It was notable that two of the major speakers at the Asheville Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference were women – including Julia Herz of the Brewers Association who has kicked off every beer bloggers conference since 2010, and keynote speaker Kim Jordan, founder and CEO of New Belgium.
Herz described beer as a $102 billion industry, with more than 3,500 breweries now open in the United States. Too many? Herz says no – while 615 new breweries opened in 2014, only 46 breweries closed.
Women account for 32 percent of craft beer sales and 18 percent of beer bloggers, though women beer bloggers who attended the conference in previous years seemed to believe there were a larger number of women beer bloggers at the 2015 conference. And women bloggers participated on every blogger panel. Let’s go, girls!
Kim Jordan, New Belgium CEO/founder
By now, every craft beer fan in North Carolina knows that New Belgium of Ft. Collins, Colo., will become the third large West Coast brewer to open a brewery in Asheville. Kim Jordan, New Belgium founder and CEO, came to the beer bloggers conference to share the story of how New Belgium grew out of efforts by Jordan and then boyfriend Jeff Lebesch the brewery’s co-founder, decided to try brewing Belgian beers in their basement.
Lebesch became interested in Belgian beer after a bicycle trip there that inspired New Belgium’s flagship beer, Fat Tire Amber Ale. It was a long shot – at the time, there were no categories in the Great American Beer Festival for Belgian beers. But that didn’t stop Jeff and Kim from brewing Belgian beers, photocopying their beer labels at Kinkos.
Jordan described the evolution of telling the New Belgium beer story, from a time when Beer Advocate was the only online publication about beer and brewing, to the company’s early email newsletters, then blogs and today’s social media. Blog posts, photos and videos are an important way New Belgium tells its story on the company’s website.
“Every 24 hours, probably two new craft breweries open,” Jordan said. “Bloggers help ‘connect’ the dots and tell the story. I suspect there will be a bit of slowing … the industry can’t grow at this level forever. But I think we will see a vibrant craft beer scene for a very long time.”
Anheuser-Busch quality assurance
It’s a safe bet to say that most of the bloggers at the conference aren’t the biggest fans of “the King of Beers.” And some of us still get a little miffed just thinking about Budweiser’s snarky Superbowl commercial making fun of craft beer. But Mark Yocum, director of quality for Anheuser-Busch, did a great job describing and demonstrating how the company’s rigorous quality-control tasting program works.
The A-B taste panel meets every afternoon to sample and critique beer at different stages of brewing, including the water that goes into brewing the beer at various stages. The complexity of the sampling process demonstrates A-B’s commitment to quality and attention to detail, Yoakum said.
The panel begins by tasting water from different stages of brewing, from the tap water that comes in to the plant to filtered water through different stages of brewing and even the rinse water for bottles, cans and kegs. Yocum brought samples of beer at various stages of production – wort, alpha fermentation beer and “chip beer” from day 19 or 20 in the lager tank with beechwood chips. We also tasted malt (I could eat it like cereal from the box), and passed around a sample of A-B’s famous beechwood.
Anyone on the quality panel can call an ingredient or sample into question, resulting in further scrutiny and analysis. A-B brewers pride themselves on quality and consistency, competing internally for the prized “Brewer’s Cup.”
When I was in college, a favorite bar game was to see who could quote the marketing slogan on the Budweiser can, which began, “This is the famous Budweiser beer.” … and ended with, “Our exclusive beechwood aging process produces a taste, a smoothness and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price.” – and now you know why.