Thursday, July 14, 2016

2016 Beer Bloggers Conference in Tampa: Day 2

Saturday, July 9

You would think that after a night of binge-drinking, no one would be in the mood for seminars as early as 9am on a Saturday morning, but there was quite a turnout for them. Sessions included social networking strategy, working with brands, analytics, and content creation. These may sound boring and academic, but the event is called the Beer Bloggers Conference – so there’s definitely an educational component to it. In fact, I believe most first-time attendees are drawn to the event in order to learn how to become a better blogger. They’re not just going for all the beer and food (though I’m sure that has a lot to do with it).

saturdayagenda

As much as I enjoy the conference and the company that runs it, a complaint I’d have is that these educational components should be filmed and put online for anyone to see. Put it behind a paywall if you want, but it seems like a shame that this information should be so exclusive that only a few dozen people get to see it once a year. It would also be a disservice for me to try to condense the information of these workshops down into a paragraph or two because there’s so much information. Perhaps the presenters have their slides online (if I can find them, I’ll link to them here).

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For lunch we all took some tour buses over to the World of Beer on Fowler Avenue near University of Southern Florida. This was a four-course beer and food pairing meal put on by MillerCoors. Now, I know many of you may be rolling your eyes at this: one of the world’s biggest macro breweries hosting a lunch for bloggers who most likely despise them? Well, nearly every #BBC has included a macro-sponsored event in some form, probably because those companies can more easily afford to host a shindig of this size. I’m sure they also do this to extend an olive branch to us beer snobs. Even their reps are pretty cool and don’t try to sell us on anything or compare their products to real, classy craft beer.

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So can MillerCoors host a decent beer lunch? Yeah, actually they can. These four courses were pretty good, and so were the drinks that accompanied them. Leinenkugel’s Beergarten Tart was a nice starter/wannabe Berliner Weisse and the famous WOB hanging pretzel made a great appetizer. The Blue Moon Belgian Table Pils was a decent lager, but like most Blue Moon beers – was completely lacking in any Belgian quality. I remarked to the table that I’d probably like this beer more if I didn’t know who it was made by. The artisan sausage and cheese board made a nice charcuterie (then again, have you ever had a sausage and cheese board you didn’t like?). The main course was a little country-fried pork patty with a fried egg on top and some greens on the side. It was okay, though I liked the Pilsner Urquell much better (that may be an all-time favorite beer for me). The pretzel bread pudding and Crispin pear cider made a perfect desert – sweet, but not cloying. All in all, I’d say it was a very nice lunch. I also liked the fact that we were able to take home a bunch of free beer glasses, too.

FREE BEER GLASSES!
FREE BEER GLASSES!

After lunch it was back to the hotel for more talks; the highlight of which was the keynote speech by Stan Hieronymus – one of America’s most seasoned beer writers. He’s written several books, and he still works as a full-time journalist. Not surprisingly, he regaled us with tales of the days when he and Michael Jackson and a small contingent of authors were the only ones writing about beer for fun and/or profit. He also talked about the ethics involved in professional writing and soapboxed about the Oxford Comma for a little bit.

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As the afternoon went on we had another beer-centric event, but it was also a highly educational presentation as well. Some of the brewers of Petrus – a brand of sour Belgian beers – talked about what goes in to making these beers: from picking the right ingredients, to the brewing process, to the science of using bacteria in just the right way, to the building of foeders, and finally to discovering the perfect ratio at which to blend them. It’s a lot of hard, meticulous, tedious work (and a lot of waiting). The time-lapse videos they showed were pretty impressive.2016 Beer Bloggers Conference 115

They gave each of us a six-pack of their “Sour Power” box which contains their three core brews and let us experiment with different blending ratios. Personally, I prefer the red the best as it has a delicious fruity flavor akin to sangria. The brown and the pale are pretty nice too. Experimenting with blends is a fun way of making a great product even better.iPhone 2016 740

One of the hallmarks of #BBC is the annual “Live Beer Blogging” event in which 10 different breweries each have a few minutes to pour and present their beer to 10 different tables. It’s essentially “speed dating” but with pro brewers (or reps) selling you on why their beer is great. I’m not going to go over all 10 beers we got to try, though I will say Cigar City’s “Decoherence” – an imperial stout with coffee and coconut aged in bourbon barrels – was far and away the best of them all (and something of a tease, since it’s not a beer you can buy in stores). JDub’s “Bell Cow” chocolate milk stout was also really nice and was much better than I remember it being when I tried it just a month or so ago.

credit: JJ Taylor Companies, Inc.
credit: JJ Taylor Companies, Inc.

Before we knew it, the evening was approaching which means it was time for the round of three mini beer dinners at three local breweries. Tampa’s own Brew Bus did all the driving and of course poured each of their beers on each leg of the journey. The group I went with wound up at Ulele Brewing first.

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I had never heard of this place until Saturday evening, but I was quite impressed with it. The facility itself is beautiful, and was probably helped by the fact the perfectly landscaped lawn looked great in the golden sunset. We only had two beers paired with three small plates, but it was quite enjoyable.

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Next up was Tampa’s claim to fame: Cigar City Brewing. I’ve been to their restaurant uptown, but this was my first time going to the brewery itself. We got a little behind-the-scenes catered meal and tour. Some people even got to try their world renowned Hunahpu imperial stout. I tried several of their tap-only releases from the tasting room. It seemed like we were only there for a short while, as we all climbed back on the buses en route to the final destination of the night: Coppertail Brewing.

My entry on Hunahpu's Imperial Stout from "The Handbook of Porters & Stouts"
My entry on Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout from “The Handbook of Porters & Stouts”

I love the look of this brewery and pub: built into a very old industrial building, it’s got a vibe and look more commonly associated with something you’d see in New York, Chicago or Philly. There was another nice spread of small gourmet bites, though by this point I was getting so full from eating and drinking for several hours straight that I was starting to hurt.

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When we arrived back at the hotel around 10:30pm I was exhausted. I seemed to be in the minority though. Twitter was full of chatter of #BBC16 attendees trying to organize even more drinking, bottle shares, cigar-smoking, karaoke contests, and other fun activities. Some people can party all night I guess; I can’t.

To be concluded…