July 31, 2013

Top 5 Experiences from the 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference

The 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference
was held at the Boston Park Plaza
Hotel, July 26-28.
I returned home on Monday from the Beer Bloggers Conference and wow -- what a marathon. I first flew to Boston and immediately bussed up north to spent a couple days with my little brother in Bar Harbor, ME. I then linked up with the pre-conference excursion in Portland, ME, before heading back to Boston for the conference itself.

Zephyr Adventures did a fantastic job organizing the whole thing. If you're a blogger who writes about beer, wine, food, or fitness and wellness, I highly recommend you checking out their annual conferences as an opportunity to network with others and elevate your blogging and social media skills.

Rather than give a full play by play, here are my top five experiences from the weekend (in chronological order):

1. Sebago Brewing Co. Beer Pairing Dinner

Part of the optional pre-conference excursion, Sebago Brewing Company hosted a beer dinner in Portland, ME, on Thursday night. Sebago was founded in 1998 and now has four brewpubs and a production facility in the state. Co-founder and brewer Kai Adams led a very well-executed beer pairing dinner. The most unusual pairing was the Hefeweizen Shrimp Shooter, which actually worked pretty well! The lemon flavors of the hefeweizen were a perfect match for the shrimp.

Menu with Frye's Leap IPA

Patersbier with Brie, Apple, and Caramelized Onion Flatbread

Hefeweizen Shrimp Shooter
Missed the photo for the Lobster Roll! The "Citra Saaz Down" was a beer brewed specifically for this events by three New England bloggers.

Bonfire Rye with Stout-Glazed Pork Wing

Having spent the past couple nights camping out
with my little brother, I agree 100%.

2. Beer Lunch and Tour at Portsmouth Brewery

Despite being viciously hungover from the previous night's activities (damn you Allagash Curieux, why are you so delicious?!), the Friday tour of Portsmouth Brewery put me back on my feet. This was a special stop for the pre-conference excursion group as we bussed from Portland, ME, to Boston. We stopped off in Portsmouth, NH, a small, charming New England town of about 20,000 people, have lunch and visit the "original New Hampshire brewpub". Head Brewer Tyler Jones welcomed the group and showed us around.

Now, every brewery is a little different, but this was one of the most unusual brewery configurations I've ever seen. The tight set up reminded me of the brewery at La Rana Dorada in Panama, where the brewer has to practically contort himself to move beer from one vessel to another. We walked in through the cellar past several fermenters. A wrought iron spiral staircase lead up to the mash tun, brew kettle, and hot liquor tank, all original equipment from the 1990s. Tyler mentioned that it only takes one accident on those stairs to learn to navigate them correctly.

But in spite of the odd layout, the beer was fantastic. As a special treat, Tyler pulled out a beer soon to be bottled: Royal Impy Stout. It was somewhat viscous, with mingled flavors of roast coffee, raisins, and chocolate. Impeccably crafted and dangerous at 11% ABV.

In through the cellar...

Up the stairs...

...to the brewhouse!

Tyler pours some Royal Impy Stout.

Royal Impy Stout -- coming soon.

3. Drinking Utopias with Jim Koch

Jim Koch, founder of Sam Adams and Boston Beer Company, graciously opened the doors of the Sam Adams Brewery (which functions as the Sam Adams pilot brewery) Friday evening to the attendees of the Beer Bloggers Conference. Julia Herz of the Brewers Association gave some excellent opening remarks about the craft beer industry, then Jim Koch addressed the crowd. Favorite quote from Jim: "I hate talking to sober people." (He was kidding. I think.)

Jim opened the taps for everyone, shared some excellent recipes made with Sam Adams beer, and debuted the new canned Boston Lager. The real treat, though, came out during the Barrel Room tour. Jim served Utopias, a super high-gravity beer and one of the most expensive beers in the world, to all of the bloggers.

Utopias weighs in at about 27% ABV, or almost 60 proof. It spends years aging in scotch, port, bourbon, and cognac barrels before being blended together in extremely limited quantities. Koch explained that each year, a bottle of Utopias is given to company employees with the remaining bottles retailing for close to $200 a piece.

Sipping Utopias is more like drinking cognac than beer. Utopias is incredibly complex, with concentrated flavors and aromas ranging from toffee and caramel to raisins and dates. Just a drop on the tongue explodes with flavor. That Jim Koch would share this special beer with us says a lot about his character and I am extremely grateful for the experience.

Me and Jim! Thanks Julia Herz for the photo!

4. Live Beer Blogging at Burke Distributing

This was a fun one. Live Beer Blogging was basically speed dating between breweries and bloggers. Each brewery had five minutes to talk about themselves and the beer they were pouring before moving on to the next table of bloggers. Since all the breweries were from the northeast and relatively new on the scene, each one was a new experience.

I used Twitter as my delivery medium; here's the sequence in case you missed it live:

The standout beers for me were the last one, a Berliner Weisse-style sour beer by Night Shift Brewing, aged on strawberries, kiwis, and hibiscus, and the Thomas Hooker Brewery Barrel Aged Saison, brewed with Connecticut hops and aged in Connecticut chardonnay barrels.

5. Alison Krauss at Copley Square

This wasn't part of the conference, but it was awesome nonetheless. On Sunday, Alison Krauss capped off the weekend with a free concert, part of the Boston Summer Arts Weekend concert series. She played with Dan Tyminski and Jeff White. It was an exquisite performance and the perfect way to cap off the weekend!

In conclusion, the Beer Bloggers Conference was a great experience. In addition to all the delicious food and beer, I was able to challenge myself through networking and public speaking (I gave a short presentation on Sunday called Beer Blogging for Peanuts). It was also nice coming home and reinforcing many of the reasons why I love living in Asheville.

So, what do you think? See you at #BBC14?

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