I’m going to be bold and put it out there that I think my trip to The Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville this year was the most educational, career-affirming, beer filled, meat filled and generally amazing days of my blessed 28 earth years. I know, I know; chill out Jethro, are you still drunk? But really, it was great.
In what was a strong commitment from Fourpure, 5 of the team including myself headed to Nashville for The Craft Brewers Conference and The World Beer Cup. Before I talk about it more it’s probably worth pointing out that I’ve never been to The US of A before. I’d always (wrongly) assumed America would like Britain but a bit more over the top; for this reason, I’ve always tended to holiday in Europe, Asia and in Africa on the hunt for food, culture, and kicks. More fool me for being nonchalant about getting out to the states, I’d been missing out. The people of Nashville were so accommodating and genuinely lovely, the food was out of this world in quality and size, the customer service was out of this world and the city was full of great vibes all around. I spent my whole time walking around wide-eyed and in awe like a kid in a sweet shop.
I’m trying to think about how to write about the 5-day trip without rambling too much and incoherently thinking of fun and interesting stuff we got up to. It’s probably best if I split up the trip into different topics to keep me on track and also so you can check out particular sections if you don’t have time to read all of my ramblings in one go.
The conference itself;
The Craft Brewers Conference is one hell of an event. 14,000 beer industry ladies and gents getting together for 3 days of lectures, seminars, events, and too many quality beers to count. Both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings start with a morning lecture and then a keynote speech, this was in the biggest room of the conference centre which was full both mornings with around 3000 people. The talks here were incredibly inspiring and included topics such as the state of the craft beer industry and the importance of teamwork. The feeling of these main speeches was almost like being in a church or a political event with lots of cheering, clapping and synchronised shouting.
Following the morning event, the rest of the days run on with lectures and talks in around 20 different lecture halls and shared spaces one after each other, if you didn’t have anything else to do with your day you could get to 4 back to back. My main focus was following the sensory and sustainability ‘tracks’ (tracks are talks for different parts of the industry that tended not to clash, others included technical brewing, sales, leadership, and marketing) but I did pop into a few others for fun. My highlights included talks on Co2 capture in brewing, a talk on how brewers can give back to their communities, one on beer sensory best practices, and a talk on building diversity in the craft beer industry. All of which were as educational as they were inspiring; it’s amazing to be in a room with 1000 people who all have the same interest as you and are willing to learn.
As well as the lectures they had ‘open house subcommittees’, these were spaces in which for a 2 hours session at a time there would be a hall opened up and people from a particular part of the industry would meet and chat about their specialist interest, each time I went to one there were ice buckets of different beers dotted around the room for people to crack on with. I went along to the sustainability one on Tuesday; it was great, I found myself chatting and asking advice from people who do the equivalent of my job but at breweries such as New Belgium, Odell, Bear Republic and Great Lakes; never have I had such a resource available for question asking.
On top of all this learning, there is a giant exhibition hall in the second floor that was the biggest room I’ve ever been into in my life, I’m going to take a guess at 2 football pitches back to back. Inside there were hundreds and hundreds of stands and stalls from just about every part of the brewing industry that exists. I’m talking brewing equipment, hops, malt, brewery clothing, lab equipment, marketing material etc. For me, this was less important than the lectures, but I can imagine if you had money to burn this place would be like a bloody flamethrower, every simple person is trying to chat to you to sell their wares and give you some kind of company merch.
The World Beer Cup;
Considered the ‘Olympics of Beer’ the world beer cup is held every two years as the closing event of The Craft Brewers Conference. Imagine the Oscars but instead of actors receiving awards for acting its brewers and breweries receiving awards for making beers of different styles. For example, ‘Session IPA’, there will be a Bronze, Silver and Gold award winner, you can then consider these the 3 best beers of that style in the world. As you may or may not have heard already, Fourpure managed to take home a bronze award in the German-Style Pilsner category. This is an amazing achievement as this was one of the most entered beers styles of the entire list, it’s also a great beer for showcasing brewing prowess given that it is a beer style that must be technically perfect and includes no big flavours to hide behind such as high bitterness, big hop character or speciality malt.
To be honest, I don’t think we expected to win anything and weren’t anticipating getting on a stage to collect an award. For this reason, we had been imbibing the finest craft brews from around the world for a fair few hours before the awards had begun in a BBQ and beer joint just outside the conference hall and at the free beer stand in the foyer, we were having a blast. We entered the hall in the side entrance and sat in what I can only describe as the ‘cheap seats’, much like at the Oscars there were round white tables at the front full of sophisticated people and rows of seats after that full of everyone else. I’m not knocking where we sat, I loved it; there was a great atmosphere with every brewer chatting, laughing and hugging whenever anyone within 20 meters of our seats or from a place with a funny name won anything. When our name got shouted Dan and I had a big hug and then a massive bloke with a Southern accent and a giant beard basically picked me up to congratulate me, it was pretty intense. For me though the funniest thing was that when our name got called Stu was in the loo, he came out super confused as to why we were jumping around and getting picked up by a bloke who looked like a trendy Viking.
The breweries Of Nashville
While we were in Nashville we made a conscious effort to visit some of the local breweries taprooms and bars to try and see what Nashville had to offer vibe and beer wise, we were not disappointed. I personally managed to visit 3 breweries in the flash and one brewery taproom in the centre of town. In no particular order (apart from the best first) here we go;
Bearded Iris; Hot diggidy damn..for me this one of the best taproom experiences I’ve had. Stu and I visited on an evening when the rest of the Fourpure crew had been invited to a VIP event and we didn’t have tickets, so we thought we’d make the most of it and visit one of the most hype breweries around right now. Bearded Iris are building a good name for themselves for smashing the New England IPA (showing that you don’t have to be from New England to nail the style). They had around 6/7 on tap and Stu and I managed to try them all, mostly by each getting a different pint each time and swapping half way. This was a good move as the average ABV was around 7%. All were hazy AF and had the most wonderful hop and fruit balanced flavours, with relatively low perceived bitterness. They also had 2 one-off specials they had released that day which everyone on site was supping on. The taproom itself was a cool vintage parlour theme with gold frames around and some cool wooden furniture and then outside was soaked in sunshine with plenty of comfy benches. We didn’t get to look into the actual brewery as it was far too busy to stroll in. I’ve also never been to a taproom that was selling so much packaged product and merch, pretty much every person (including myself) who came to the bar ordered a pint, a 24 case of cans to take away and a t-shirt 5 stars
Yazoo; From what I could work out, Yazoo are the darlings of Nashville. I think they have been there for a fair while and the people of the city are pretty proud of them. They differed from Bearded Iris in that they did a range of different styles, from a clean German Pils to some Belgian style sours, although I think they are most famous for their Session IPA as I saw this around in most of the bars in the city. They seemed a similar size to Fourpure in capacity but organisation was all over the place, it was a struggle to follow the flow of the brewery, so it looks like they’d grown over time rather than planning the site. The staff were incredibly friendly and gave Head Brewer John and I a quick tour then a couple of beers in the taproom. Another highlight was that we ended up making mates with a brewer from Great Lakes who was drinking alone at the bar, I then drunkenly bumped into him for the rest of the week cheersing and hugging. 4 stars
Jackalope; A super cool vibe, a bit gothic and trendy with rad artwork all over the walls. Massive drinking tent outside in the car park full of different brewers networking and sipping on their beers. Their range was based mainly around Pale Ales, I had a cracking Pacific style pale that was pure tropical vibes. Saying that John did have an Oyster Stout that he said was the most oystery thing ever and tasted like drinking the sea after an oil spill, but whatever. Another highlight here was that I went on a solo mission under a red rope and managed to sneak into a private party where I raided the BBQ buffet and a got a couple of beers for free. 4 stars
Tailgate Brewery Taproom; This was the first thing we did in Nashville, to the point where I chucked my bag on the blow-up bed even before blowing it up and ran out the front door of the air bnb. I’m gonna take a guess of around 25 taps of every style around, I opted for an IPA using an experimental hop (excuse my memory but I can’t remember what it was) to start. We took a seat in the beer garden which was placed pretty close to the TV screen which was playing the hockey and had a bunch of Nashvillians screaming, given this was my first dose of America I was really enjoying listening to them chatting. All credit to Tailgate for their most excellent customer service, the barman came and sat with us and chatted for well over 5 minutes about the beers and what to get up to while we were in the city; if this was the customer service in every taproom it would be immense. 4 stars
Firstly; it’s worth pointing out that I don’t tend to eat meat too often, maybe once every couple of weeks for special occasions. I’m not a vegetarian, maybe more just a ‘social carnivore’. When in Nashville, however, I was a ‘40 a day’ carnivore. I was there for 5 days and only had 1 meal that didn’t include meat. Seriously though, it was impossible not to. You’d go into a place for breakfast and being a tourist ask for their ‘speciality’ and they’d bring you over super-hot fried chicken on a biscuit (scone) covered in chili sauce, it was incredible.
By a country mile, though the best meal of the trip was in a BBQ place called ‘Martins’, people told us it was famous with Nashvillians (is that a word). We all picked up a tray with one meat on it (brisket pulled pork, smoked Turkey, BBQ ribs) and 2 sides and then got 2 massive trays of wings and ribs in the middle of the table to share; It was potentially the most amazingly juicy meat I’ve had and probably the most I’ve eaten in one sitting. All washed down with some pictures of a local Session IPA from Yazoo brewery.
Other food highlights included a late-night burger restaurant I visited with Stu where I had a burger called ‘The Elvis’ that had been dipped both sides in peanut butter, and an all you can eat BBQ buffet at an event put on by our hop supplier that I got a bit carried with and couldn’t stop eating meatballs at while everyone else was chatting and networking at the bar.
Needless to say, when I got onto the scales upon my return to the UK I cried a little bit. But then I sucked that tear back up because it was worth it, and I don’t regret a thing. I’d like to think that instead of a half full/half empty kind of chap I’m a ‘cor… the first half was delicious, I hope the second is just as tasty’ dude.
CBC, The World Beer Cup, Nashville, the beers, the breweries, hanging with my workmates, the customer service and the American experience was fantastic. Not that I was not any of the following already, but I’ve come back from Nashville even more enthused, educated, excited and optimistic about the craft beer industry in Britain, my future in beer and Fourpure in general. CBC showed me that Fourpure has got a lot to do but also that we are already doing so much good and I’m really proud of that and am super hyped for what’s to come.