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Craft Brewers Conference Wrap-Up, Part II: Wither Local Beers?

In Part I of our Craft Brewers Conference Wrap-Up we focused on our impressions of that wild and crazy week. However, during the course of the conversation, talk turned to the role that local breweries played, or didn’t play, in the conference and the events around the conference.

Bill DeBaun:

First off, huge props have to be given to all of the beer directors and bar staffs that changed all of the kegs for CBC Week. The DC beer scene put on a hell of a show for the more than 6,000 attendees to CBC this year.Crazy beer line-ups abounded, to the point where more than one local I spoke to said we should have just considered this DC Beer Week. I mean the scene really outdid itself in terms of tap takeovers, rarities, brewer meet and greets, all of that.

But there are drawbacks to the production that went on, too. I don't think this "arms race" style of beer events is good or healthy. It's taxing on the staff (who have to do the line cleaning, changeovers, and of course learn the product, which is a near impossibility), overwhelming for the public, and, as more than a couple of brewers and other associated brewery staffs told me, not always good for the beer (increasing the chance for oxidation, for example). At some point, maybe night after night of completely changing entire tap line-ups isn't good anymore. It's not going to be a popular view, but it just gets to the point, at least for me, where it's too much, a little over the top and ostentatious. There just has to be a happy medium somewhere for bar staffs, breweries, and the public.

The other criticism I heard is that with so many new beers on, local beers often seemed to have gotten pushed off of menus. This is why CBC Week could never take the place of DC Beer Week. CBC Week isn't a celebration of our local beers, it's a celebration of the nation's beers. This wasn't the case everywhere, certainly, hell Meridian Pint had an entire event devoted to drinking locally, and you could find local options in all of the localpurveyors' menus, but when I'm hearing from people I'm talking to on the Brew Expo floor that they don't know what our local beers are and say they haven't seen them. Oof. That's disappointing.

John Fleury:

To Bill's thoughts, I think we may now be entering a time in the beer culture where local is often not the drawing power when compared to out-of-market. Our beer culture seems to equate “rare” with “good,” and unfortunately “local and readily available” with “who cares?”

So CBC rarities offered rarities but did nothing to further the DC scene as a whole with regard to incorporating more people into the scene. It simply got the people who are in the know to go out... a lot. Of course there are some exceptions, but this was my overall take home from the week.

Nick Rakowski:

It's pretty easy to talk about what a huge week it was for us since we think about the craft beer scene as much as Don Draper thinks about his neighbors' wives (topical jokes!), but what really struck me was the number of people I came across who are not heavy into the scene that knew about CBC and all of the events. I heard people at work talking about happy hours at particular bars, saw posts about CBC on Twitter and Facebook from friends that are not really huge craft beer fans. It's one thing to have a diverse selection of beers across bars and restaurants in the area, but it's entirely another to have local people who are not as obsessive about beer as we are display excitement about a major craft beer event.

So what I just wrote is the total opposite of John's second point.  But my sample size is limited, so there's that.

Jake Berg:

To push this analogy to the limit, Don Draper sleeps with his neighbor’s wife (hyped out of market beers), but he also (spoiler alert!) sleeps with his wife Megan (the local brews). There’s room for both. CBC was a chance to sleep with the neighbor’s wife; I wasn’t going to be able to have Crooked Stave’s Surette Provision saison outside of that Tuesday. so if that meant a day without local beer, I’m okay with that. I understand thinking that our local brews got overshadowed during CBC, though I disagree with that below, but to complain about it strikes me as missing the point, criticizing the CBC for doing something it wasn’t supposed to do. CBC is not about local beer, though it was an opportunity, a successful one, I’d argue, to showcase DC as a great place to drink beer. DC Beer Week, and other local beer weeks, are more about our scene, as Bill mentioned. If those weeks don’t do a good job, then we have a problem. If everyone lusts after Jester King for a week (Das Wunderkind was excellent, by the way), I don’t see an issue. A week of out of market beers doesn’t change our beer culture, which always treats out of market beers with some degree of reverence. And that’s true everywhere. I know people in San Diego who get tired of their great local IPAs and want a Heady Topper just as badly as we do.

Furthermore, all the beer provided at the opening reception at the Air and Space Museum came within a three-hour drive of DC and was well received. Being surrounded by beer and rockets was some kind of wet dream for me (I felt alive, so alive!), and I was so happy to see DC Brau’s Brandon Skall, who’s been coming to this museum since he was a toddler, pouring beer there. At the closing party at Meridian Pint over 200 gallons of local real ale were drank in about eight hours. Smith Commons also did a great job of incorporating local breweries, include some, like Atlas Brew Works, that haven’t even launched yet. I’d say our scene is doing fine, and we’ll explore this in greater detail as we get closer to DC Beer Week 2013.

Have any thoughts on this? Was CBC too much of a good thing? Did local brews get overshadowed? Please share below.

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