Large crowds, plenty of beer, lots of learning and mass amounts of networking were among the highlights Friday on the first full day of the California Craft Beer Summit at the Sacramento Convention Center.
The newcomers and repeats from 2015 have combined for a significantly bigger Beer Summit, according to Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association and the creator of the event.
“Ticket sales are up and the response from everyone has been very positive,” he said. “There’s just a great vibe and a great feel. From our standpoint, everything is working.”
The summit is significantly different from other major craft beer gatherings throughout the country in that it combines an industry trade show with an educational component for both professional brewers and beer consumers, along with an event-ending beer festival Saturday from 3 to 7 p.m. on the Capitol Mall that will feature 450 beers from an all-California lineup of 160 breweries.
Tickets for the beer festival cost $60 and are still available. To purchase tickets and see a full list of participating breweries and the beers they’ll be pouring, visit californiacraftbeer.com.
“It’s fascinating to see both the growth and the return people,” said A.J. Tendick, co-owner of Bike Dog Brewing in West Sacramento. “The people who are coming back are energized and excited because they are getting stuff that is similar but different than last year. And because of last year, it already has some credibility and the message has spread. It’s great to see returning faces and a lot of new people at the same time.”
Many of the local brewers attended educational classes Friday, including technical sessions such as “Yeast: The Key to Quality Fermentation and Outstanding Beer,” and business-specific talks such as “Build Your Brand: How to Earn Customers and Influence Beer Lovers.”
One of the classes Tendick found helpful was called “How To Talk About Beer Styles With Guests.” With the craft beer industry reaching out to new customers, it’s crucial to build business by guiding consumers in a way they can understand.
“There was some good around-the-edges stuff about how you engage a customer at the bar, which is a strong part of why you have a tasting room. If they want a crisp beer, don’t just hand them a pilsner; talk to them about what they mean by crisp. Talk about flavor. Don’t just talk about styles. It’s how you educate customers and try to break through some of their preconceived notions,” Tendick said.
There has been plenty of chatter about the summit on social media, including an Instagram post Friday by Elk Grove’s new Flatland Brewing: “We are thrilled to be a part of the amazing California craft beer industry. The talks, expo floor, and of course, the craft beer legends that the Craft Beer Summit has put together is nothing short of top notch.”
Indeed, one of the major appeals of the summit is the chance to meet and mingle with a who’s who of California craft beer. One of the nation’s top brewers, Steve Dresler of Sierra Nevada, for instance, could be seen standing at the same serving counter as brewers from hot new spots such as Moonraker and Crooked Lane, both in Auburn. Walking past was Patrick Mulvaney, one of the city’s top chefs and owner of Mulvaney’s B&L in midtown.
Dresler, who is based in Chico and has announced he will retire sometime in 2017, says he has heard plenty about the growth of beer in Sacramento and is eager to sample numerous local beers at the festival Saturday. He will have his hands full. A poster-size map on display at the summit on Friday showed 62 breweries in the Sacramento region, including a few on the verge of opening.
The map’s creator, Aaron O’Callaghan, launched a Kickstarter program over the summer to create a passport-style program for consumers to visit brewery tasting rooms and get a booklet stamped for each visit. The incentives to branch out and visit more breweries include different levels of prizes.
Rather than attend classroom sessions and industry forums, O’Callaghan sees the summit as a chance to network. Working in conjunction with the Sacramento Area Brewers Guild, he has signed up 35 breweries and counting to participate.
“For me, it’s been about connecting with people,” he said.
Unlike Friday’s classroom sessions, which were geared toward beer industry employees, the seminars Saturday are aimed at consumers and home brewers. Noting that it is too soon to make an official announcement, McCormick said it is almost a certainty that the Craft Beer Summit will return for a third year in 2017.
Editor’s note: This story was changed Sept. 10 to correct the spelling of Steve Dresler’s name.