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Looking ahead to BrewCon 2019

(l-r) Stephen Beaumont, Jim Withee and Gavin Lord

BrewCon 2019 is only a few weeks away and before it starts, Beer & Brewer caught up with some of the speakers who will be at the conference.

Stephen Beaumont (SB)

Stephen Beaumont has been a drinks writer, specialising in beer, for around 30 years. He has written 13 books and is working on his 14th. His talk at BrewCon is called ‘I’m so bored with the USA’.

Jim Withee (JW)

Jim Withee is the president and owner of GigaYeast Inc. in San Jose, California, which produces liquid yeast and other microbes for brewers.

Gavin Lord (GL)

Gavin is head brewer at PFriem Family Brewers in Hood River, Oregon. He has been brewing since 2008.

Tell us about your talks:

SB: I talk about American hegemony in craft beer styles and why it’s not necessarily such a good thing for still-developing beer cultures.

JW: We’ll be talking about the most efficient ways to locate and eliminate contamination in the brewery and how to store, handle and re-pitch yeast.  We’re really excited to share a deductive method for troubleshooting and preventing contamination by focusing on critical control points in the brewing operation. 

GL: pFriem partnered with Yakima Chief Hops to produce side by side batches of our flagship IPA, with one utilizing our standard T90 pellets and the other using Cryo pellets. What made it unique (at least for us) was that all of the pellets for both batches originated from our selected Lot for that variety, which gave us a much better basis of comparison than we’d ever had. We then analysed the two for VDK and Acetaldehyde production and reduction, yield, oil, turbidity, and blind sensory. I’ll discuss our findings and suggest future comparisons.

Have you been to BrewCon before? What are you looking forward to about it?

JW: I’ve never been to BrewCon and I’m pumped about being there! We’ve got a great a great collection of speakers and brewers attending.  I enjoy meeting and talking with brewers from other countries because it’s always a chance to learn new things about brewing and the craft beer culture.

SB: I’ll go you one better: I’ve never been to Australia before! It’s long been on my travel to-do list, though, and I’m thrilled to be coming over at a time when Australian craft beer seems poised to establish itself as a mature, developed beer scene.

GL: I’ve never had the pleasure! The moment we stop learning, innovating and challenging ourselves to improve is the moment we ought to begin looking for other means of employment. It’s for this reason that I look forward to BrewCon, and any educational opportunity, with great enthusiasm, energy and humility.

What other speakers are you hoping to see?

SB: It’s a pretty packed program with lots worth seeing! Pete Brown is an old friend and always delivers the goods when he speaks, and of course Rudi Ghequire offers fascinating insight, but mostly I’m looking forward to hearing and speaking with people I’ve never had the opportunity to meet, like Michael Capaldo, Jamie Cook, Jayne Lewis, Reid Stratton and Jessie Jungalwalla.

JW: I’m all about learning and education so I’ll be attending as many sessions as possible. Typically I prefer technical talks focused on brewing science but I also enjoy learning about the overall state of the industry.

GL: I’m endlessly interested in raw material and process innovation based seminars, and BrewCon has both in spades!

What are the major challenges and opportunities craft beer faces in the next few years?

SB: In the United States, craft brewing is its own worst enemy right now, with many breweries making questionable decisions, following trends like hard seltzers and light, grain-forward lagers in the style of the mass-market brews, just to keep volumes up. And despite all their market saturation worries, they aren’t even close to the breweries-to-population ratios of places like Canada and Britain. All this emphasis on independence is going to ultimately prove futile if brewers lose sight of flavour and originality, the two qualities the big breweries have the hardest time competing against.

JW: I’d say one of the biggest changes in the US is a shift from producing beers for distribution to selling more product in local taprooms. It’s largely being driven by an increasingly crowded market where competition for shelf space at retail is becoming a major issue. Many brewers are finding the best way to attract customers is by providing a unique experience for beer enthusiasts at a local taproom and are selling more and more of their beer in-house. It’s a big shift from 10 years ago when the goal of every craft brewery was to distribute packaged beer across large regions.

GL: Our audience demands ever more variety and offers ever less loyalty. Our competition for the attention of this audience has never been so fierce, and the pace of innovation required to remain relevant never so feverish. But rather than view all these challenges through a gloomy lens, I prefer to see it as the natural evolution of a maturing industry. Craft beer drinkers are more numerous and better educated than ever before. They consistently, and increasingly, value quality. And they’re adventurous, willing to try new styles and processes from their favorite breweries.

What are your thoughts about the craft brewing scene here in Australia?

JW: I love what’s going on in Australia.  There’s an explosion of new brewers and all the creativity and enthusiasm that comes with it. With 600 breweries and a population of 25 million, you have a very high density of craft breweries (even higher than the US), which means beer quality and innovation are mandatory for Australian brewers. Obviously Australians are choosing to drink local craft beer over imports or mass produced lagers–  which is what craft beer is all about. 

SB: Without having any on-the-ground experience and going simply by what I’ve been hearing, it strikes me that Australian beer is about to truly break out as the unique entity that it really is and always has been.

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