Expert Topic 2023 Craft Brewers Conference Wrapup

Photo © Brewers Association.

The 2023 Craft Brewers Conference is in the books and will be remembered for a lot of reasons for a long time to come. Following a few slow years due to COVID-19 and economic issues, more than 10,000 people descended into Nashville to mingle with Taylor Swift fans, take educational seminars, shop on the expo floor and to look for meaning or to make sense of the current landscape.

At a number of events and with fundraising leading up to the conference, the Michael James Jackson Foundation raised more than $200,000 for scholarships in brewing and distilling.


Bart Watson, the chief economist at the Brewers Association, gave the keynote address and spoke about the current state of the craft industry. While some afterwards tried to be upbeat, there was an ominous feeling at the Music City Center after his talk.

He did point out that breweries that are combining or merging resources are able to navigate the road ahead and that diversification of portfolios will be important to success.

Other alcohol industries are muscling into the craft beer space and the ripples of the pandemic are still being felt. Watson noted that draft beer was down two and a half million barrels from what was expected in 2022. Thirty percent – or up to 800,000 barrels of that is craft beer.

It was also noted that craft beer is the worst performing category for people of color and women. There were also criticisms directed at the Brewers Association for holding the conference in Tennessee following legislation that banned public drag shows. Lady Justice Brewing of Colorado called the overall experience “negative and hurtful” and in a social media post outlined the issues with the Brewers Association and the conference.


Several awards were handed out during the conference.

Ret. Representative Peter DeFazio received the F.X. Matt Defense of the Industry Award
DeFazio represented Oregon’s 4th Congressional district for nearly 40 years and during that time was “a long-time supporter of small and independent breweries,” says the BA.

“DeFazio was an original founder of the House of Representatives Small Brewers Caucus. Organized in 2007 as a way to educate his colleagues about the economic and social impacts of craft brewing, the Small Brewers Caucus grew to become the largest special interest caucus in Congress, playing a key role in reforms at the Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) on labeling, formulas, and other issues. As co-chair of the Caucus, DeFazio led the fight against the FDA’s proposal to require drying, packaging, and labeling of spent grains and hops. The Caucus was also instrumental in the reform of taxation on beer, most notably the Craft Beer Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA), saving brewers an estimated $80 million annually.”

Ben Edmunds of Oregon’s Breakside Brewery was presented with the Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing for his innovative contributions to the brewing industry.

“Under Edmunds’ leadership, Breakside has won many medals at international competitions, including eight World Beer Cup awards, 22 Great American Beer Festival medals since 2011, and Brewery of the Year honors at the Oregon Beer Awards in 2015, 2017, and 2019-22. Educated at the Siebel Institute and Yale University, he is a former president and current board member of the Oregon Brewers Guild, a judge at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup, a founder of the Oregon Beer Awards, and a member of the MBAA National Technical Committee,” according to the BA. “He is a frequent speaker on the topics of American hoppy beers, sour beers, brewery leadership and management, and barrel aging.”

The Brewers Association Recognition Award went to Jessica and Richard Fierro, co-owners, Atrevida Beer Co. in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The brewery opened in 2018 and has been a neighbord staple ever since, despite running into “difficulties on all fronts, from sourcing funding to battling biases,” wrote the BA. “Fierro was resolved to build a business her way, which included hiring an all-women (and one male) brew crew.”

Their “unwavering commitment to the community was especially present on November 19, 2022. The Fierro family was at Club Q when a gunman opened fire. Five people lost their lives and 25 more were injured. Rich tackled the assailant and, with the help of bystanders, disarmed the gunman and undoubtedly saved lives.”

The Mentor of the Year Award recognized Julie Rhodes, owner, Not Your Hobby Marketing Solutions.

Rhodes, is an authority on off-site beverage sales, digital marketing, leadership, team management, and distributor partnership management.

“Julie not only took the time to get to know me but also to listen to me and my specific concerns and curiosities,” said mentee Merida Teot in a BA news release. “Her confidence in me gave me the confidence to apply for and eventually get a job in marketing at a brewery here in Utah.”


Finally, the conference closed with the World Beer Cup. Now an annual event, judging took place over the course of several weeks with the final rounds happening in Nashville leading up to the conference.

The BA said that 10,213 beers were entered from 2,376 breweries representing 51 countries. More than 270 judged from 26 countries sat on blind panels and evaluated the beers to determine the winners.

The full list of winners can be viewed here.

Now attention turns to next year and the next conference, which will be held in Las Vegas in April 2024.

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