Homebrew Con 2018 Review
Homebrew Con this year was in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, so I was stoked to be able to hop on the train and check out all the festivities. For those of you that haven’t attended Homebrew Con, or any other similar beer conference, I want to give some insights on what it is like to attend and review some of the seminars that I was able to check out.
Some advice on attending a beer conference.
Besides attending a couple of events for CBC a few years ago, this was my full conference experience. My first day was spent getting my bearings and getting into the groove of this conference. Homebrew Con did a really great job with organization, so they made this pretty easy! Definitely get to the conference early so you can learn the layout of not only the exhibit floor, but also where all of the seminars are located. Some of the seminars you will want to attend will be back-to-back, so knowing where to go next can help relieve some of the stress and hustle.
If you are attending a conference away from home, then you will obviously need a place to stay. I always love doing something like AirBnb because of the experience you get renting a home in a city. I currently live on the opposite side of town from where the conference center was, so I learned how important it is to be close to the event center. Look for a place to stay that is as close to the event center as possible! You will want to take breaks from the conference, so being able to hop to your place quickly is key. If you have to taxi 20 minutes away to your spot, that will make taking breaks back to your place much more of an ideal.
Planning for food and eating breaks is huge! It’s really easy to get swept up in everything going on and not take time for yourself to eat. Homebrew Con had food available at the event center, but being that I am vegan made it a bit more of a challenge. On the last day I went I brought my own food, which worked great because I was able to take a super quick lunch break and kept on rockin the conference. You will likely want to explore the city as well, so planning some times and places to break away from the conference is a good idea.
A big “no duh” is the fact that there will be a lot of beer! Homebrew Con was fun to cruise around and check out all the unique beers being poured. By the second day, I definitely knew the spots that I wanted to go back for refills. You may, or may not, want to pace yourself (I will leave that up to you, your an adult). There are lots of seminars going on during the day, and no doubt some awesome stuff to check out night, so plan your drinking accordingly!
HomebrewCon seminar reviews.
My specialty is branding and design for beer, and not as much homebrewing. There were plenty of seminars that peaked my interest, and it was fun to be able to attend these seminars with the view of how these topics relate to marketing and branding.
Crash Course in the Business of Brewing
This session had panel speakers from Sam Adams and was mostly a Q&A that allowed the audience to get insights on going pro and running their brewery business. This format was nice because it allowed the audience to get what they wanted out of it. Here are some key highlights that I took away.
Brewing the American Dream – Sam Adams has a program that helps entrepreneurs get their business started. No doubt, if you are going to start a brewery, funding is a huge deal. Any resource you can look into is worth checking out. On the Sam Adams website, they have a link to their Brewing the American Dream program.
Getting your brand started early – one great bit of advice from the panel was to get your brand established early during the planning of your new brewery. As soon as you know your brewery name, lock down your website URL and all of your social media handles. You will want to start promoting your new brewery and start building buzz early, so having all of these ready to go will be a great launching pad.
Planning for other sources of revenue – If you are going to have a public taproom, which I think is a no brainer, plan to get sources of revenue from take-home beer and merchandise. Selling packaged beers out of your taproom is a great way to up-sell and allow folks to share your beer with others. Merchandise is a big one for breweries, so plan early to design and have merch ready to sell!
(Mis-) Adventures of Online Retail in the Age of Amazon
This particular seminar was geared towards homebrew shop owners and running e-commerce sales for their shops. Even though this didn’t directly relate to me, I was able to take away some thoughts geared towards running your brewery.
The core idea of this presentation was having multi-channel sources of revenue. For example, a homebrew shop could have online sales funneling in from Amazon, Ebay, and their website stores. There are a number of good reasons to do this, more visibility, search engine results, and a big one is that if your website goes down you still have other channels up and running.
I related this to running a brewery in that you should always look at other channels for your online presence and also for selling your beer or merchandise. You never know what channel or platform someone will discover your brewery on, so make sure that your presence on all of them is well maintained! If your brewery website goes down, you will want to make sure that your social media pages, Yelp, and Google business profiles have all of the essential information for people to find.
When selling on Amazon or Ebay, having a really good product description is big for making the sale. This no doubt relates to selling your beer! Whether on your website, or on your packaging, have clear and enticing beer descriptions will help make that sale.
Reviews also play a huge role in making the sale in the online world. This will no doubt have the same roll when it comes to people either wanting to try your beers, or visit your brewery. On platforms like Yelp or Google, it is vital that you pay attention to reviews and try your best to address bad reviews. Be professional, don’t get pissed and write a scathing response to these bad reviews. That’s only going to make you look like an asshole. Try to do address their issue and make the situation better. That bad reviewer might be willing to update their review to a better rating.
Ebay has an option to allow store owners to collect customer emails during a purchase. I’m a huge advocate of using email marketing, especially in the chaotic world of social media. This got me to think about how breweries should look for any opportunity to collect customer emails for their lists. At your taproom, look for ways you can entice visitors to subscribe to your email updates. One cool way to do this is using your wifi to collect emails. You might have noticed, if you connect to the wifi in an airport, you first have to pass through a gateway of sorts before you can connect. You can also do this with your public WiFi at your brewery! One someone in your taproom wants to connect to WiFi, they can be presented with a splash page gateway that kindly asks them to subscribe to your email updates. There are some custom ways you can create this setup yourself on your router, but Yelp has this service available as well, called Yelp WiFi.
Session Beers: Brewing for Flavor and Balance
Jennifer Talley provided a great history behind session beers. Her insight and knowledge in session beers is amazing, but that’s because she wrote a book with the same name of this talk.
Session beers have had a good rise in popularity, and some breweries focused their brand on specifically brewing session beers. While the big and heavy ABV beers still have their place and time, session beers provide the opportunity to have a couple of beers and not get knocked back too hard. The name makes sense, because a session has a number of meanings historically. Session used to be the term for a time when everyone would sit down for some drinks, or was also used as a term for a round of drinks.
There’s a lot of history that was really fascinating, but I suggest you pick up Jennifer’s book if you want to learn more. My big takeaway, in today’s beer market, you are seeing a rise in older styles of beers. For instance, Saison can often be considered a session beer. Belgian styles and German styles like berliner weisse, vienna, helles, or pilsner are traditionally lower ABV and can be considered session beers. Many breweries are exploring this landscape, and offering these styles as a break away from the IPAs and heavy ales.
When it comes to the world of art, and this also relates to other things like the art of brewing, Jennifer pulled out this great quote from Mark Twain that I thought was worth sharing.
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages” – Mark Twain
Hyperlocal: Bringing the Pub Back to the Neighborhood
The last seminar I attended was about brewing small. This presentation was from Jason Romano. Jason is the owner and brewmaster of Lake Anne Brew House, a nanobrewery in Reston, Va.
The core idea of Jason’s nano brewery is how to utilize space, make the best beer possible in that space, create community, and make profit!
You have to make money to run your brewery, and you no doubt should be looking at how you sell your beer to make profit. As we have seen the boom in breweries owning multiple taprooms beside their main production facility, making more profit by selling your beers direct to consumer makes a lot of sense. Going through distribution adds a number of layers to your business, and one is definitely not making as much profit from the beer you sell!
Definitely do a lot of planning and try to grow smart. There is definitely an appeal to being the big kid on the block, but running a large brewery can create a large number of complications to running your business. When Jason broke down the profits he is able to make on his small 4 barrel system selling direct to consumer, he was able to make the same amount of profit as a 20-30 barrel brewery that was selling through distribution.
It makes sense to decide what kind of business you want to build with your brewery. Do you want to have a large facility and manage a large team? I can definitely see the appeal of keeping things easier by running a small, but impactful, brewery. Running small means that you can really focus on your craft, making great beer, enjoy doing it, and having a deeper connection with the community drinking your beer!