Behind the Scenes of the Craft Beer Industry: Experiencing the 2023 BC Craft Brewers Conference

Brewers, vendors and manufacturers attended the BC Craft Beer Conference OCtober 20-21 in New Westminster. Noëlle Philips photo

This past week New Westminster hosted craft beer industry insiders from around the province at this year’s BC Craft Brewers Conference, organized by the BC Craft Brewers Guild. For craft beer fans like myself, it was a couple days of celebrity sightings—who doesn’t want to meet the person who created their favourite brew? But it wasn’t just brewers who were in attendance: vendors and manufacturers in fields relating to brewing were there as well.

Noëlle Phillips photo

Wandering the trade show floor with a complimentary craft beer in hand, I got a glimpse into the decisions that come with being a craft brewer. You don’t just have to make beer and source its ingredients—you also must clear financial and legislative hurdles, pay for equipment, decide on packaging and branding, supply your taproom, and more. I can only imagine the decision fatigue. Next time you’re at a brewery, think about the effort that went into not just brewing, but selecting the glassware, t-shirt designs, labels, tap handles, and more.

A brand identity session led by Hired Guns Creative was a conference highlight. Noëlle Phillips photo

A conference is not just a place for looking and sipping, of course, but for learning. I absorbed as much as I could about new brewing techniques and ingredients, like the new souring blends that can easily create tartness without the use of bacteria, or yeast nutrients that produce dry-hop-style flavours at a fraction of the cost and time. I sniffed different hops and heard about what varieties are grown here in B.C. Sessions about brand identity revealed some of the strategies used by such marketing rockstars as Hired Guns Creative (the brains behind the branding of Driftwood and many other breweries).

Ken Beattie leads a session on government advocacy. Noëlle Phillips photo

Other sessions addressed difficult issues, such as managing burnout and how the brewing industry should engage in government advocacy. Good public policy on producing and selling beer, as well as on responsible drinking practices, is needed. We’re partway there but there’s more work to do, according to speakers Ken Beattie, Director of the BC Craft Brewers Guild, and Christine Comeau, Director of the Canadian Craft Brewers Association.

Safety in the brewing industry was highlighted throughout; a session on how breweries can establish mutual safety with vulnerable neighbours was hosted by Ren Navarro of Beer Diversity Group and Euan Thomson of Raft Brew Labs, and another was devoted to how safe beer spaces can be created. Conference organizers encouraged all participants to use the #NotMe app to report any harassing or unsafe behavior that they might observe during the week.

The Barkerville Brewing team at the BC Beer Conference. Noëlle Phillips photo

The conference ended with a roundtable of brewery owners discussing the present and future of craft beer in B.C. Although they all described their own unique strategies for success as well as the challenges of COVID and the economy, they also all emphasized the value of people in this industry. One memorable moment occurred when they were asked to describe their favourite moment in craft beer and Matt Phillips (of Phillips Brewery) accidentally spilled his beer on stage—the audience loved it! It was a great conclusion to the conference, topped only by an amazing afterparty hosted by Steel & Oak.

In a conversation afterwards, one brewery owner reflected that the conference was a healing, consolidating experience. She said that it provided a sense of hope and a feeling of connection with others experiencing the same challenges she was. It’s a tough world out there for craft brewers, so go out and show your support for them and their hard work—they’ll appreciate the love!

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