Craft beer adventures and experiences… one pint at a time

local 662

“Wow, oh wow!”

That was the anthem resonating about the brews on tap for the inaugural Ale and the Witch’s All Local brewfest Saturday night at Local 662 in downtown St Petersburg.  Specialty collaborations and rare bottles were on hand from many of the 25+ local St Petersburg/Tampa area breweries – some never to be seen again.  Brett Andress, owner of The Ale and The Witch in St Petersburg put together a stellar line-up of brews and entertainment (The Applebutter Express) in an art nouveau space.

As often goes when I’m multi-tasking (coordinating volunteers, taking photos, networking and whatever else,) I don’t remember the specialty one-off brews I sampled.  But, I didn’t taste anything I didn’t like or want more of (which is rare.)

Nonetheless, between the Chocolate Peanut Butter offering from Sea Dog and the Green Bench Oude Bruin and the collaboration between Pair O’ Dice and Green Bench and the Cigar City specialty bottles, I was left with good taste, better times, and happy thoughts.

If you attended, please comment on your favorite brew!

Enjoy the photo montage below and until next time… be safe!

Looking to do something grand and beer-related on a sultry Saturday evening in downtown St Petersburg FL?   Tampa Bay Beer Week (#TBBW) and our supporters definitely did it up in grand style this past weekend!

halfway there logoSaturday, Sept 6, 2014 at the historic St Petersburg Coliseum marked the second annual #TBBW Halfway There Rare Beer Festival.  With the event capping attendance at 1000, we’re making our mark on the Florida beer scene.

It was an incredible event thanks to the #TBBW board and legions of others who donated time, beer, enthusiasm, and planning.

A big thank you to all my VolunBEERs who came out and donated their time, energy and heartbeats to make this an incredible festival for everyone!

VolunBEERs

With Tampa Bay Beer Week slated for Mar 7-15, 2015, we’re Halfway to incredible times ahead…But that’s still 6 months away, and we’re just getting started.

Saturday’s Halfway There fest featured rare and little seen (in these parts anyways) brews – local and international. This fest had over 60 confirmed breweries, 8 local home brew clubs, vendors, volunteers, and paid attendees who sampled, swirled, drank, and enjoyed what is fast becoming an incredible craft beer community in Tampa Bay.

Photo credits go to Tom Scherberger, Tiese Melton, and myself.

With close to 400 pics from the event itself, you can get a sense of the merriment and fun we had.

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While I don’t have pictures from The Ale and The Witch’s pre-party, I do have some from Hops and Props after-party:

Next up is The Ale and The Witch’s Local Fresh Brew Fest THIS WEEKEND (Sept 13, 2014) featuring live music, local brews, and lots of new friends.

See you there or at another upcoming St Pete/ Tampa area brewfest!

p.s., If you’d like to be added to my VolunBEER database (in case you live here OR you’re going to visit FL in the future and might want to volunteer) for future brew events in Florida, send me your name, email address, and cell number. It’s a great way to celebrate that Brews and Florida and Friends go together!

Cheers!

Carol

Picture if you will: 150 craft beer drinkers with a writing problem getting together for a weekend of lectures on brewing history, branding, photography, blogging, and especially beer. Got it?  That’s the essence of the 5th annual #BBC14 (Beer Bloggers Conference 2014) in San Diego, CA.

#BBC14 in a NY minute…

Who blogs about Beer?

Drawing a picture of the typical beer blogger (there are several thousand) isn’t something I can easily do, but I can say that our #BBC14 microcosm would fit in at a tasting room on a Friday night: beer geeks… young to seasoned, novices and pros, industry reps and enthusiasts. And like a typical Friday night, we arrived to sample great brews and at closing time, we really didn’t want to leave.  Through the course of 48+ hours, California and its craft brews stole a piece of my heart.

What’s #BBC about?

#BBC14 was 1/3 beer pilgrimage, 1/3 tasting adventure, 1/3 techniques/blogging… all of it amazing!

We rubbed shoulders with and heard stories from the greats of the craft brewing and blogging industries, visited tasting rooms, and sampled some of the finest brews available (and not) on the market.

From the first sip of Cigar City’s Invasion IPA at the airport in LA on Thursday to the last drops of WA state shared brew on Sunday morning in San Diego, it was a memorable (and to some, exhausting) weekend.  Along the way, I met friends and we shared pints, laughed (a lot) and bonded through our passion for beer. Some of us even registered and made road trip plans for next year’s #BBC15 in Asheville, NC.

For me,  craft beer is all about building a creative, fun-loving, grassroots community that supports the craft brewing industry and loves beer. Finding others who are equally passionate and who are leaders in the industry is simply, at the risk of sounding trite, pure bliss.

As I scribe this post en route from LAX to Tampa, I am grateful to CA brewers, fellow bloggers,  strangers, organizers, and friends whose generosity and hospitality enriched my life.

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THANK YOU

From my hometown breweries in Tampa Bay, I’d like to give a shout out to a few people who gave me swag or beer to share the Florida beer love in San Diego including:

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To so many who donated time, energy, beer, food, hospitality and friendship to make our CA beer experience so incredible, including (a full list of sponsors are listed at beerbloggersconference.org):

2014-08-23 12.36.23Happy and safe imbibing!  Hope to see you at a beer fest in Florida or around the country, and until then… wishing you health and happiness and…

 

P.s. Here’s a few of my colleagues/friend’s blog reports from #BBC14:

THANKS Fcindy and meOR THE MEMORIES!
Carol Dekkers

Carol Dekkers:

Beer blogging around the country is as diverse as the people who pen the blogs. I love this summary by Astrid Cook, the self-appointed Brooklyn Beer Bitch.

Safe travels home Astrid, or was great to hang out with you!

Originally posted on Brooklyn Beer Bitch:

While a lot of participants at the Beer Bloggers Conference typically bail on Sunday morning (owing to too much beer or early transportation taking them out early), one of the more interesting features of the conference is the blogger reports from various writers around the country that wraps the conference every year. It’s a quick (each blogger has five minutes) check-in on the greater beer blogging community, and the reports range from funny to serious, informative to supportive. (Note: The titles are mine, but they sum up each of the seven presentations.)

First up this year, Emily Sauter of CT beer review blog Pints & Panels: Responsible Beer Reviewing

Clip art courtesy Layout Sparks.

Clip art courtesy Layout Sparks .

Like many of the bloggers, Emily posts beer reviews on her site, and she has three basic practices she tries to follow in her beer reviews that she shared with the attendees. These were:

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No, Dorothy, you’re in craft beer heaven – Tampa Bay, Florida!

(And with hurricane and tornado season upon us, it’s going to be a lot more tasty to have hurricane parties with great locals suds!)

Even though it gets “Hotter than Hell(es)” here in the summer,

Tampa Bay is emerging as a craft beer destination with hundreds of festivals, sports, art shows, and entertainment events FEATURING local craft beers!

Let me give you a quick update, Dorothy… and dispel a few stereotypes you might have about Arts and Beers and Crafts – oh my!

Less than six months ago when I published the post “From God’s Waiting Room to God’s Tasting Room – the Brewformation of St  Petersburg,”  there’s been a literal plethora (translation: onslaught!!!) of craft beer inspirations and events on both sides of the bay.

It’s been a crazy six months, and here’s a short list of what’s been happening:

  • Proclamations from both St Petersburg and Tampa City Councils recognizing Tampa Bay Beer Week;
  • Both the Lightning hockey arena in Tampa and Rays baseball stadium in St Petersburg now feature an array of local craft beers on tap;
  • Localtopia (Keep St Petersburg Local huge downtown community festival), 5 Events for 5 Years – Celebration of I love the Burg,
  • Forbes travel guide featured months ago The Beer Project by the Museum of Fine Arts,
  • local craft beer on tap, new brewpubs and brewery openings, and wonderful new tap houses and restaurants and beach bars featuring local craft brews,
  • The Beer Project by the St Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts – a home brewing competition, public tasting, professional beer launches, and beer “crafts” featuring an author and crafts-person from Seattle, WA,
  • More and more national attention on the emerging Florida brewing scene.

In the coming weeks, additional art and beer events are scheduled – some include marketplaces for purchasing beer-inspired products; while others feature rare brews (the TBBW Halfway There Rare Beer Festival on Sept 6, and the Ale & the Witch’s Rare Beer and Music Festival on Sept 13) or a music slant.  We keep expanding and growing in the Tampa Bay area – we’re becoming a beer tourism mecca – just don’t tell the FL senate (they would never believe you!)

Happy and safe imbibing!

Carol

Growing up in Canada (where the drinking age remains 18-19) gave me the opportunity to experience fine Canadian craft beer before the term was even coined (it was always called “Microbrewery beer” way back then!)  Calgary’s Big Rock Brewing is over 30 years old, and continues to expand with their signature “TRAD ALE” still holding court among craft beer aficionados.  Getting my tongue wet by craft brews at such a young age might forge one into a beer snob, but I attest that even back then, craft beer was all about spreading beer love (and friendship) – one pint at a time!

Craft beer today is a culture, a grass-roots movement that spreads good taste, passion, and beer love across the globe.  Its fuel is creativity, passion, recipes, innovation, collaboration, good taste and the pursuit of the perfect pint (either 16 or 20 oz) – and supported by a growing community of positive people. 

.facebook_-149164741From my experience… When craft beer people get together (anywhere I’ve been in the world!)  boundaries, politics and negative talk simply melt (or are imbibed) away!

My 2014 Summer of (Craft Beer) Love… Dublin, Edinburgh, Toronto, Las Vegas, Calgary

For me, craft beer is a community of new friendships and tasting adventures that further my passion for fine beverage sensations worldwide.

With this in mind, I planned, for the first time in years, a true vacation (no work!) – and in 23 days I visited craft breweries and pubs in 4 countries:  Ireland, Scotland, the U.S., and Canada.

The centerpiece (and the main event of my trip) was the European Beer Bloggers Conference (#EBBC14) in Dublin Ireland June 25-26, 2014 – which I will get to shortly – but the overall four country adventure had many, many highlights:

  • PROMOTING FLORIDA BREWERIES: Introducing foreigners (strangers who become friends!) to Florida craft breweries and brews.  I took 50 koozies (thank you Six Ten Brewing) and 2 bombers of St Somewhere’s Lectio Divino Belgian brew (thank you Bob Sylvester!) with me to Dublin – the thank yous and accolades from #EBBC14 attendees were well worth the added weight!  I took advantage of a few photo ops (below.)
  • COLLABORATION BREWING OPS:  Meeting and proposing collaborations with brewers outside of Florida, and sharing creative marketing ideas I’ve discovered in my travels. Craft beer is (IMHO) an international wave that unites people with great taste and community – and collaboration brewing (brewing beer with multiple brewers and dispensing it where it’s brewed) gets the marketing message out without having to worry about import/export and distribution.  I’ve met many brewers who are waiting to connect to Florida brewers (ready to travel?) and who might come over for Tampa Bay Beer Week (Mar 7-15, 2015!)
  • CRAFT BEER LOVE: Spreading the “craft beer love” on planes, trains and automobiles (actually with people in the breweries and pubs I frequent – not in my car because it’s a 2 seater… just saying);
  • STORY TELLING: Sharing craft brew stories (the brewers, the creativity, the tastes, the  places, the challenges, and especially the positive, optimistic people behind the brews) with like-minded travelers;
  • BEER TOURISM: Spreading the word about Tampa Bay Beer Week (Mar 7-15, 2015!) to everyone I meet and raising excitement (and anticipation) of a stellar week of craft beer experiences (guarantee to be frost-free) – with so many activities here in the Tampa/St Petersburg/Clearwater area (Florida);
  • TASTES AND TRENDSDiscovering the similarities and differences with the craft brewing industry on both sides of the pond (see previous post); and mostly…
  • FRIENDSHIPS: Making new friends from all over who are as passionate as I am about craft beer (and who also, like me, don’t yet have day jobs in the industry.)
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Here’s a run down of my trip… country by country… hope you enjoy it as much as I did!  (Yes, next time I might need a bottle carrier – send me a note if you’d like to join in!)

Stop #1 – #EBBC14, Dublin, Ireland

I had a great time from the minute I joined in on the pre-conference Thursday night podcasts (3 of them) convened by Google Hangouts expert Ian Bergin (11 pm somewhere), together with Wayne Dunne (Irish Beer Snob,) Eric and Flo (#brewsweplate) and a few others who drifted in for part of the broadcasts.  We met up at Brew Dock where I also met Dorthe Woltermann (Dublin Ladies Craft Beer Society), Rachel Colgan (BrewDock Dublin) and others who were so friendly, they convinced me I was definitely in the right place at the right time!

11 oclock somewhere podcast

Two further installments of the podcast are available at 11pmsomewhere.com (thank you Ian Bergin!)

After an informal pub crawl through some of the best craft beer haunts in Dublin (thank you to Reuben Gray: Tale of the Ale for organizing,) the European Beer Bloggers Conference (#EBBC14) began on Friday and ran through late Saturday night.

By the time we finished on Saturday night, beer bloggers were rife with knowledge from lectures, lunches/dinners, excursions, Guinness, Pilsner Urqell, Irish craft beer, tastings of craft beer from abroad and legions of new friends. (The invitation to visit Florida is sincere – don’t forget to follow-up with me when the cold weather looms in your area!)

(Thank you to Allan and Cindy of Zephyr Adventures and the many sponsors, brewers, speakers, distributor reps, and others who made the weekend so memorable.)

 

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Stop #2: Scotland – Edinburgh, Sterling, Skye, Perth

The highlight of my Scottish stop (1 week) was the beer and the 700th anniversary (and re-enactment) of the Bannockburn battle (focus of the movie Braveheart!)

The cask beers I sampled at every city and the bottled beers I tried were all excellent (save for one that was mediocre on the train!) – here’s my photo gallery.

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Stop #3:  Toronto, Canada en route to Las Vegas, Nevada

The third stop was actually more of a drive-by (a 10 hour stopover in Toronto)  but there was still enough time to sample brews at a couple of craft beer bars.  My friend Ralph Robinson, of Barrie Ontario (home of Barnstormer Brewing which I’ll feature in an upcoming post) met me and was my tour guide.  Did you know that there are more than 25 craft breweries within the Toronto Metropolitan area alone?

We enjoyed two stops over lunch and dinner and met some delightful Torontonians (who were of course non-natives), great brews (I’ve been searching for Caffrey’s Irish Ale on tap for several years!) – and a world cup broadcast (Netherlands and I can’t remember….)

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Stop #4:  Las Vegas, Nevada

This stop was a 4 day whirlwind (late July 4 – July 8) mostly to unwind and relax poolside (Planet Hollywood) with my Florida friend Dawn (whose family lives there!)

Of course, I was compelled to check out Sin City Brewing Company (great craft brews with two tasting rooms right on the strip) – where I hung out one evening and then met the brewer/owner Rich Johnson the next day.  Nice to know that even in Sin City you can find good Double IPA’s on tap!

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Stop #5:  Calgary, Canada – Stampede Week, Family and more Craft Brew Love…

I love that Big Rock Brewery always has innovative beers of the season (they are expanding now into British Columbia and are the oldest truly “craft” brewer in Canada) – including last years Rosmarinus Ale (with Rosemary!) plus an array of ever-expanding craft brewers.

I found myself drooling (again) as I browsed the shelves at Calgary liquor stores (privatized and no longer government-run!) and picked up several limited edition brews.  Highlights included Stampede week (the 10 day “festival” with ample beer flowing, wannabe cowboys everywhere, and entertainment – front row standing watching Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20!) – and a visit to Canmore (in the Rocky Mountains) Grizzly Paw Brewing Company.  (Coincidentally, the bartender Megan there knew my friend Ralph from Toronto and the brewmaster at Barnstormer Brewing in Barrie Ontario – small, small world!)

It’s great to visit family and be able to spread craft beer love north of the border too!

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Home again… Until August and #BBC14, San Diego

3 days, 4 countries, weight gain, fabulous memories, and so much craft beer adventure.  The next excursion is San Diego in late August (2.5 more weeks!) to the Beer Bloggers Conference where it will be a homecoming of sorts with U.S. based peeps.

Meanwhile, sunsets and suds prevail…  I love my life – and I love craft beer!  Thanks for reading!

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Have an awesome week and be safe!

Cheers!

Carol

It’s hard to believe it’s been a full 3 weeks since I had the privilege and the luxury of attending the 4th Annual European Beer Bloggers Conference (#EBBC14) in Dublin Ireland, arranged by Zephyr Adventures (June 25-26, 2014.) While I more regularly attend the Beer Bloggers Conference in the U.S., this was my first venture to the European conference.

Other attendees already provided great recap blog posts about the events and breweries featured at the conference (see the Facebook Beer Bloggers Conference Alumni page and the listing at the end of this post.)

So as not to repeat my colleagues, I decided to focus on similarities and differences based on observations (and drinking experience) across the pond.

Thank you to Guiness, Molson/Coors, Pilsner Urquell and the many other sponsors, brewery owners, the Church Restaurant and Bars (our host venue), and everyone who made the #EBBC14 experience one to remember.  (Watch for more photos in the next blog post here!)

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Why I blog…

For me, the passion about beer comes from the people, the tastes, the stories and the community created by beer, and increasingly so, craft (or in the old school vernacular, “microbrew”) beer.

There certainly was no lack of passion at this year’s EBBC. Beer bloggers in attendance (around 70 or so) hailed from varied backgrounds, which is similar to those who attend in the U.S.  Beer bloggers (and craft brewers!) seem to attract a preponderance of technical professionals (IT and engineering) mixed with banking/business and beer industry representative.  We all have one thing in common – we share a passion for beer, which may be THE world’s oldest drinks.

Beer is a source of Cultural Pride no Matter How Old the Country…

As I am reminded every time I visit Europe, 100 years is recent history. Our conference venue, The Church in the heart of Dublin was hundreds of years old and hosted the wedding of Arthur Guinness (the patriarch of the Guinness Brewery) among others.

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Today, the structure is home to The Church bars and nightclub – an inventive recycling of a historic site and not a tear down/rebuild so common in the U.S.

I could sense bygone pomp and pageantry accompanied by reverberating organ chimes when I sat down at the bar the day before the conference began. It might seem to some to be bit irreverent to my religious upbringing, but I see it as a celebration of freedom and homage to the human spirit to imbibe a pint where the walls eek of stories and the full range of human emotion.

And, this weekend was one of celebration and coming together to feed our passions about beer.

Beer Opportunities (and Challenges) on Both sides of the Pond

The weekend posed a few good surprises and learnings compared to what I’ve experienced with craft beer, conferences, drinking habits and the craft brewing industry compared to the U.S.:

Concept Topic Europe (Ireland, other) – EBBC
U.S.  – BBC Observation/comments
Gender Bloggers and craft beer drinkers 10% female at EBBC   conference 1/3 female at BBC conference Not sure if this is a general trend based on consumers. In the U.S., I’ve observed an almost even split (40% female, 60 male) of craft beer drinkers at festivals and brewpubs. Based on bartender response, men are still the majority of craft beer consumers in the UK and Ireland.
Serving   preference Cask vs Keg for Craft Beer Keg dominates in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe except for the UK (due to the Campaign for Real Ale – CAMRA) Keg dominates – cask is a rare specialty. Cask is a rare specialty in the U.S., less so in Europe. Brewpubs/tasting rooms and bars in the U.S. may feature a single cask beer if any, and craft beer lovers will remark about the specialty beers on cask.
Beer temperature Beer temperature    and servings Temperatures ranged from room temperature to chilled.   No clear difference in professed temperature preference between various European countries. Pilsner Urquell catered to ensuring beer was colder by using ice chilled glassware The U.S. market prefers cold beer and will discard ½ pints that grow warm in the glass.  Koozies are popular (especially in southern states) Koozies are not common in Europe.   I handed them out to attendees from a local Tampa brewery (Six Ten Brewing) thinking they would be popular (they are in the US to keep beer cans/bottles/pint glasses cool.). A few attendees had never seen a koozie (more than one) and others said they’d only use it in the two weeks of summer. Warm beer doesn’t seem to raise an eyebrow here.
Innovation Emerging styles and flavors    – ABV Lager still appears to prevail over ales, but increasingly IPA’s, Oatmeal Stouts, and Saisons are becoming mainstream offerings of Irish craft brewers. ABV range typically from 3.8% to 7% Styles are all over  the map with ales leading the charge and sour beers, double IPAs and imperial stouts on the rise. ABV range typically 5% to 11% A reason for lower ABV could be taxes (one London brewer noted that brewery taxes increase per liter for every ABV above 5%.) This wasn’t the case in Ireland, but ABVs were typically less than 6%.Style variations are emerging on both sides of the pond.
Post-production Using Randalls (Hopinators) to instantly infuse kegged beer On the rise – positive response from beer bloggers On the rise – positive response from beer bloggers I’ve seen this in Florida, London, and Dublin, with different hops or fruit in the randall. In Germany (and in isolated instances in the U.S.) I’ve also seen syrups (especially fruity ones) added to beer
Cross pond  interest Interest in global beer market Lots of interest in U.S. craft beers (aka microbrews) – specialty brews (such as Dark Lord and Imperial Stouts) were common both sides of the pond Introspective except for Belgium brews. Not much knowledge (or interest) outside the US craft brewers (which given 2900+ brewers in the US might account for some of the attention) Craft beer lovers seem to be the same on both sides of the pond – fueled by the pursuit of great creative tastes and experiences. In the U.S., there isn’t too much known about the craft industry (in general) in Europe aside from Belgium. The U.S. seems to be looked at as the current leaders in the craft brewing industry.
Fresh beer to go Take out draft beer (growlers) Not yet too popular in Ireland. I rarely saw growlers for sale in bars. In the UK, I’ve seen a range (still not prevalent) of take away containers ranging from disposable plastic milk-containers to stainless steel growlers for beer Popular at craft beer bars nationwide but legislation limits the sale and distribution by state (including size of growler, who/where they can be filled, and if they are allowed at all) “Pub culture” is more prevalent in the UK and Ireland than in the US. Pubs are filled with suits stopping by for a pint after work (en route home.) Dublin is home to close to 10K pubs/bars.In the US market, many people stop off for “Happy hours” where draught beer may be discounted (5-7 pm typically), but not to the same extent.  Growlers seem to be a way of extending the U.S. social experience to home.

 

These were just a few observations…

and having not been to every country in Europe or every state in the U.S. to verify my observations, I leave it up to you to correct/challenge/add your comments. In the words of U.S. entertainer Dennis Miller “This is just my opinion and I could be wrong…”

Additional posts from #EBBC14 attendees: (partial listing)

It was a cultural and friendship growing experience to meet so many great beer bloggers and new friends at #EBBC14, and I hope we continue to stay in touch.

Your comments are welcome – I’d love to hear from other attendees (and the general craft beer community) about what you think!

Happy and safe imbibing!

Carol

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