Friday, November 14, 2014

i-BEST | Iowa Brewers Education Seminar & Tippling

Howdy folks! Greg here. Last weekend we had the pleasure of attending the first annual Iowa Brewers Education Seminar & Tippling (i-BEST). We were kindly invited as blogger guests by J. Wilson, Beer Drinker of the Year in 2012 and author of Iowa Pints: A Guide to Iowa Breweries. The event was held at one of our favorite haunts: Lion Bridge Brewing Company in Cedar Rapids. One of the most fun parts was that it was held in the actual brewing area. Quinton has all of his shiny equipment behind glass windows for everyone in the brewery to see, but it is nice to actually get a close look at the equipment.

My favorite part was definitely the Lab 101 session.  Here, Cory from Granite City went over how to set up a lab. I’m not talking your home science experiment lab, but a legit lab jacket, microscope, and other fancy equipment I have no idea what is lab. He explained that one of the bigger issues in the craft beer market today is the lack of quality control. Most of the quality control can be done through keeping clean equipment and proper brewing. 

What happens if an issue occurs? That is where a lab will make all the difference. It can be instrumental in narrowing down what nasties are getting into your beer and how. Of course all the big guys have one. When we visited Stone Brewing Co., they had a few. All the big beer companies have at least lab at each brewing facility. Why don’t the smaller craft breweries have labs? They can be expensive. The guys that are brewing on a two barrel system are going to have a hard time justifying spending that much money.  

After Cory presented, Matt from Backpocket Brewing gave a presentation as well. His was a bit different. He showed a lot of the not-so-technical or expensive ways to do quality control. Cory did a great job of showing what a brewery should do. Matt did a great job showing what a brewery on a limited budget can do. 

One of the best parts about this event was being in the room with (and sitting next to) all of the brewers we respect, whose breweries we frequent and beers we enjoy. After his presentation, I was able to chat with Matt and several other of the other brewers. We also were nearby the Keg Creek guys. (Keg Creek is the brewery that gave me my first taste of a great saison.) I ended up telling him about how I won a homebrewing competition partly because trying his beer got me interested in that beer style. (We really need to get out to the other side of the state to hit Keg Creek up some time.) We also sat near the New American guys – really cool dudes and I’d love to visit their brewery. Definitely a stop on our next Des Moines area trip.

The next session was the Distributors' Panel, represented by 7G, Fleck, and Founders. Man! That was some interesting and intense conversation. Some of the convo put the panel in the hot seat, some of it was other brewers defending distributors as great partners. Understandably, it is very difficult to hand over your product to a 3rd party and wholeheartedly trust them to market it and get it out there while they have other breweries in their portfolio. I’ve dealt with distributors back in my days as an assistant manager at Hy-Vee. I’ve always seen what it’s like from the distributor’s side, but it was interesting to see it from the other point of view.

The last session we attended was a Spiegelau Glassware Demonstration. The beer flowed and the glasses clinked. In this demo we were given different glasses to compare to normal pint glasses. The beer was definitely better in the Spiegelau glass. The presenter said they are made from special sand that has more iron oxide than normal glass. Was the beer better because of the glass? I think the better look, smell, and taste is owed to the glass shape. These high quality glasses are fantastic though. The Spiegelau demonstration was interesting and entertaining – and we got to take home a box, which was awesome!

Regrettably, we had to head out before the Iowa Brewers Guild meeting and social hour. But we really enjoyed ourselves, enjoyed the seminars, and enjoyed meeting and chatting with all the good guys and gals making the Iowa beer we love. 

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