Beer Bloggers and Writers Annual Conference August 13, 2015 Features By: Shawndra Russell The Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference is an annual 3-day event created for anyone who is or wants to become a beer writer. The location rotates, with one conference in the USA and a second weekend taking place internationally, and this year’s event held in Asheville, North Carolina attracted around 150 participants. This relatively small audience size doesn’t do the incredible agenda justice. For starters, reps from the Brewers Association usually kick things off with some stats about the beer industry, like the fact that there are only about 3,500 craft breweries in America, while over 8,000 wineries exist—showing that craft beer still has plenty of room to grow and grab more of the market share. Speakers also emphasized some specific areas with untapped potential, like 5-star restaurants that focus on beer, and attracting more women to work in beer. For full live coverage, search #BBC15 or browse through my Twitter feed @ShawndraRussell as I live-tweeted the entire conference, and view the full agenda here. We also heard from head brewers about the state of the industry and predictions about the future of beer, including the increasingly higher qualifications needed to be involved in craft beer thanks to an increase in degrees offered. The Cicerone Certification Program was also a topic of interest, since only 9 Master Cicerones have earned the title since the program’s inception in 2007. Detailed information to inspire attending writers littered the 3-day event during the very informative panel and speaker presentations. As we listened and took notes, beers were continuously passed around—even during the morning sessions—so we could try brews from around the country. We even got to sample some new beers not even sold to the public yet, like Eric’s Ale by New Belgium, who’s CEO Kim Jordan gave the keynote on Day 2. Evening sessions included visits to local breweries and venues where the red carpet was rolled out for our group, like our stop at Sierra Nevada in Mars Hill, North Carolina. Here we tried their Oktoberfest, collaboration with German brewery Brauhaus Riegele of Augsburg. Ken Grossman joined the rank of billionaire in early 2015, making him only the second craft brewer to achieve this milestone so far after Jim Koch of Sam Adams. My favorite part of the conference was the 1-hour ‘speed dating’ session, during which brewers or their reps shared 2-4 samples with us and a bit of knowledge in a 5-minute window. By the end, we’d tasted beers from 12 breweries—and completely wrecked our palates! —totaling more than 40 samples. This conference exists to elevate beer writing beyond just reviews and “not just telling stories about beer…[but] going to the left and right of it,” as Jordan explained. It helps writers open their minds to the infinite possibilities for future articles, since craft beer is ever-changing, plus gain insight into what stories brewers, distributors, and others tied to the industry hope to see more of in the future. And there’s nothing better than being in a room full of people who are as obsessed with craft beer as you are, all while making connections that can lead to more writing assignments. I highly encourage beer writers, bottle shop owners, homebrewers, brewers, and anyone with a passion for craft beer to consider attending BBC16 in Tampa. Feel free to ask me any questions about BBC via Twitter @ShawndraRussell. Hope to see you there!