The Chance to Observe: Previewing the 2014 Beer Bloggers Conference

It was August 2011.  We stepped off the tour bus at Goschie Farms south of Portland, OR, into a cloud of hop particles floating like crystals in the warm, bright, sunny evening air.  The hop harvest had just begun and our timing could not have been better.  It was a bath of hop aroma and 90 beer bloggers were transported immediately into beer’s Valhalla during the 2nd Beer Bloggers Conference.

Workers drove tractors pulling trailers piled high with harvested hop bines to the processing barn.  Hooks whisked the bines up into equipment waiting to strip the cones and convey them on to thedrying rooms. Towering rows of hop-covered trellises spread in all directions from the boundary of the complex of buildings.

I’d seen the massive artichoke fields of Castroville, CA. Gigantic orange groves outside Orlando. Sprawling vineyards of Sonoma and Napa. The hypnotically continuous rows of olive trees covering the Spanish countryside. Even the smaller, but well kept apple and peach orchards of Virginia’s rolling Shenandoah Valley.

But I had never seen hops in all their glory, save the couple of plants growing on an arbor in my yard.

It had taken us two and a half hours to reach the farm, a drive which would normally take forty five minutes.  No one complained about the snarls of traffic, though.

On board were four Portland, OR, area brewers pouring us samples of their beers. Breakside Brewing’s black saison, Deschutes Brewery’s The Stoic and Lucky Labrador’s Black Sheep CDA, were some of the treats we sampled while crawling along I-5. 

A year later I was taking in the atmosphere at Sun King Brewery on the edge of downtown Indianapolis at the close of the 2012 conference. By atmosphere, I mean the awesomely austere surroundings of a place focused far more on the quality of its beer than the often false promise of a glitzy taproom.

A few months before, Sun King had taken the beer world by storm by winning an astounding eight medals at the Great American Beer Festival.  In only their second year of production.

What the facility lacked in flash was more than overcome by the knowledgeable people dedicated to the skill and art of brewing beer. They were generous with their tours and samples and clearly deserving of the awards. 

I also learned something about quality beer.  Sun King was excellent . . . . and not appreciably different in character and quality to some of my Montana favorites.  It was a good lesson about recognition.  Obscurity has no correlation to quality.

In July 2013 Jim Koch welcomed us a few at a time into the barrel room at Boston Beer Co.’s original Jamaica Plain brewery south of Boston.  Every Sam Adams beer started out in this brewery except Boston Lager.  That one started in Jim’s kitchen.

Jim, dressed in his trademark denim shirt and a Boston Lager in hand, had spent the previous half hour telling us stories of what it was like creating a craft brewery well before today’s boom.  Sipping samples of Utopias while hearing Jim explain the barrel aging/blending process was a fascinating juxtaposition to what we commonly think of Sam Adams as BigCraft.™

The chance to observe carries with it the opportunity for perspective. 

Who knows what the signature memory of the 2014 conference will be, but San Diego is sure to provide plenty of opportunity.  The conference takes place August 22-24.

Julia Herz, Director of the Craft Beer Program for the Brewers Association and Publisher of, again kicks off the conference with her always entertaining update on the state of craft beer in the U.S. 

What I’d love to see added this year is some candid discussion about the challenges in defining “craft” as witnessed through the not-so-smooth craft versus crafty debate and the subsequent change in “craft brewer” definition.  Numbers might be the stars, but they are not the most interesting thing in craft beer these days.

Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., is a keynote speaker.  Coming off a successful Beer Camp Across America kickoff to Sierra Nevada’s new brewery in Mills River, NC, it should be interesting to hear Ken’s thoughts on how Sierra Nevada got to where it is.  You want perspective?  Try custom building a brewery in 1980 out of scrap dairy equipment well before “microbrew” was even a word.

And Ken, if you’ve got some extra Maillard’s Odyssey, the collaboration beer you did with Bell’s Brewing, I’d be happy to take it off your hands.

Stone Brewing is welcoming us to its World Bistro and Gardens at Liberty Station for a beer dinner and other shenanigans.  Not sure if co-founder Greg Koch plans to be there.  If so, it should be an interesting study in different personalities.

“That Jesus dude” as bartender Mike at Boston’s Stoddard’s Fine Ales described him while failing to recall his name, created an interesting controversy recently with Stone’s crowdfunding approach to building two new breweries pre-selling collaboration beers. In any event, while some like to say all craft beer is “small,” it will be an excellent – and certainly entertaining and delicious – example of the differences between NeighborhoodCraft™ and BigCraft.™

Before either get going, we’ll be treated to a panel discussion with Tomme Arthur from The Lost Abbey, Chuck Silva from Green Flash, and Peter Zien from AleSmith Brewing.  A better introduction to the history and state of craft beer in San Diego would be hard to find.

In other words, just another day at the Beer Bloggers Conference.

Before and after will have plenty of time to check out the likes of Societe, Modern Times, Council, and many other San Diego County breweries, along with craft beer-centric spots like Hamilton’s Tavern, Blind Lady Ale House, and Waypoint Public in the City’s North Park neighborhood.

The list is long, my friends.

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