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Craft conference draws over 1100 attendees.

Attendance was strong at this year's Craft Brewer's Conference and trade show, held at the Radisson Hotel in New Orleans, May 8-10. There were over 1100 attendees this year, a jump from last year's 1000.

The Association of Brewers (AOB) put together an impressive technical and seminar program, with speaking dockets headed by some of the leading lights of the small brewing industry.

Paul Gatza, director of the AOB's Institute for Brewing Studies, reported that the U.S. domestic specialty category now comprises 6,319,416 barrels, with just over 3% national share.

Gatza reported that brewpubs had a tough time in 2002, with 35 openings overshadowed by 79 closings. Brewpub barrels were down 2% for the year, he said.

"Anti-alcohol forces may be having an impact," Gatza said, positing that fewer people feel comfortable drinking at pubs with .08 BAC laws spreading nationwide.

The IBS divides packaging craft brewers into two categories--microbreweries, with production under 15,000 barrels per annum, and regional craft brewers, with production above that level.

In 2002, micros declined -1.5%, at least in part because several microbrewers graduated from the under-15,000 barrel club and moved up to the "regional craft brewer" category.

Analyst Robert S. Weinberg of the Office of R.S. Weinberg, observed that he records the performance of the segment differently. "I do not recognize the category of regional craft brewer," he said. "To me, they are all microbrewers, and Ken Grossman is one damn big microbrewer." (a reference to Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.).

The growth in volume for large craft brewing companies like Sierra Nevada and New Belgium pushed up overall craft volume, with domestic specialty growth pegged at +3.4%.

Mr. Gatza said there are now 1409 craft brewers operating in the United States: 996 brewpubs, 364 micros and 49 regional craft brewers.

Keynote speaker Kim Jordan recalled that the seed for today's New Belgium Brewing Co. germinated during a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park back in 1991. "My husband and I were thinking about what our company would be," she recalled, "even though we were just selling 90 cases a week out of our basement."

But Jordan warned the assembled craft brewers that with just 3% national share, craft brewers "can't sustain this model."

Jordan said that stasis for craft brewers is not an option. "Access to market issues will just get worse," she said, "and our small brewer's tax status will be whittled away. We need to attend to the industry so it can thrive."

Jordan said that craft brewers must work together on a mutually-supporting strategy. "We are all part of a single industry," she observed, "and we have a collective brand."

Jordan said crafters must attend to the basics, and work on being "enduring and endearing." She emphasized the importance of product quality, saying that "the quality of our beers are the table stakes that allow us to remain m the game."

(Editor's Note: We will provide full coverage of Kim Jordan 's speech in following issue).

The Craft Brewer's trade show has had its ups and downs over the years. After the boom years of the early 1990s, the event filled large exhibition halls in Boston in 1996 and Seattle in 1997 with hundreds of exhibitors. Metal fabricators rented out multiple booth spaces, erected huge brewhouse arrays, and proceeded to sell them.

The event in Atlanta, in 1998, was held in a space the size of a dirigible hanger, but marked the last year for such conspicuous displays, as shakeout hit the craft brewing sector.

For the last few years, BrewExpo has been more circumscribed, but this year the trade show filled a relatively smaller space to overflowing. The exhibit hall accommodated about 100 exhibitors, with extra booths set up in two lobbies.

Phil Loen of JVNW, one of the biggest domestic fabricators, manned his booth alone, and without a massive display kettle. Loen reported that most of N's beer contracts now involve expansion of existing plants, rather than the myriad start-ups of yore.

Nonetheless, the event is still a must for vendors seeking to reach the U.S. craft brewing market.

"For me, this event is very important," says Rolf Schmidt of BASF. "It's a way for me to reach a large number of microbrewers in one shot. And this year, foot traffic has been very good."
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Title Annotation:Craft Brewer's Conference and Trade Show
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 19, 2003
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