Craft beer adventures and experiences… one pint at a time

Archive for July, 2014

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

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

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Similar and Different – Beer is Blog-worthy Both sides of the Pond

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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