Thursday, September 16, 2021

Craft beer industry reconvenes for 2021 CBC, GABF awards in Denver

Photos © Brewers Association.

Members of the brewing industry came together for the first time since early 2020 last weekend in Denver, Colorado, for the 38th Annual Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) presented by the Brewers Association.

Normally held in the spring, the gathering was a hybrid event of sorts due to the pandemic, as this year's edition took place around the time of year the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is typically held. Since that event was cancelled once again, the competition portion of GABF and subsequent awards ceremony took place in conjunction with CBC.

As expected, the pandemic was a topic front and center, especially in relation to its effects on the industry over the past 18 months. Also of great importance, however, was the call for an industry awakening, as countless incidents of racism, sexism, discrimination and harassment have come to light within its ranks.

Below, you'll find a recap of key points raised on these matters during CBC discussions. A rundown of local GABF winners follows, along with notes on taproom (and other) trips made to discover items of interest outside the 2021 event.

State of the Industry

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about dire predictions as to the fate of small and independent breweries, with some fearing the coming of mass closures. Thankfully, this didn't come to pass, but production numbers did decline in 2020 for the first time since the 1980s. Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, cited a reduction in keg beer consumption (i.e., bars being closed due to the pandemic) as a contributing factor.

Data courtesy of the Brewers Association.

As for the annual "Brewery Count" update, there are now 8,848 active breweries in the U.S., which represents an increase of 439 breweries over last year. While this is the smallest year-to-year gain of late, it's still a pleasant surprise considering the alternative.

More surprising is data showing the rate of brewery closings did not accelerate during the pandemic, which raises the question of how breweries are surviving. Watson noted Americans still drink the same amount of beer as before, just at different places. For breweries able to quickly pivot operations to focus on packaging beer to-go, this resulted in "at the brewery" sales numbers remaining relatively strong. Beyond that, he pointed to federal aid programs (for those who were approved for such things), and credited the tenacity and resilience of brewers.

A charge to bring about change

In response to a callout regarding a disturbing number of cases involving racism, sexism, discrimination and harassment occurring in the craft beer industry, initiatives seeking to promote diversity, equity and inclusion were introduced at CBC.

Images courtesy of the Brewers Association.

Attendees had access to a conference roadmap of seminars and workshops, entitled THRIVE, designed to empower "craft brewing community members to build safe, inclusive, and equitable cultures where everyone who makes, sells, and enjoys craft beer can thrive."

Industry groups joined together to create the BRU Coalition, with the "objective to leverage the combined reach of the organizations to drive industry-wide adoption of evidence-based best practices for preventing discrimination, harassment, and violence within the brewing industry." Members include the Brewers Association, Cicerone Certification Program, Master Brewers Association of the Americas, Pink Boots Society, and the American Society of Brewing Chemists.

Two area breweries among GABF medalists

Overall, a total of 9,680 beers from 2,192 breweries were evaluated at this year's GABF, with 290 medals awarded across 97 categories covering 175 different beer styles. And, as per usual, the most-entered categories were associated with IPAs. The largest number of submissions were in the "Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale" category with 427 entries, followed by "American-Style India Pale Ale" with 404.

Two local breweries were awarded medals, both garnering GABF recognition for the first time. Congratulations are in order for Westlake Brewing Co. of Dallas and Cowtown Brewing Co. of Fort Worth (click here for a full competition summary).

Westlake Brewing Co., Dallas: Gold for Peter Porter in the
Brown Porter category (Photo © Brewers Association).

Cowtown Brewing Co., Fort Worth: Silver for High Brau in the Dortmunder
or German-Style Oktoberfest category (Photo © Brewers Association).

Taproom (and other) trips

  • I generally have a theme in mind when deciding on what breweries to visit while attending events out-of-state. Oftentimes, it's a simple as finding a group of breweries I haven't experienced in proximity to each other. On this occasion, though, I decided to find a brewery with a view. A quick search led me to Cabin Creek Brewing in Georgetown, Colorado, a small-town spot set up on the shores of Georgetown Lake. For best results, grab a flight and head up to the second-floor balcony.
Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.
  • We'll call this a case of curious consumption. Here at home, when a new brewery opens, the first keg to kick is almost always some kind of IPA. Well, at Smash Face Brewing in Denver, a different story was being told, as the only beer available at this month-old brewery was an IPA. This, after the house lager, pilsner and session beers had all run out.
Photo © Enstrom Toffee & Confectionery.

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