Day One at CBC 2012 — Confident but Cautionary

The 2012 Craft Brewers Conference has been underway for less than five hours and already people are buzzing, and it’s not from the beer.

A fedora-wearing Steve Hindy, the Brooklyn Brewery President, gave this year’s keynote address to a packed room of roughly 4,500 craft industry members. Sporting a fedora is necessary, of course, if you’re drawing the metaphor of being a brewer to “wearing a hat.”

“I feel that all those in this room are honored to wear the hat that belongs to the brewer,” he said.

So what does “wearing the hat” mean? We asked Hindy to elaborate.

“I think it is important for people to understand that they are representing craft brewing every day, in every way,” he said. “That is a responsibility and a privilege that everyone has to recognize.”

Perhaps Hindy was taking a shot at new category entrants looking only for quick success and not long term growth? Or maybe he was just throwing a jab at other alcoholic beverages looking to piggy-back on the success of craft? He did, after all, call out fermented malt beverages (FMB’s) and cider.

“I hope you won’t be tempted to join the ‘FMB’ bandwagon. It’s not beer,” he said. “We don’t need cider either, but that’s just my opinion.”

His speech in many ways was rallying cry, urging the craft brewers in the crowd to continue being part of a community.

“I’d like you to wear the brewer’s hat with pride and make us all proud,” he said.

Beyond pride, Hindy certainly set the tone for the conference, one that he described as confident.

“It’s unbounded confidence,” he said. “The expansions that are planned now from Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, to the startups, is an incredible leap forward. I think most people are going to get it right, but there will be winners and losers.”

We asked a few other folks about their initial impression of the ‘vibe’ of the conference. Most agreed that the air is confident, but they also voiced some concerns:

Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada: “There is a huge amount of excitement in the industry right now. It is another year of sustained, positive growth but there are some concerns about at what point things will slow. The shelf constraints and distributor portfolio concerns are definitely out there.”

Kim Jordan, New Belgium: “There is a little concern in the ‘camaraderie group’ about people who may have legitimate worries but perhaps could use a different approach to airing them.”

Benj Steinman, Beer Marketers Insights: “I think that the growth is still very strong, but there are some cautionary undercurrents that are developing.”

Jon Carpenter, Golden Road: “Last year was a huge year in terms of startup growth. This year there are a lot more people that are ‘knee-deep’ in it. This year, everyone is here with a lot more focus and purpose, finding out how to grow but in a more effective way.”

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