Live from DC: Craft Brewers Conference Delivers State of the Industry

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This week the 2017 Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America are taking place in Washington, D.C. (April 10–13, 2017). Held by the Brewers Association (BA), CBC is touted as America’s largest professional gathering in the craft brewing industry, providing craft brewers, vendors, and media with information and updates about the beer business for craft brewers.

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A key part of the conference, which includes several days’ worth of seminars, presentations, and workshops, is the State of the Industry address, in which Brewers Association leaders get up in front of the industry to deliver benchmarks on where craft brewing business stands today, as well as filling industry members in on what the BA is up to as far as promoting and protecting craft brewing business.

The Current State of Craft Brewing

April 12’s address began with insights and analysis from BA Chief Economist Bart Watson. In his presentation, Watson summarized the continued growth of craft beer in America, summarizing the recently released figures for 2016, which we reported in late March.

Major stats included craft brewers’ production for 2016 increasing 6 percent over last year, giving craft brewers 12.3 percent of beer industry market share by volume and 22 percent ($23.5 billion) by dollars.

“We saw tremendous growth in 2016,” said Watson, noting it stands as “the fifth best year of all time” for craft brewers, despite its slowed growth rate.

Craft Beer’s Diversity Issue

One of the most compelling announcements was that the BA recently launched a diversity committee, which met for the first time at this year’s conference. Of the committee, Bob Pease, BA president and CEO, said, “Our overall goal is to bring a more diverse group of brewers and beer lovers into our community. The craft brewing community has always been inclusive, but we want to find ways to get more people into our world.”

Pease said the newly formed diversity committee will focus its attention on activities that will advance diversity in both the professional and consumer sectors, such as tabling events in underrepresented ethnic and gender communities.

“In discussions we’ve been having about diversity, one of the things we’ve come to realize is, I don’t think [diversity] is a problem to be solved, but more like a value to be lived. That’s where our hearts and minds are going to be as we tackle this challenging subject,” said Pease.

The BA’s diversity committee includes committee chair, Scott Metzger of Freetail Brewing Co. in San Antonio, Texas; Lynne Weaver of Three Weavers Brewing in Inglewood, California; Julie Verratti of Denizens Brewing in Silver Spring, Maryland; and Laura Bell of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Sexist Bottle Labels

Part of serving these underserved communities includes protecting women and minority groups of the beer community from insulting and derogatory beer labels that have been getting some attention from beer industry members, media, and readers as of late (most notably in All About Beer Editor-in-Chief John Holl’s recent editorial column on the subject). 

As Holl professed in All About Beer, “Beers that demean women or promote rape culture will not be reviewed or promoted in this magazine or on”

Likewise, the BA announced its first steps to combat sexism and other inappropriate labeling on beer:

By updating the BA advertising and marketing code (developed in February 2008, and updated in April 2017).

And this interesting tidbit: Breweries that win medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) or World Beer Cup (arguably two of the largest and most important beer festivals in the world) — “If, in our estimation, a label or name is offensive, lewd, or demeaning, we won’t allow [the brewer] to market our award using our intellectual property,” said Pease. No shiny insignia allowed for the sexist brewers, but they can still win medals. Baby steps.

“A flame has been burning bright on the subject of offensive labels,” said Pease. “We want [Brewers Association] members to be responsible corporate citizens.”

Also in regards to labeling, while they’re in D.C., the BA has been buddying up with the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau) to take steps toward simplifying bottle label approvals. This way, the TTB has more time for things like approving the openings of more craft breweries.

State-Level Problems Are Being Solved

Mississippi brewers are finally legally allowed to sell their beer on premise, said Paul Gatza, BA director. Georgia is the last state we’re waiting to fall before all 50 states can celebrate this business-boosting right. “When Georgia passes, 50 states will have the right to sell beer at their business,” said Gatza.

An FDA menu labeling tool is now available on the BA website, as a result of consultation with the FDA, which ruled that chain restaurants must display nutritional information on beer beginning in May. The new resource will help small, independent brewers provide the required information to their retailer customers, providing them calculators that can determine calories, carbohydrates, and nine other nutrients in beers. And FYI, this took “a lot of lab tasting and a lot of work,” according to Gatza, who has been working on this project for seven years. “It’s good to have it finally wrapping up,” he said.

The BA has also funded nine grants, “to the tune of about $200,000,” to help state-level associations hire paid executive directors for their guilds. “All 50 states have a state guild. Now we want them all to have paid executive director,” said Gatza.

BA is Funding Agriculture, Because of Trump

To be clear, no one from the BA said anything about Trump. However, director, Paul Gatza did say that while there is a lack of government funding going toward agriculture, the BA has invested upwards of $500,000 “into very direct grants to researchers in areas of the [brewing] supply chain,” namely hops, for which the BA has administered eight grants, and barley, which has received 14.

This is being done “to help secure that brewers have enough hops and barley and to make sure [the quality of those crops] is aimed at what craft brewers need.” Such as, we assume, flavor. “The government is funding less agriculture research, and we are stepping up to fill that void,” Gatza said.

Beer and Taxes

Another key point during the discussion included the Craft Beverage Moderation and Tax Reform Act, which aims to ease tax regulations for all beer, wine, cider, and spirit-makers and distributors.

According to the BA’s address on Wednesday, the bill has gained more support since it was reintroduced in the Senate and the House in January, with Congressional sponsorship up to 119 House members and 32 from the Senate.

“The environment certainly has changed in Washington in many ways,” said Pease. “Our strategic play is to try to be part of the conversation when tax reform moves.”

Raising the Bar for Beer and Food

Julia Herz, longtime proponent of beer and food pairing, made several announcements regarding to the BA’s gustatory and educational efforts. As the BA’s craft beer program director, Herz serves as an educator and is co-author of Beer Pairing as well as the Beer & Food Course.

The Beer & Food Course was recently updated and is currently being used in culinary curriculums at universities like Cornell, Metropolitan State, and Johnson & Wales.

A new class of membership will be added to the Brewers Association in the fall for educational institutions, allowing “beer-minded universities and culinary institutions” to join the BA as members. “We want to do what we can to nurture them,” Herz said.

Education efforts will also include a new externship program with the Culinary Institute of America, so that breweries and brewpubs can hire chefs who are skilled in beer and food pairing, Herz said. “We want to see more trained chefs in breweries from culinary institutions.”

The Craft Brewers Conference State of the Industry presentations finished up with a few final announcements: American Craft Beer Week will celebrate its 12th year, taking place May 15–21, 2017, with celebrations planned in every U.S. state. In June, the BA will be back to D.C. for Savor, a craft beer and food experience celebrating its 10th year June 2–3. 

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