Monday, March 09, 2015

The PC: All about localism at the 2015 Indiana Craft Brewers Conference.

The PC: All about localism at the 2015 Indiana Craft Brewers Conference.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

In language, there are independent, subordinate, matrix, embedded and non-finite clauses. Conversely, Marxists of the Chico variety will tell you there ain’t no Sanity Clause, even if NABC brews a naughty one at Christmas.

And me? I’m please to reveal the existence of a Roger Clause. Problem is, I can’t tell you what it means (those pesky non-disclosures), so instead, I’ll write about my weekend.

On March 6, 7 and 8, the Brewers of Indiana Guild (BIG) held its inaugural Indiana Craft Brewers Conference (ICBC) at the Fourwinds Resort & Marina on Lake Monroe, near Bloomington, Indiana.

There was far too much ice on the lake for boating, but by Sunday afternoon, a hint of spring was in the air, and with it the promise of the Guild’s 5th Annual Bloomington Craft Beer Festival, to be held at the atmospheric Woolery Mill on April 11.

That’s a relatively tasteful sales pitch, as befits my position on the guild’s festival committee.

The ICBC began last Friday evening with a beery reception at Upland Brewing Company’s production facility, before returning to the President’s Suite to a broad smorgasbord of Hoosier-brewed ales and lagers in all sizes of bottle, can and growler, as donated by attending breweries. Surely area recycling revenues rose precipitously on Monday.

The merriment resumed Saturday over a solid breakfast of eggs, bacon, biscuits ‘n’ gravy and coffee, with author Doug “Indiana, One Pint at a Time” Wissing’s thoughtful overview of the history of Hoosier brewing, from the arrival of immigrants in the 19th-century to the brewery surge of the present day. When Doug finished, a day-long slate of speakers and seminars began.

There were two venues. One featured primarily technical, brewer-oriented presentations: Ron Smith on Quality and Flavor; brewer-helmed hop and yeast panels; workplace safety; water with author John Palmer; and tips on starting a lab.

In the other area, discussions focused on the management side: Hiring the right fit; restaurant management (great job, Mike Fox); copyright and trademark law; ATC Beer Law 101; Greg Kitzmiller’s spot-on marketing musings; and branding with social media, courtesy of the Guild’s own communications director, Tristan Schmid.

Apologies for leaving a few presenters out, so please trust me: The great material just kept flowing, all day long. I gravitated more toward the management and marketing talks, but what I caught of the technical side was uniformly excellent, too.

Throughout this time, some of the guild’s allied trade members were on hand to network and display their wares, including Country Malt Group, Keg Craft, Prestige Glassware and Mossberg Beverage Marketing, to name a few.

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The conference was sold out, and probably 200 attendees were on hand for Saturday's lunch, when beer writer Stan Hieronymus provided a stirring “general session” address on a topic close to my heart: “Is Local the New IPA? … And Other Thoughts About Beer Fashion.” Stan offered a slew of worthwhile takeaways, but I’ll restrict the rehash to two of them.

First, in response to the oft-heard rejoinder that beer can’t truly be local until all the ingredients are grown nearby, Stan strongly differed: “Beer becomes beer in your brewery,” he said.

In short, the value is in the finished product, as guided by the intelligence of a practiced hand. Expanding this point, he urged brewers to stay involved with genuinely local efforts to grow hops, barley, fruits and vegetable that are used to brew or flavor beer.

Then, in what surely was the day’s high point for me, Stan directly connected localism in beer with broader notions of placemaking: “Breweries need to become community leaders.”

While he stopped short of endorsing my New Albany mayoral campaign, I had a nice feeling of vindication. If anything, localism in beer is becoming even more important as we move ahead.

Today there are more than 100 breweries in Indiana. In 2010, when Doug Wissing’s book was published, there were 36. Most Hoosier breweries are small, and in the overall scheme of world commerce, they’re likely to remain small. While theoretically possible for them to get products aboard those 18-wheelers passing each other on the interstate, somewhere during a starry Kansas night, it is perhaps improbable that more than a handful of such business models can thrive by doing so.

More likely, they’ll need to be as locally attuned as possible in order to survive, whether as community placemakers, tourist destinations, package “factory” outlets, food truck magnets or shadow city councils. They’ll need to find what’s special about their places, reinforce it with their beer, and vice versa ... and repeat the process, over and over again.

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Saturday evening, busses shuttled back and forth to Bloomington to facilitate pub crawling. On Sunday, the best attended annual meeting I can recall was held, and board elections were conducted. I was elected to a fourth two-year term as a director on the board. Thanks for the thumbs up, folks.

Obviously, if elected mayor of New Albany, I’ll be compelled to resign my guild directorship, but that’s a juncture for the future. Right now, at this moment, I’m very proud of what BIG has accomplished, and happy to have contributed in some small way to our gradual maturation as an entity.

Naturally, this shouldn’t be taken as a declaration of victory, or as a personal climb-down following my well-documented tantrums in January on the topic of sexism. As guild president Greg Emig said on Sunday, there remains much to be done, and always room to improve. We get it.

(In case you’re wondering: The board remains populated by white males of a certain age, now at 15 directors in number, rather than 13, although the median age seems to have dropped a bit.)

Know that for so long as I’m a director, I’ll do what I can to support the guild’s daily efforts, and also to raise consciousness along the way, because I truly believe the more we are aware of issues like diversity, and the greater our understanding that what sometimes may seem irrelevant to us as individuals is keenly significant to others -- to our customers, after all – the better we’ll be as a brewers guild, and a brewing community.

Having said this, let me make it crystal clear that I’ve never excused myself from the process of change and growth, and have not ever doubted the sincerity or good will of my colleagues. They’re damned fine people, and we’re all getting there as a team.

It’s a cliché, but it really does take time. I may be a curmudgeon at heart, but I’m bullish about Indiana beer.

You should be, too.

2 comments:

Tristan said...

Roger, thank you for this summary. Really appreciate you being at the conference in spite of not feeling well, and for your ongoing involvement with the Guild.

The New Albanian said...

Thanks. Nothing like a beer conference and (almost) no beer, but it was so much fun, I barely noticed the abstinence.