What We Learned: Craft Brewer’s Conference 2013

It’s a quiet, grey Sunday in Pittsburgh today – an environment well-suited for recovery from what we’ve lovingly referred to as the most educational four-day bender of our lives. We’ve returned home from the 2013 Craft Brewers Conference in Washington D.C. with weary bodies and exhilarated, hungry minds. Apart from the objective knowledge gained from trying dozens of new beers within a short window of time, the conference was proof positive that we are on the right track. Here are a few choice nuggets of wisdom that we’d like to share based on our rookie CBC experience.

1. The Pittsburgh craft beer scene has a lot of room for growth. Our city’s craft beer scene is still very much in its infant stage. We have a very limited number of breweries compared to a lot of other U.S. cities, and a relatively hard time obtaining rare beers from breweries outside Pennsylvania. We have a long way to go.

One easily recognizable trend that we saw in D.C. (and during our recent trip to Toronto as well) was a healthy relationship between great beer and great food. Yes, you can find a decent assortment of excellent beer in this city, but, more often than not, they exist alongside a slew of televisions and fried miscellany. More often than not, fancier restaurants in Pittsburgh will spend a disproportionately large amount of time and money on their wine list than on their beer list. Toronto’s BarVolo and Washington’s Meridian Pint are two standout examples of restaurants that take their beer as seriously as they take their food. Although pounding a couple of Yuenglings during a Pirates game is a recipe for an excellent afternoon, one would be hard-pressed in Pittsburgh to find a thoughtful presentation of a rich, earthy goat cheese alongside the dry, complex tanginess of a saison.

2. Because growth is inevitable, do so carefully. Most breweries, especially those in underserved markets like Pittsburgh, are poised to explode at breakneck speeds. But rapid growth is not necessarily the best type of growth. As a small brewery, we must vigilantly ensure the quality of both our beer and our brand; rapid growth does not permit the fervent attention to detail allowed by steady, strategic expansion. Even if we have the ability to grow like a weed, we must remind ourselves that weeds may easily be uprooted.

This point is especially relevant to us at the moment, when it feels like we’ve been working for months with nothing to show for it. It’s nice to be reminded that our preparation is worthwhile; in looking back, if we had gone full-steam on any previous iterations of our plan, we would have either failed immediately or set ourselves up for gradual failure. We may be taking significantly longer than we initially expected, but we’ve chosen to sacrifice speed for quality. Which brings us to our third and most important point…

3. Quintessential quality is key. Dr. Michael Lewis, head of the brewing science program at UC Davis, gave a powerful talk on the responsibility of a brewery to guarantee quintessential quality across all areas of operation. From their facility to their employees, their products to their brands, their accounts to their consumers, breweries must curate an overarching standard of quality. Cutting corners, even in seemingly negligible areas, is a direct sign of disrespect to the people that love and believe in your company. For instance, if a tap kicks and you merely tape a hand-written note ripped from a sheet of white lined paper to the existing taphandle, you are sending a clear message that you value your customer’s experience less than you value your sales. Although craft beer is not necessarily a bubble, there will most definitely be a shake-down within the next few years of breweries that don’t take a holistic approach to quality assurance. Taking steps such as Cicerone certification for all of our employees will make sure we place our community above all else.

Oh yes, and one more:

2013-03-28 23.47.01

4. Live disco/funk is a rollicking, face-meltingly good time after a few tall-boys of Dale’s Pale Ale. Or any canned craft beer. Or all craft beer. Holy crap.

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