Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2013 Beer Bloggers Conference: Day 2

As great as Day 1 of the 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference was, it was nothing compared to the epic scope of Day 2. So much happened on Saturday the 27th it's hard to wrap my head around the fact that it was all a single day and not a week's worth of activities. I shot so much video footage that I had to break it up into five separate parts if I have any hope of capturing the viewers' attention. In fact, I'll break this blog up into the same five sections to keep it breezy.

Part 1: The Seminars

As I mentioned in the Day 1 blog, the goal of #BBC13 is inherently educational. I've been beer blogging and vlogging since 2008, so I've learned a lot about what works and what doesn't through personal experience. I'm not one of those bloggers who lives and dies by analytics and search engine optimization. I take a fairly passive approach to social media best practices and the like. However, if there's something I can do to garner more followers and viewers without making any radical changes I'd like to learn about it. And that's exactly what these sessions were supposed to do.

Half of Day 2 was spent in seminars with various presentations about industry topics. It was like a series of classroom discussions covering a wide spectrum of blogging and the craft beer industry. I learned a lot, but I just couldn't do the presenters justice by attempting to recap all the information  here. If I had the ability, I would have filmed every minute of every seminar. I did, however, film a little bit from each panel and compiled them together into this YouTube video to at least give you an idea of what went on:

The only seminar that seemed out of place was "The Mechanics of Beer Pouring" by  Heineken's Global Draught Master. I certainly raised an eyebrow when I saw this on the agenda. There weren't any details about it, so I thought it was going to be about pouring bottled beer of various styles into various glasses. What it ended up being was a great piece of live entertainment. Franck Evers is Dutch and looks and talks a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger - something he immediately joked about as soon as he started his talk. The man is a natural comedian and entertainer, and his presentation was on par with the type of comedy show you'd pay to see.

Despite the name, the seminar wasn't about beer pouring in general, but more like "how to pour the perfect Heineken from the tap." We craft beer snobs probably scoff at this, but it's a surprisingly difficult and complex process. He had audience members attempt a simple tap pour but no one was able to do it very well (watch the above video starting at the 8:35 mark). Franck also talked about the science behind foam and how and why "skimming" the head affects the beer. I certainly didn't know that, so I'd say this segment was quite educational indeed. The entertainment value alone made it worthwhile and everyone I talked to said they were surprised by how much they enjoyed it.

Part 2: NBWA Beer Lunch

I've been to plenty of beer dinners before, but never a beer lunch. But considering this is a beer bloggers conference after all, what else would you expect? The lunch and beers were present by NBWA - the National Beer Wholesalers Association. There was no specific "theme" to the food and/or beers that made up the courses. Though, whoever created these pairings did a great job.

NOTE: you can skip the next four paragraphs and just watch the video below instead if you want.

First course: gazpacho with croutons paired with Rogue Brutal IPA. I've never had gazpacho before, I thought it was just cold tomato soup. It's more like pureed salsa and has a strong vegetable flavor. I referred to it as "liquid salad" in the vlog. It was good, but I wouldn't eat this all the time. The bitterness of the Rogue Brutal IPA was an interesting contrast to the lightly sweet gazpacho.

Second course: crab cake with fennel salad paired with Stillwater Stateside Saison. I haven't had good seafood in years and this crab cake was pretty delicious. The saison was the perfect pairing as it has notes of lemon and black pepper to complement the crab cake, but also strong enough to cleanse the palate. I can't think of any style that pairs better with seafood than saison.

Third course: barbecue skirt steak with roasted sweet potato paired with Lagunitas Wilco Tango Foxtrot. This steak was thin and tender and on the sweeter side. I usually prefer spicy steak, but the change of pace was nice and the yams were the perfect accompaniment. The rich sweetness of the brown ale followed the steak perfectly, but the strong hoppy finish added interesting contrast and was very satisfying.

Fourth course: Boston Cream Pie paired with Allagash Black. I love sweets and desserts, so this course was quite delightful for me. The beer is a strong roasty stout with Belgian yeast to make it both bitter and sweet. Again, a perfect pairing.

I really enjoyed this beer lunch. It was the right amount of food for sure, but for some reason they were pretty stingy with the beer. The tasting glasses only held about 3oz and for whatever reason they were not pouring refills.

Part 3: Live Beer Blogging

After lunch there was another seminar, and after that we were whisked away to Burke Distributing - a wholesaler located just south of Boston in Randolph. It was intended to be just like a speed dating event, whereby each brewery had five minutes to pour their beer, describe and discuss it, and then move on to the next table. This was a really interesting concept, and I've never participated in something like it before. It was made even more unique by the fact all the breweries were from the New England states and almost none of them are available here in Albany.

I'm not going to make this blog even longer by describing and critiquing each individual beer, so I'll let the video do that instead (note: audio is loud).

Part 4: Harpoon Brewery Tour and Beer Dinner

By the time we finished the event at the distributor everyone was getting hungry for dinner, which is what our next event was all about. We headed back to downtown Boston where we arrived at the Harpoon brewery in the Seaport district. We were given a tour of the brewery and then brought into their restaurant for a beer dinner. Each seat already had three beers poured along with cheese and food platters spread out among the tables.

The beers on the table were intended to be paired with specific cheeses on the platter. I was surprised by how well they complemented the cheeses and vice versa. I've tried just about the entire Harpoon line by now and have never been all that impressed with most of them. However, there were two beers I'd never seen before: a dunkel lager and a black IPA. Both were high quality stuff, so I'll be interested to see if these will be in stores at some point.

A menu at each seat had a recommended pairing of other Harpoon beers with the main courses that were on the table. While the food was great, I was a bit miffed at the fact that there was no table service. We were supposed to go to the bar and fill up the tasting glasses with the rest of the beers on tap ourselves. Since I've already had those other beers and not enjoyed them much, combined with the fact these new beers were pretty good and the seat next to me was empty, I just drank the empty seat's beers.

Part 5: Evening Beer Social

Our event at Harpoon concluded around 8:30pm. Much like the night before I was getting pretty exhausted from all the food and beer throughout the day. I probably could have went straight to sleep as soon as we got back to the hotel, but I decided to at least check out the last event of the day, the "Beer Social," and I'm glad I did.

This was a lot like the "trade show" from Friday where breweries were pouring samples of their beers in the hotel conference room. Samuel Adams, Lagunitas, Dogfish Head, Florida Beer Company, Goose Island, Rogue, Woodchuck Hard Cider and Sierra Nevada all had tables of both regular offerings and limited releases.

In the case of Goose Island it was an EXTREMELY limited release: the aptly-named Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout. Only 5,000 bottles were ever produced and it ranks among the most expensive beers on the secondary market. The rep was only allowing each person to try about a one ounce sample at a time, so I made sure to get my experience on video:

From what I could tell, it was indeed a great beer. But then again, how accurate of a read can you get on such a small amount?

As for the rest of the night, it was a great time. I think I struck up a conversation with just about every other person in attendance at the time. Many people were ignoring the brewery tables and instead engaging in their own bottle sharing of their own (which was encouraged, I might add). My palate was extremely fatigued by the time I went to bed and my stomach was killing me from all the food and beer I had imbibed on that day. But that's a price worth paying for such a great day.

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