Craft Brewers Conference 2011 Recap

SAN FRANCISCO – The Craft Brewers Conference took place last week in San Francisco. Nearly 4,000 craft brewers, industry suppliers and media members converged on the “City by the Bay” to discuss all things craft.

Topics ranged from Ray Daniels discussion on “Why doesn’t my beer taste good,” to Sam Calagione and Floris Delee’s seminar on harvesting yeast in Egypt.

While some of the more scientific brewers sat in on technical talks, others walked around Brew Expo America, where hundreds of distributors were showing off the latest technology in packaging, bottling, label designs, brewing equipment and ingredients.

Of course, a fair amount of beer drinking was had by all. Various brewery events outside of the conference took place all across the city at places like Toronado, City Beer Store and even Rosamunde Sausage Grill in the mission.

The welcome reception at the Academy of Sciences was beyond comparison and one of the many highlights of CBC 2011. The late night hospitality event in the CityScape room at the Hilton became so popular at one point that bouncers had to physically stop attendees from making their way to the 46th floor.

Besides the shenanigans, there were a few interesting points of interest to emerge from the conference. On Saturday afternoon, we had the chance to sit in on BA Bootcamp with Julia Herz the Brewers Association Craft Beer Program Director, Nick Lake the Vice President of the Nielsen Group and Heather Caulfield of The Rosen Group.

The overarching theme was that the craft segment is currently driving the beer industry growth. In a category that was down almost 2 percent overall in 2010, the craft beer segment saw 12 percent growth in retail dollars or roughly 14 million new cases of craft brew.

Nick Lake released some pretty telling statistics about the state of craft beer.

  • 70 percent of the growth is coming from seasonal selections, variety packs and hoppy styles.
  • Almost 25 percent of new craft drinkers are coming from current wine and spirit drinkers.
  • Additionally, over 50 percent of the volume is coming from individuals between the ages of 21-44 and 75 percent of craft drinkers make more than $50k annually.

It’s statistics like these that highlight the already immense growth in the category and the potential.

However, the most telling statistic to emerge was that craft beer currently controls, on average, 25 percent of the shelf space at U.S. grocery stores, but only accounts for 7 percent of the market share.

This statistic was delivered before CBC attendees had time to pour their first cup of coffee on Monday morning. When news of the corporate giant Anheuser-Busch acquiring Goose Island made its way across social media, many craft brewers and drinkers were shocked.

Personally, we can’t say the acquisition came as much of a surprise, particularly since Lake spent much of his presentation making the point that big beer and private equity are going to continue to make attempts at playing in the craft space, whether that be through acquisitions of existing craft breweries or attempts to mimic the craft industry through beers like Blue Moon and Shock Top.

Of course as craft beer continues to “mature,” it shouldn’t be a shock when more breweries continue to follow in the footsteps of Goose Island. In an ideal world, every craft brewery could pass down generationally. Unfortunately, that just won’t be the case for every single one of the 1,700 plus craft breweries in the U.S.

The important thing to remember in all of this is that it’s all about options. Goose Island is not the first nor will it be the last craft beer in America. If you don’t feel like sending your hard-earned dollars to AB-InBev, then support your local craft brewer. Discover a new brand. Branch out and try new stylesÔǪbecause it the end, it’s all about drinking good craft beer.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for continued coverage of CBC. Video footage from the event will be released shortly.

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