Field Trip to Nashville

Now that Seth, Andrew, Kim and I are back from the Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville (and Andrew and I are fully recovered from our Hot Chicken indiscretions), I figured it would be good to report on some of the things we were up to there.  The city itself was on its raucous best behavior, with bachelorette parties in abundance, wagons full of revelers cruising through town behind tractors and super-up golf carts, and country music seeming to issue at every street corner from what looked like big municipal electrical boxes.  The warmth of the weather crept upward as the week wore on, and the aftermath of what we heard had been a wet spring left the surrounding hills green and lush with deciduous greenery—always something of a novelty to our western eyes.

I arrived on the Friday before the conference to join the other 300 or so judges of World Beer Cup for orientation and a reception at Tailgate Brewery’s production facility just outside of town.  Only about 25% of the judges were from the US, thereby giving legitimacy to a truly international competition comprised of more than 8,000 individual beers in over 80 style categories. And over the following three days we convened for morning and afternoon sessions generally consisting of two to three rounds each.  Judging is a great way not just to see how one’s beers fare against others in the industry, but simply to get a sense for what’s going on, in this case all over the world. It’s also an invaluable opportunity to hang with our international brewing brothers and sisters. One of my highlights along these lines was a nice run I had one morning with Leo Ferrari of Antares Breweries in Argentina, a guy I had earlier met on one or another of these international judging opportunities.

It’s always a bit odd, after being sequestered for three days of judging, to emerge into the world and find it populated by throngs of industry others.  Not that we don’t want them there—these are our friends, too, after all—but it’s all of a sudden so, well, loud and crowded. I will say that the opening reception was about the best I can recall, a fairly straightforward block party held on the street between the host Nashville Omni hotel and the Music City Convention Center (which, by the way, is a truly amazing building).

My actual duties began at noon the next day, when I reported to the Brewers Publications bookstore to sign copies of my brand-new book, Eclectic IPA.  By the time the conference was over I had done another signing the following day and given a talk based on a digestion of a lot of the book’s material, covering IPAs made with fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, coffee, chocolate and whatever else (including wood and sour treatments).  It was an honor to see many of my industry compatriots and fellow judges in the audience; certainly my proudest moment came when Frank Boon, who’s around my age and has been brewing and blending classic lambic beers in Belgium since he was in his teens, came up and told me how thought-provoking he’d found my talk.

And speaking of proud moments, I was enlisted by the BA a few weeks in advance of the conference to do a short version on stage of the interview I conducted some months ago with Gary Glass (of the American Homebrewers Association) of Charlie Papazian, the founder of so much of what we all do.  With my very general suggestion Charlie told stories of his early days teaching homebrewing classes in Boulder to some of the people who would go on to found Boulder Beer and New Belgium Brewing, as well as the legendary Beer & Steer parties at which local Colorado thousands would convene to eat beef, drink beer and lounge around in a hot tub made from hay bales.  One question I hadn’t asked him in the earlier version of the interview concerned the “Tepee of Truth” Charlie had on his property, inside of which anyone entering was required to speak the truth. One notable visitor in those early, 1980s-ish days was John Hickenlooper, then just getting going with his project, Wynkoop Brewing, but now governor of the state of Colorado.  It didn’t occur to me to ask whether he’d plumbed John’s future—possibly presidential?—political aspirations.

Our friends at New Belgium also threw a couple of great events, at The George Jones bar on Tuesday evening, mainly, I think, for the release of Hemperor, their delicious hemp terpene IPA, and then the next night at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery to celebrate the delicious collaboration between New Belgium and Blackberry Farm Brewery.  That evening devolved into a bourbon tasting and the aforementioned Hot Chicken conflagration, but possibly the less said about that the better.