not possible on my limited time, but that didn't stop me from enjoying Two Rivers Bankers Brown (local to the Lehigh Valley), Russian River Supplication (on the other coast in Santa Rosa, Calif.), and beers from Yards to Noble Ale Works to Dogfish Head and Surly.

I needed to make fast work of the Exhibition Hall if I was going to make it to the unveiling of the Beer Camp beers for 2016 from Sierra Nevada a few blocks away at Time Restaurant. Here was a chance to meet up with other beer journalists including longtime friend and Berks County escapee Jay Brooks as well as many of the brewers and reps involved in this year's Beer Camp beers - Devils Backbone (Jason Oliver, Jennie Hatton-Baver, Scott Baver); Maui Brewing (Garrett Marrero); Sierra Nevada (Ken Grossman, Brian Grossman, and Terence Sullivan); Magnolia (Dave McLean); and Stoudts (Carol Stoudt).

One more stop took me clear across town to West Philly where Dock Street was holding a reunion brewing day and invited me to stop by. For the brewing of Dunkel Lager (a throwback beer, if you will, to the brewpub's early days on 18th Street), current brewers Vince Desrosiers, Mark Russell, and Sasha Ware-Certo played host to former Dock Street brewers including Will Kemper, Chris LaPierre, and Victor Novak. Pizza and beers at one of my favorite Philly brewing establishments was the perfect way to close out my abbreviated day in Philly. Well, that and a quick Conshohocken Brewing Rye Porter at Bridgewater's Pub in 30th Street Station prior to catching the train - my typical M.O.


- Thursday, 5/5 - At first, this was to be a day/night to take care of household chores, yardwork, and preparing for a weekend that would take me to Texas at the end of it. But instead I was invited by Fishtown Beer Runners and Philadelphia Brewing Company to setup shop and sell some books as three running clubs of more than 150 runners ran through the city and wound up at the landmark Kensington brewery.

It turned out to be a beautiful night to be outdoors and the beers from Philly Brewing (plus, Commonwealth Ciders, also made on site) in addition to the guest Mikkeller and Sawdust City beers from Denmark and Canada, respectively, plus food trucks Mom-Mom's and Sum Pig knocking out solid plates of food made it all the better.

Relative newcomer, Martha, sits just at the end of the block from PBC, so in 45 seconds from packing up at PBC (and grabbing a growler of a longtime favorite - Fleur de Lehigh, a springtime harbinger), I was checking out the acclaimed newcomer to the neighborhood and Philly bar scene. Jester King, Tired Hands, and Green Bench were pouring their highly sought-after geek-droolworthy beers and the crowd certainly came out for them.

Finally for the first time during CBC, I bumped into Jared from PhillyTapFinder.com as well as Kevin Brooks from Shelton Brothers. This was pretty much the typical path through CBC - pick a place to go that either you're interested in for place, beer, or people or that you know at least one or more others will be at, see you else you meet along the way, and then see where the night takes you next.

Case in point. Once a couple of these expensive beers were consumed, it was a chance bump-in with Arthur Etchells (Philly Mag/Foobooz) that had me giving him a ride to Sancho Pistola's on my way to Industry for the Iron Hill event. Except there was the rare spotting of a parking spot directly in front of Sancho's front door, so obviously that's a sign. We pop out of the car, in through the front door, to find seats magically open up before us at the crowded bar. Needless to say, I wasn't going anywhere else as there turned out to be beers from 21st Amendment on special and Brussels Sprouts Tacos coming from the kitchen. Boom! Night made.


- Friday, 5/6 - All I really had on my mind for the last official night of CBC was getting to the presentation of the World Beer Cup awards to take as many photographs as possible. And I did. Plus had the opportunity to sample a few of the many dozen "leftover" beers from judging that were being poured outside the convention hall space where the awards were being presented.

Across the stage, I was able to witness (and for change, do a pretty decent job at photographing) the dozens of breweries from both my own backyard to breweries around the world such as in China and Vietnam. The looks of joy, however, were universal and you can never be happy enough to see joy and satisfaction that getting recognized for your work brings.

Before the ceremony, though, I had time for a quick hour or so at U-Bahn, the subterranean bar beneath Brü Craft & Wurst where the Tröegs family was hosting one last soiree. Gave me a chance to get some complimentary vittles in addition to the new Double Blizzard of Hops (Scratch #233), Gose (Scratch #235), and Barrel-aged Troegenator (from the Splinter Series) before embarking on the rest of the evening.

The Brothers Trogners then departed for home in central PA, perhaps foreshadowing of a rare no-show on the awards stage. But, with a four-beer limit per brewing establishment allowed in the judging competition and, in 2016, 1,907 breweries entering 6,596 beers in 96 categories, winning an award has never been more difficult.

After the ceremony, only by chance I finally bumped into longtime beer writing friends Gail Williams and Steve Shapiro (Celebrator Magazine, Beer by BART, and other outlets) from San Francisco. They asked where to go next, so I hailed a car and pointed us in the direction of Devil's Den - home to the Sour Beer Invitational event.

Lots pouring including our consensus favorites Free Will Sour Cherry Powered Rocket and others from Wicked Weed, Trinity, and Epic. Just as the crowd began to swell with conference-goers finally getting out on the town, we picked up another car ride to The Cambridge. This was a perfect ending to my evening as we met up with some other longtime friends, California brewers Arne Johnson (Marin) and James Costa (Half Moon Bay).

Without the overwhelming crush of an official event going on, we were able to enjoy some post-CBC/WBC rehash (congrats to Arne and his Airporter Chocolate Porter for a silver medal out of 80 entries in Chocolate Beer category), a few more beers, and some shared plates of food. What a perfect ending to a whirlwind night.


- Saturday, 5/7 - How to decompress and come down from a great showing that the city, the Brewers Association, and the conference attendees put on in Philly (too bad Mother Nature didn't play along by putting her own best foot forward)? Naturally, with a beer and cereal pairing.

As the early part of my week began with Joanna Manzo at beer event on Tuesday, so it ended on Saturday at McCrossen's with what I later learned would be her last beer event with Smuttynose. She has since gone on to step into the role of PA/NJ District Manager for Austin Eastciders.

Coincidences of all coincidences, I had on the following week when I was in Plano, TX. Back to McCrossen's in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philly - my old stomping grounds 15-20 years ago. They were always a nice destination, a bit of a throwback, but now with an updated kitchen, menu, and bar it's all the more reason to check them out again.

I love my beer and I love my cereal, the way Jerry Seinfeld loves his cereal. So this was a natural combination for me to check out. I've had beer 99 different ways and paired with everything from sushi to hula hoops. This was a first with cereal.

For the record, the Cocoa Puffs and The Stallion American Imperial Stout stole the show. Otherwise, it was a steady crowd of post-CBC/WBC reveling, shaking off the cobwebs with an ol' bit of the hair of the dog.

Then, once again, because enough is never enough, I made the last stop one of opportunity. Found a spot directly outside Crime & Punishment and finally checked them out in person for the first time. They're in the appendix of my book as an up-and-coming brewery.


Now I can say I've been there and tasted the good stuff first hand. Their stock has been growing and I believe that part of that value is in the location. A nice and comfortable 7-barrel brewery on Girard Avenue. And they serve Little Baby’s Ice Cream Sandwiches which happen to go quite nicely with the Gulag Uprising. The flagship The Grod Inquisitor is pretty darn good too. So for a recap, that's beer, cereal, beer, ice cream, beer. Not bad for a Saturday. Plus, got to play local tour guide one last time during the random bump-in to the good people from Binghamton Brewing Company, who just happened to be hitting up Crime & Punishment as their one last Philly stop before heading back to New York.

And on Sunday, I rested. Well, I busted out two yards worth of mowing and prepared to leave for Dallas. And, rested. Sort of.

You could ask a few dozen of your friends in the industry and I bet you'd get almost as many versions of how they took in CBC/WBC. From Kensington to South Philly, I heard nothing but praise for Philly and its presentation from both sides of the bar. Owners, brewers, bartenders marveled at the throngs and how they got out beyond the core convention center area. Out-of-town visitors were glassy-eyed both from the beer and their impression of Philly's rich beer and bar culture.

Well done Philly, well done indeed. See you for Philly Beer Week I presume.


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