At 9 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, like a lemming to the sea, I joined a never-ending river of bodies flowing toward the same destination. Across four joined ballrooms, with thousands of seats set up carefully in rows, we came together to hear the keynote remarks of this year’s Craft Brewers Conference (CBC).
Leaders of the Brewers Association (BA) each took turns on stage with various takes on the same theme, appropriate given the location of this year’s conference in Philadelphia, a cradle of American independence:
During opening remarks at #CBC16, BA’s Bob Pease says “revolution” or “independence” 7 times each in about 10 minutes.
— BryanDRoth (@BryanDRoth) May 4, 2016
At times, the conversation even went a step further, enlisting very specific word choice to describe where craft beer is headed.
Also, said it’s “mission accomplished” for craft beer’s arrival, but used A LOT of battle language rhetoric describing “small vs. big” beer.
— BryanDRoth (@BryanDRoth) May 4, 2016
Herein lies the problem. There is truth in BA’s war cries calling out multinational companies like AB InBev and the clear advantages it holds over American brewers who don’t have similar resources. But when,
- you rally upward of 15,000 people for a conference to celebrate the successes of an industry,
- and have 850 vendors come to sell their wares and expertise,
- and see your niche of an industry grow year after year,
- and you partner with the Smithsonian to create an exhibit to highlight the “impact of small and independent craft brewers who continue to advance the U.S. beer culture and inspire brewers worldwide”
… is it fair to ask if the revolution is over? Isn’t this the new normal, and it’s time to grow from here?
“Most industries would kill to have the kind of voice we have now,” Allagash founder and Brewers Association chair Rod Tod told the CBC audience. It’s a voice echoed by thousands of breweries all over the country and by the BA’s own lobbyist on Capitol Hill. A David and Goliath analogy may have once been most appropriate years ago for BA vs. The World, but not as much anymore.
In fact, according to survey results shared in another CBC program looking at craft beer trends, brewery owners’ are more afraid of their neighbors than they are Big Beer.
In a moment when BA leadership was riling up a crowd of brewers, brewery owners and more, mostly based around the idea of what needed to be done to fight Big Beer, they announced a three-year partnership with the National Museum of American History. A current exhibit houses collections related to 1870 to 1960 and this new venture will pick up from 1960 onward, although with a somewhat specific (and certainly earned) viewpoint.
“The support of the Brewers Association allows our staff to collect the more recent history, including the impact of small and independent craft brewers who continue to advance the U.S. beer culture and inspire brewers worldwide,” John Gray, the director of the museum, noted in a statement.
“The craft brewing revolution in America has had a profound social, cultural and economic impact on this country,” Bob Pease,president and CEO of the Brewers Association, echoed in the release. “We are honored to support this effort and work with the National Museum of American History to chronicle and showcase the significant achievements small and independent brewers have made throughout this nation’s history.”
I’m not sure the kind of price tag associated with such an endeavor, but this 2002 research by the Smithsonian put the price range at that time from $25 to $6.5 million.
It should be noted that all these hungover people are listening to a bunch of lobbyists. #CBC16
— Nick Manes (@nickrmanes) May 5, 2016
During the BA’s State of the Industry remarks at the Craft Brewers Conference, it was hard to ignore the size and scope of what the Brewers Association does and what it now means for those involved. The organization has changed dramatically in its lifetime, let alone the last few years, and it’s hard to miss.
Next year, the Craft Brewers Conference heads to Washington, D.C. It’s a perfect pairing after Philadelphia, where discussions begin around independence and revolution and continue next year, taking it straight to Capitol Hill.
“We’re one of the most successful manufacturing sectors on the freaking planet,” said Craig Purser, president and CEO of the National Beer Wholesalers Association.
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac