Craft Beer Takes Center Stage at 2015 NBWA Convention & Trade Show
The 78th annual National Beer Wholesalers Association Convention and Trade Show convened at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas Oct. 11-13 and attracted nearly 4,000 industry representatives.
Spokane, Washington’s No-Li Brewhouse was named the National Brewery of the Year by the National Beer Wholesalers Association, an award that recognizes brewers who not only produce great beer, but also build strong partnerships, provide education, offer support to their distributor customers and more.
On the last day, the convention was abuzz with news of AB InBev’s purchase of SABMiller. The scuttlebutt amongst the craft beer reps was that the move would be a motivator to rally beer lovers around their local breweries as the big boys try to shore up their market share losses with actions such as the infamous 2015 Super Bowl ad. In regards to this merger Brewers Association Director Paul Gatza wrote, “The American public continues to respond [to big beer] by sampling more new craft brewed beers and buying more of their favorites. People may see [the merger] as a time to rally around their local brewery. Those societal trends won’t change because of this deal.”
The convention was a chance for distributors to research all that’s available in the world of brewing, while the trade show was a showcase of breweries from all over the world representing nearly every beer style and nearly 300 different exhibitors displayed their wares, with 84 breweries pouring more than 500 different beers.
The most congested spaces on the trade show floor were amongst the tables of the 31 craft breweries represented in the Brewers Association-sponsored Craft Brewers Pavilion, and the rest of the trade show appeared to be dominated by artisanal beer sporting plenty of flavor. No surprise there, as the craft beer industry continues to be the fastest growing segment in the entire US beverage alcohol industry. The evidence is that in 2014 for the first time ever, craft beer accounted for a double digit share of the total beer market with an 11% volume share of the marketplace up from 6% in 2012 and growth of the craft brewing industry in 2014 was 18% by volume and 22% by dollars compared to growth in 2012 of 15% by volume and 17% by dollars. Additionally, as of June 30, 2015, the number of operating breweries in the U.S. was at 3,739, an increase of 699 breweries over the same time period of the previous year.
The lone Nevada brewery represented at the trade show was Tenaya Creek Brewery from Las Vegas, which was pouring its Bonanza Brown Ale, named for the street its new production brewery is located on. This new larger facility will further enable Tenaya Creek to expand its production and sales.
Anchor Brewing’s long wooden serving bar was manned by Bob Brewer, who briefly came out of retirement to assemble the set-up, something he has been doing for quite some time. Anchor was serving a new addition to its line, Anchor Barrel Ale 6.7% ABV, a blend of Anchor ales aged in used Old Potrero whiskey barrels and on their staves which was brewed as a tribute to pioneer brewer, distiller and visionary Fritz Maytag.
Who would have ever expected Guinness to come out with anything other than its iconic stout? But times change and the brewery with over 250 years of brewing experience has re-imagined the traditional IPA style with its Nitro IPA, which is brewed with five hop varieties—Admiral, Celeia, Topaz, Challenger and Cascade—and infused with nitrogen.
One of the more interesting beers I sampled was the Bacon Bomb Rauchbier from the Milwaukee-based Brenner Brewing Company. While a vegan beer, the blend of German beechwood- and Wisconsin cherrywood-smoked malts and fresh black pepper give it a deceptive bacon bite. Also on the wild and crazy side, New Belgium Brewery had Ben & Jerry’s Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale, a collaboration with the ice cream maker with cocoa and vanilla powder in the maturation vessel to retain flavors of a big dessert beer blast. And, Southern Tier, not to be outdone, had its dessert tribute Crème Brûlée Milk Stout, brewed with lactose sugar and vanilla beans.
Full disclosure here, I was drawn to sample beers from Heretic Brewing Company because it’s located in Fairfield, Calif., the birthplace of my wife Lally, but after experiencing the quality of its beers I no longer felt biased. I especially liked the Petit Rouge, a Belgian-style ale steeped with hibiscus flowers that had a slightly tart flavor reminiscent of cranberry and pomegranate.
Artisanal Imports, which can always be counted on to bring interesting and excellent products from around the world, brought Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven’s La Trappe Bockbier from the Netherlands, the world’s only Trappist Bock, which is being imported to the US for the first time. It differs from German Bocks as it is a bit drier, darker, bitter and more roasted and is a bottle conditioned ale, not a lager.
Rince Cochon has long been one of my favorite Belgians and I was happy to find Eurobrew Specialty Beer Importer pouring a fruited version of it—Rince Cochon Red—a 7.5% ABV version of the blond ale made with red fruits: raspberry, strawberry and cherries that is coming to the US for the first time.
Unibroue, Canada’s answer to Belgian styles, brought its new La Resolution, a 10% ABV Strong Dark Ale inspired by a recipe Brewmaster Jerry Vietz concocted for his friends that is spiced with ginger, toffee and caramel with a gingerbread and spicy aroma.
I’ve had many an IPA with grapefruit flavor derived from certain hop strains, but Magic Hat introduced me to its new Electric Peel, which has actual grapefruit peel added, resulting in a quite noticeable bittersweet finish.
Uinta Brewing Company was one of the first breweries to come out with a double IPA, its Detour, which was packaged in corked 750 ml bottles, but it is now available in 12 oz cans. In February, the Salt Lake City-based brewery will release its first Gose, Ready, Set, Gose a tart and salty German beer style; along with a full-time Brettanomyces series beginning with a Brett IPA.
The 4.4% ABV Royal Jamaican Ginger Beer, brewed in Kingston by Big City Brewing with locally grown Jamaican ginger, impressed me with its intense bite, with a burn almost like a pepper beer, and definitely stronger than any ginger beer I’d previously tasted.
This was my ninth time attending the trade show, which has become noticeably dominated by craft beer choices, a trend that has grown exponentially over the past 16 years. If this trade show is any indication, it would appear that more and more distributors are embracing the craft beer segment as it slowly but surely chips away at the pie, securing a larger piece of its share of the beer market.
The NBWA is a major beer biz convention that wisely comes to Vegas every other year and alternates in other cities sans trade show. For more information, visit the NBWA’s website at www.nbwa.org.