As mentioned in the intro to our Best of 2016 series, there are a number of stories that didn’t make our magazine this year so far, simply due to timing. Primary amongst them is our coverage of the Canadian Brewing Awards & Conference, held in the Vancouver area back in late May. It’s time to rectify that omission.
In this first story I’m sharing my perspective as a BC community beer magazine editor that was given full access to the 2016 Conference as well as its associated Awards gala. It was a once-in-a-generation synchronism to have this event in Richmond, overlapping with Vancouver Craft Beer Week, right in the midst of BC’s brewery explosion and during the peak of North American craft beer’s second wave.
Here are some words and pictures to set up this story, which will be followed up by more material from certain features during the conference weekend. I’ll touch on that below.
Friday morning check-in
So what do you do if you’re a “community journalist” and you’ve never attended an industry conference like this? Step one is to check in to the hotel, in this case the Sheraton Hotel Richmond. It’s called the “Vancouver Airport Sheraton”, but that’s ridiculous because it’s on Westminster Highway, on the East side of No. 3 Road. In other words, it’s downtown Richmond, a fair hike from YVR.
Parking is not cheap! $14 paid for long enough for me to attend the full first day (Friday, May 27th). Good thing I’m attending for free. Actually I couldn’t afford to pay, even if What’s Brewing actually made money: admission runs in the hundreds of dollars per person, packaged as one- or two-day tickets. It’s truly not an event meant for the general public, which is why I’m providing you this insider look.
Rick Dellow & Stuart McIntosh from Newlands, alongside a colleague from Langley’s Pentair
Not that the organizers were trying to fool anybody into thinking it is (a general public event). CBAC is presented every year by Toronto-based TAPS Media, publisher of TAPS The Beer Magazine, a publication just slightly more prominent on the Canadian beer scene than What’s Brewing (but aw shucks, we’re cuter). They present the event annually, generally in locations that we’d consider to be Eastern like Niagara Falls and Fredericton; hey, it’s kind of hard to avoid that perspective when you’re situated on the Left Coast. The exception is that it was held in Victoria three years ago, so despite the obvious temptation it’s not completely fair to apply the “Eastern Bastards” label.
Your humble but persistent reporter wangled his way onto their attendee list by reaching out to Heidi Winter, TAPS’ National Director of Sales. After repeated nudges she eventually humoured my request. I was on the list!
A friendly face at the Adco Drinkware booth: branded glassware products
Problem: actually it turned out at check-in that I wasn’t actually on the list. At least, not the paper kind that they keep at the door for people who are actually supposed to be there. As a sort of afterthought attendee, I was prepared for this. It was still early, so tracking down Heidi was no problem, and the requisite wristband was applied. My handwritten name tag and I were now in! Sort of. I wasn’t technically granted access to Saturday night’s Awards Gala, which is kind of the point of the Canadian Brewing Awards. However that obstacle was overcome thanks to some friend-assisted ‘boldface’ on my part, and yet more patience on Heidi’s.
Despite my personal hurdles, and the occasional grumbles I heard around and about the conference, I came away with a positive impression of the event and its organizers. The trade show floor wasn’t immense, but it was well presented, as were the conference seminars and certainly the Gala. Having been involved in many an events committee over the years, I can tell you they’ve got their ship together and it’s floating along nicely.
Richmond’s BRB Co provided eats and drinks for the trade show
The actual weekend-long trade show will probably be of interest only to real beer nerds. The exhibitors tended to occupy B2B verticals such as drink packaging, containers and kegs, glassware and metal fabricators, technical solutions and consulting. Just what you love reading about! Of course, any opportunity to learn about the workings of an industry as engaging as brewing is fascinating to even the most attention-deficient layperson, if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of occasion (I won’t be bugging Heidi for tickets to next year’s confab in Ottawa), and although I’m certainly a layperson around brewing, I’m hardly uninterested.
On that note, one of the most amusing aspects of crowd-watching on the exhibition floor involved enjoying the difference in behaviour between brewers and other industry members. You could instantly and easily tell who belonged to the latter group, because they looked and dressed like they were in business mode, and despite the monotony that can set in on the show floor, were ready to talk shop on the driest of topics at a moment’s notice.
Contrast that with the brewers, the stars of the beer industry. Bless their young, bearded heads; they stayed away from the boring booths in droves. Until it was time for the lunch buffet to open, you could spot nary a yeast pitcher except at the two or three boths that offered beverage samples. Richmond’s BRB Co. operated easily the most trafficked tent at the show, due to the fact they were the food caterer and therefore given the job of pouring the only sizeable glasses of beer on the exhibition floor. Between seminars they were swarmed with thirsty brewers (which is a redundant description; I could have saved the adjective).
Betty Worobec, Dean – Faculty of Science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, home of a brewing program
As I glided from booth to booth, I was greeted by the aforementioned friendly professionals who explained many a technical topic in quite understandable terms. Because I work in digital media and design, I was fascinated by the things some of the attendees could print on: shrink wraps for various odd shapes, amazing bottle and can artwork, and so on. Remember, when you look at that shiny, impressive new beer on your local store shelf, it’s the brainchild not only of the brewery and a gifted artist but the folks that have the experience and technology to guide how their packaging presentation is planned, and render it as a physical object–often in the tens of thousands of units.
You get the idea; lots of this type of thing at CBAC 2016
Of course, I could go on about this stuff even longer, but you’re probably ready for something with more action. We’ll get to that; I’ll be publishing some thoughts, recordings and interviews with conference attendees. We’ll get into topics such as
- The conference seminars, and of course the awards gala. Not the results (that’s here), but what it was like to actually be there.
- Paul Hadfield’s keynote address
- A future National Brewers’ Association? Thoughts from a few potential reps from other provinces
- Conversation with Brian Titus of Halifax’s Garrison Brewing
In the meantime, consider yourself the beneficiary of this first tiny peek behind the curtain at Canada’s most prestigious annual beer awards event. Next time you see one of these wooden things on a shelf behind the counter at your fave tasting room, think of Heidi and the rest of the gang that makes this happen: