Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Topics on Twin Cities beer, the 2022 CBC and World Beer Cup

The 2022 Craft Brewers Conference took place at the Minneapolis Convention Center (© Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

Things I knew about Minnesota before visiting the state last week for the 2022 Craft Brewer's Conference (CBC), presented by the Brewers Association, were more or less limited to sports-related items - the Twins, the Vikings, the Wild, and the fact that the Dallas Stars were borne of the Minnesota North Stars.

Vikings were probably most prevalent in my mind, and while there are noticeable elements of Nordic culture - Scandinavian gift shops, the American Swedish Institute, a Leif Erikson statue on the grounds of the State Capitol, the people of Poland and Ukraine are likewise well-represented.

I also learned Minnesota is the home of the Jolly Green Giant and the founder of the Mayo Clinic. In fact, a house that served as W. W. Mayo's first medical practice was also once the home of the Cosgrove family who started the Green Giant Company.

Oh, and if you're into cartography, Interstate 35 (I-35) splits into east and west branches through the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, just like it does here at home for Dallas and Fort Worth.

As for all things beer in Minnesota, what I discovered was an active and vibrant scene. Most beer drinkers have heard of the Summit and Surly brewing companies, but beyond those, Minnesota may be a bit of a mystery - or, at least it was to me. One very pleasant surprise, though, is how you can explore both past and present elements of Minnesota's beer industry.

Highlights of my beer explorations in Minnesota are included below, as is a summary of topics discussed during keynote speeches at this year's CBC and the event's annual State of the Industry address. A quick recap of 2022 World Beer Cup results is provided as well.


State of the Industry

The message conveyed during the annual State of the Industry address given by Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association, was one of challenges ahead for America's craft brewers.

Craft beer is rebounding as it recovers from struggles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, yet while overall volume production is bouncing back, only about half of breweries in the U.S. have regained or improved upon 2019 production levels. What this means is, many breweries have now gone a number of years without experiencing any sort of business growth.

Even so, the number of breweries in America continues to increase, though it's notable that the growth curve is now leveling off - only 646 openings were recorded in 2021, continuing a downward trend in new brewery debuts that began around the beginning of 2018.

Data courtesy of the Brewers Association.

The rate of closures continues to remain low - only 186 in 2021, but the expectation is numbers will rise going forward. One reason cited was the end of pandemic-driven government support for small businesses. With the possibility of deferred bills coming due, the question becomes whether breweries on life support will be able to stand on their own.

Moreover, a difficult economic environment will impact operations for many, with supply chain issues resulting in rising costs, which will lead to pricing dilemmas as breweries make decisions as to how much of these increases will have to be passed on to their customers.

There's also the specter of increased competition, though it's not just other beer makers brewery owners have to worry about. Other types of alcoholic beverages are gaining market share and fighting for the same retail space and distribution channels as they vie for consumer dollars.

With that in mind, innovation is a key going forward for breweries hoping to weather the storm. Ideas and approaches spurring past growth will likely need to be refreshed and/or re-invented in order to get things moving forward again.

Watson further called upon attendees to remember that innovation begins with the customer. Brewers must be responsive to the demands of current customers, while also seeking out new ones who many have different preferences with regards to craft beer, and craft beverages in general.

Strong branding and creativity will matter greatly as well, points touched on by other featured speakers at the event. Natalie Cilurzo, co-founder of Russian River Brewing Co. of California, spoke at length about how breweries should have a clear and defined sense of purpose. Further reinforcing this with the right product choices and community involvement helps both customers (brand loyalty) and staff (employee retention) connect to your brewery.

On creativity, Timothy Wu, special assistant to President Biden for technology and competition policy, called the craft beer industry a model for the type of economy the administration wants to promote. Individualism, local identity, and diversity of choice being preferred over the watered-down nature of a consolidated industry and the anti-competitive practices that result. Wu also suggested breweries producing little beyond "trivial variations" weren't on the same page as others when it comes to true creativity and innovation.

Despite these issues, Watson believes craft beer can and will continue to thrive. Breweries have more than proven their resilience over the last two years, and he expects them to rise to the challenges in front of them as the industry soldiers on.

Three local breweries earn World Beer Cup honors

Held for the first time since 2018, this year's edition of the World Beer Cup (WBC) attracted 10,542 entries submitted by 2,493 breweries from around the world (with 57 different countries represented). A total of 307 medals were awarded by judges across 103 style categories. As for the most-entered categories, there was a flip-flop at the top compared to 2018, as "American-Style India Pale Ale," with 384 entries, jumped ahead of "Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale," with 343.

Among honorees from North Texas, 3 Nations Brewing Co. of Carrollton won its first ever WBC award, while Community Beer Co. of Dallas landed its second, and Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. of Fort Worth its third (click here for a full competition summary).

  • 3 Nations Brewing Co., Carrollton: Silver for Devour - Mexican Chocolate in the Chocolate Beer category.
  • Community Beer Co., Dallas: Bronze for Bock in the American-Style Amber Lager category.
  • Rahr & Sons Brewing Co., Fort Worth: Silver for Hazy Hefe in the South German-Style Hefeweizen category.

Founder Gavin Secchi of 3 Nations Brewing Co. accepts an award for the
brewery's Mexican Chocolate Devour Imperial Stout (© Brewers Association).

Minnesota breweries - yesterday and today

  • Of the more than a dozen breweries I visited in Minnesota, three were among the top five producers in the state, though nary a one currently ships their beers to Texas. These included August Schell Brewing Co. of New Ulm, along with Surly Brewing Co. and Fulton Brewery of Minneapolis. Another destination, Fair Sate Brewing Cooperative of Minneapolis, has been available locally since 2020.

    Fulton and Surly were two of the more lively locales I checked out, as was Modist Brewing Co., which exists along with Fulton, Inbound Brew Co., and StormKing Brewpub + Barbecue in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis.

    StormKing, incidentally, was one of three Twin Cities-area dining establishments purporting to be a purveyor of "Texas BBQ," the others being Animales Barbeque Co. of Minneapolis and Firebox Deli of St. Paul. And while each had some enjoyable offerings, I think it's safe to say nothing quite compares to the source.

    Among favorite stops, Surly was at the top of the list, as was a little joint called Yoerg Brewing Co. in St. Paul. This spot resurrects the name and flagship recipe of Minnesota's first commercial brewery, which got its start in 1848. Yoerg's Beer, a steam beer akin to Anchor Steam, is produced just as it was over 150 years ago. The beer also pairs well with The Yoerg Sandwich, a sausage and Swiss selection on rye bread that's been called "The Greatest Blue Collar Sandwich in Town."

    Left-to-right: Surly Brewing Co., Yoerg Brewing Co., Fair State Brewing Cooperative (Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).
Left-to-right: Jacob Schmidt Brewing Co., Hamm's Brewery/Saint Paul Brewing, Grain Belt Brewery (Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

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