This past weekend, the city of Fredericton welcomed the 12th Annual Canadian Brewing Awards and Conference to its fair city. Over the course of three days, attendees took in some excellent presentations, manufacturer and supplier displays, lots of social events, and of course the Awards Gala. We were fortunate enough to be in attendance, and wanted to share our great experience with you.
The weekend kicked off with a Welcome Bonfire along the Saint John River. It was a great time for folks to meet and greet after arriving to town. Attendees had traveled from across the country, so it was a great chance to stretch their legs while enjoying the beautiful weather and surroundings. A couple of kegs of Picaroons were poured while folks enjoyed some slider-sized burgers and live music around the fire.
The Friday morning sessions started early for many, after having enjoyed the city’s great bars (shout out to King Street Ale House and Brewbakers, where many of the visiting brewers seemed to congregate each night). Tony Formby of 2×4 Brewing & Imports gave a talk on exporting Canadian craft beer to the U.S. He spoke of dealing with the three-tier system, and the economics that that entails. From our perspective, while (or perhaps, because) the U.S. is a huge market, it can be difficult to break into, and does not seem to be lucrative for most breweries to send their beer south, at least not until they’ve reached plateaued sales in Canada. The next session was from hop farmer Laurie Thatcher-Craig of Clear Valley Hops. She spoke of the history of small hop farming, especially in the Northeast U.S. Did you know that in 1849, New York state was the largest hop producer in the US? She also described the results of experiments with later harvesting of hops, allowing them to mature further on the bine. When waiting 3 weeks after the AgCan suggested harvest date, she was able to increase oil and alpha acid content by more than 50%, as well as change the aromatic characteristics of the hops to a more orange-like characteristic. The waiting period is not without perils: after the very short ideal harvest window, an oniony character can come through, negating most benefits of the delay period. For those unable to attend, the talks were recorded, and should be available soon on the CBA homepage. Also look there for “Live From the Green Room” interviews, where Rob Engman interviewed several people in the brewing community.
Between the sessions, the Expo Floor was open, with about 20 exhibitors from across the brewing-related world in attendance. Models, videos and literature were available on all beer-related topics, including excise-bond insurance, brewhouse hardware, malt and hops, packaging, glassware and tap handles. From nation-wide to nano, breweries of all sizes benefited from chatting with the companies whose purpose is to make brewing and selling beer an easier task. Lots of connections were made, and we even saw a brewpump being walked down the hallway, bought at a particularily attractive fest-only price.
Friday evening, Picaroons hosted a lobster boil at their new location (opening in 2015), at the former site of the Gibson Roundhouse, located on the Northside of the river, adjacent to the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge. Featuring a ton of great food from local producers, and music from local band Dub Antenna, it was also the first chance that outside brewers had to share any beer they may have brought with them for the weekend. And share they did! From all across the country, bottles, cans, and kegs of stout, pilsner, IPAs and wheat beer were enjoyed, and this social lubricant fueled discussions long into the night.
The Saturday sessions started with a talk on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software trends in the brewing industry, by Milan Jelaca of Deltasco. ERP software allows one to dig into the minutiae of the production costs and sales income of the brewery, as well as resource (both human and material) managements. The current costs of these types of software are definitely outside most brewery’s budgets, but the talk did bring to the forefront that it is important to keep detailed records of every step of the process, to track trends and act accordingly. The afternoon session was the Keynote address by Moosehead CFO Patrick Oland. He shared a history of the Moosehead Brewery and the six generations of the Oland family who own it. The brewery has recently undergone some expansions and improvements to the canning and bottling line, and is now capable of producing one million hectolitres of beer annually. Patrick also answered some questions regarding his company’s alliance with The Beer Store, despite the trouble smaller breweries have getting their beer on its “shelves”. Finally, Patrick let local beer fans know that there are no plans to expand Moosehead’s offerings of packaged products, including the cask beer that is available weekly at the Saint John Ale House, or the ales that were available at the Fredericton Craft Beer Festival earlier this year.
After the keynote, the Lighthouse on the Green was the site of another chance to unwind and meet informally with members of the Canadian brewing community, at a location with beautiful views of the river. We also understand there was a meeting between the brewers in attendance on establishing an Atlantic Canadian Brewing Association, not unlike the newly launched Nova Scotia Craft Brewers Association, or Ontario Craft Brewers group. If there are any updates on this front, we’ll be sure to share them!
And then it was time for the Big Show, the Awards Gala. Patrice Godin of Acadie-Broue was the MC of the night, seamlessly switching between both official languages of New Brunswick in order to make everyone feel welcome. After a brief introduction from TAPS Media President Rob Engman, Patrice got right down to business with the medal announcements. 950 beers from 150 breweries in every province were judged at Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto in April. Under the very capable charge of Tracy Phillippi, the team of 42 BJCP-certified judges spent three days picking the winning beers in 38 different categories. Tracy had this to say, “The judges were all quite professional, and there was a good mix between novice & experienced judges. I took over from Grand Master Beer Judge Paul Dickey, who had been organizing the CBAs for 9 years! BIG Shoes to fill, but I’m honoured to take the lead role in Canada’s largest beer competition. I’ve been judging regularly for 5 years & really enjoy the organizational component, but it certainly worked my multitasking ability. Also of note, we had 3 Maritime representatives – Craig and Jeff Pinhey, and myself, more than any other region of Canada (besides Ontario).”
The medals were flying off the stage quickly, and by the end of it, five Atlantic Canadian Breweries went home with some hardware: Quidi Vidi Brewing Co. won silver for their Premium Lager (North American Style Lager), and bronze for their Iceberg Beer (North American Style Premium Lager); Picaroons Brewing Co. won bronze for their Blonde Ale (North American Style Blonde/Golden Ale); PEI Brewing Co. won bronze for their Sir John A Honey Wheat Ale (Wheat Beer – North American Style); Rockbottom Brewpub won the region’s only gold with their Wreckoning RIS (Imperial Stout); Boxing Rock Brewing Co. won bronze for their The Vicar’s Cross Double IPA (Imperial India Pale Ale). Our sincere congratulations to all of the winners, and well done to Great Lakes Brewery who repeated as Brewery of the Year (full winner’s list available here). For those of you not in attendance, check out the streaming link.
Perhaps the most important part of the CBAs is meeting and talking with fellow members of the Canadian craft beer community. We really enjoyed seeing again (or meeting in person for the first time) our friends in the brewing world from Atlantic Canada and beyond; and for brewers, it was great to catch up and learn of successes across the region and country, what was working (or not) for breweries, and how that could apply for existing, new, or upcoming breweries.
Thanks to Rob Engman and Kristina Santone for giving us the privilege to attend, and a special thanks to the many crew members and volunteers we ran into over the weekend. Without your help, it wouldn’t have been such a memorable time! We hope to see you all in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON next year!