As a veteran of all but two Craft Brewers Conferences, I would say the 29th annual CBC held in San Diego was unlike any before.
For starters, it was the largest CBC ever with about 4500 in attendance. Unlike the previous two CBC’s held at the Town & Country Hotel in San Diego, this was not an intimate gathering. Every guest room and every meeting room was booked for the conference. We owned the place.
But most stunning of all was the feel and vibe of the overall conference. Imperial excitement and optimism. I remember some pretty ‘heady’ conferences in the last hey-day, most notably Seattle in ’97. But there was a number of significant differences this year. I didn’t see the “suits” that we saw in the late 90’s from those who wanted to start a brewery because of dollars. This year, most of those who were “start-ups” were nanos. The main fuel of excitement this year was the fact that just about every brewery attending has a big ‘problem’ — trying to figure out how to manage double-digit growth and meet demand.
You might think this sounds ripe for a shake-out, but that’s not what most in the industry (including myself) believe. Unlike the late 90’s, we have a sophisticated retail and distribution tier that understands craft. We have a broadening of the demographics of craft consumer. We have 10-12 points of market share of high-end to grow into (to match the high-end market share that wine/spirits enjoy). We have almost universal high quality products and we have an economy likely to begin a slow expansion. Those are just a few of the reasons for optimism.
In my opinion, both the BA and the hotel staff stepped up to the plate in supporting the influx of attendees. More seminar tracks, more speakers, more food, more tables and sitting areas outside the conference hall, plenty of seats on the seminars, plenty of beer at the Tiki Pavilion; more fun.
Chime in with your thoughts…