The first-ever NC Craft Brewers Conference drew a real heavy hitter with Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman as keynote speaker on Day 2 of the Nov. 5-6 conference. He shared his history as a pioneer in the U.S. craft beer industry and why he decided to locate his East Coast brewery near Asheville.
Grossman started his brewing career as a home brewer in Chico, CA, during the 1970s when “light beer” was first coming on the U.S. beer scene. At the time, there were only 89 breweries in the U.S., and craft beer was an unknown concept. By contrast, today there are 3,178 breweries here and 1,968 more in planning. (Met several bright, young brewers-in-planning at the conference – you know who you are!)
Today’s consumers are more savvy about beer. They want to experiment – they like innovation, newness and variety, Grossman said. The Millennial generation now makes up 67 percent of beer consumption, and while their Boomer parents are traditionally more brand-loyal. But the generations are bonding over technology and beer choices, he said.
In 1978, Grossman planned to open his California brewery, but no banks would give him a loan. He pieced together $100,000 from friends and family and started Sierra Nevada Brewing. Of the six small breweries in the U.S. at that time, only two are still in business today.
When Grossman decided to open an East Coast brewery to reduce cross-country shipping, he explored more than 200 possible sites east of Colorado. He says he “fell in love with North Carolina,” and planned to build just a small manufacturing plant on the French Broad River near Ashville. Today, the site has grown to 185 acres, and brewing is underway. The website says the gift shop is now open, tour reservations are being accepted, and a taproom and restaurant will open early next year. Oh, along with hiking and biking trails. You gotta love this brewery!
So much packed into conference day 2, I can’t describe it all, but here are a few highlights:
- NC brewers guild President Erik Lars Myers, wearing his “big boy” pants, shared the guild’s success story and how breweries are literally exploding in North Carolina. The industry has grown from 70 brewers in 2012 to 120 today, with more on the way, making NC’s the fastest growing beer industry in the South.
- Cindy Molchany of Craft Beverage Media and Craft Beverage Jobs shared tips on how breweries can enhance their marketing through blogs and social media.
- A four-person panel offered tips from the state level perspective to the brewery level on engaging tourists with breweries. NC Beer Month in April is one of the marketing tools designed to draw attention to breweries statewide.
- Chris Shields of Mystery Brewing and Reva Golden of Colorado State University discussed the importance of creating a brewery “culture of safety” in an industrial setting that can be prone to hazards.
So it was a great first effort – great location, great trade show (who knew it take so many businesses to support craft beer??), great sessions, great food and a great crowd. Oh yeah, and what other conference do you know of that offers “beer breaks?” Just sayin’…