Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Monument To Craft Beer: A Profile Of Craft Beer Cellar DC

As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, Craft Beer Cellar is a strong and growing franchise. The brand they’ve created is one that consumers have come to associate with a positive beer buying experience. Though, even with such a great brand, every store is different. Each Craft Beer Cellar looks similar, but still has its own vibe and atmosphere. This may be because of a unique layout or special decorations, but mostly it comes from the people that own and run the store. The staff beer geeks create a customer experience that goes above and beyond what consumers have come to expect when buying beer, and every store is an opportunity to enjoy the Craft Beer Cellar experience like it’s the first time.

One of the latest additions to the Craft Beer Cellar family has been open for a month today, and it’s been pretty monumental. I say that not just because it shattered the Grand Opening sales record for the franchise when it opened its doors on August 6th, but because it opened in none other than Washington, D.C. Located a couple of miles away from the White House and less than a mile away from where Congress passes our country’s laws, I reached out to store owner Erika Goedrich to ask her some questions about how this important store fits within the Craft Beer Cellar franchise.

What made you want to open a Craft Beer Cellar store?

Erika: I’ve been kicking around the craft beer world for almost 20 years, mostly as a hobby, though I did work at Old Dominion Brewpub in Ashburn, VA (prior to it being bought) and started a craft beer rating and recommendation website with a friend (before untappd was cool). I am super passionate about craft beer, not just for the beer, but the history, and entrepreneurship, the people, creativity and ingenuity, the individuality yet the community. For a long time, I thought about opening a craft beer bar, but the food side was never of much interest to me, and it seemed a bit more than I could handle.

A mutual friend introduced me to Kate and Suzanne at SAVOR before they opened the Belmont store. I met them again at another mutual friend’s wedding as they were beginning to franchise. I started to pay closer attention and visited the Belmont store when in Boston. I was amazed because we didn’t have anything like CBC in the DC area that I was aware of. DC area breweries and bars were stepping up their game, but the retail side was lacking…too often I found beers on the shelf that were out of date, the hospitality and knowledge weren’t there.

I knew I wanted to own my own business, just not sure what. And then one night I was at a bar and a customer must have been wanting wine but didn’t like anything from the small wine selection, so the bartender gave her a sample of something. The customer thought it was really good and asked what it was. The bartender’s response was, “it’s beer.” I had to stop myself from banging my head on the table. The poor customer never found out she was drinking a framboise; would never be able to ask for it again. And so I decided that I wanted to open a craft beer store, and follow a model where great beer selection, hospitality and education are at the forefront.

What would you say is special about your Craft Beer Cellar location?

Erika: Beer, particularly craft beer, brings people together. And it’s not just about the beer, but about the people and experiences and memories built while drinking beer. I’ve decorated the store with pictures of people doing different activities while enjoying beer. I want people, whether they consider themselves to be craft beer aficionados or craft beer novices, to feel welcome, like they are entering a friend’s house. We want to teach as well as learn – certainly we don’t know everything. We want to explore more of the craft beer world alongside our customers and industry partners. We want to foster a community around craft beer.

Since you are familiar with CBC, the fact that the entire store is available for mix-and-match won’t shock you. But it’s a novel concept in DC; “revolutionary” is what one customer called it. We changed the law in DC. I appreciate that the ABRA Board was willing to review our request and ruled in our favor, as it’s the consumer who wins because of this. They get to experiment and try various beers and breweries without having to commit to 4 or 6 of something they may not like.

What is the craft beer community like in DC?

Erika: It’s welcoming and supportive. Opening a business in DC is not easy, and everyone (from people in the industry to people in the neighborhood) have been helpful, friendly, patient and all-around wonderful to work with.

It’s evolving. DC Brau, DC’s first package brewery, just celebrated its five-year anniversary earlier this year, so we’re all still very young and learning. No one has all the answers. We (CBC DC) certainly don’t. But everyone is hungry to learn and to push and support everyone to be better. That includes consumers, who have embraced the mix-and-match, and are asking about tastings and other educational events, because they want to learn and explore.

What is one thing you think everyone should know about Craft Beer Cellar?

Erika: We’re passionate about craft beer and we want to share that passion with others. We’ve been both applauded and criticized for putting a per-person limit on rare beers that we’ve had. Our goal here is just to make these beers accessible and available to as many people as possible and be fair in the process.

DC has what’s known as “gray laws”, where if a distributor does not have a beer available or in the quantity needed, you can go out and get it yourself and pay an import fee. It’s why you will find beers not distributed here on some shelves and taps. Customers have asked us to get some of these rare beers this way. As we get our feet more solidly under us, we will be reaching out to various breweries. But we will use this only with the brewery’s knowledge and permission. And we will continue to be fair in our pricing of these beers.

What are some of the craft beers on your shelves now that you'd recommend?

Erika: We’d be here all day. And it all just depends on what the customer is looking for or what I’m in the mood for. I’d recommend that people continue to take advantage of our mix-and-match and explore different beers and different styles. Try multiple beers from the same brewery. Try multiple beers within a style. I’d even recommend going back to a beer you had years ago, and may have loved or even hated. Our palates evolve and change over time, as do breweries. So your opinion of the beer may change, or you may fall in love all over again.

You can tell from Erika’s answers that she is truly passionate and knowledgeable about craft beer. I would certainly describe Craft Beer Cellar as a revolutionary franchise, and I know that whenever I am in DC I will be stopping into her store. So next time you’re exploring the monuments in our nation’s capital, make sure to visit the store stocked with some of our nation’s finest beers. It is your patriotic duty. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Craft Beer Cellar: The World's Best Beers, Coming To A Shelf Near You

Back in 2014, I wrote an article about how Craft Beer Cellar was changing the world, one craft beer at a time. At that time there were a total of 13 Craft Beer Cellar stores open across the country. Now there are 26, including one in our nation’s capital. The CBC franchise continues to grow, with many more stores in planning. As I said years ago, things just keep getting better with each new store that opens. It’s no wonder that Craft Beer Cellar was recently named one of the 50 Best Beer Stores in America by Men’s Journal and the best beer store in Massachusetts!
When I interviewed Suzanne Schalow, one of the owners of the Craft Beer Cellar franchise (and a #MasterCiceroneInTraning), back in 2014 she told me that each year they come up with a word to represent the year ahead. In 2014, it was “maturity,” in that with their rate of expansion they had to be mature enough to realize they couldn’t do everything. In 2015, the word of the year was “honesty.” Effective on January 1st, 2015, Craft Beer Cellar chose to no longer exclude beers based on ownership as it had in the past. There is an honesty in letting beer speak for itself, and it was an honest move by Craft Beer Cellar to focus on the quality of the beer it sells rather than who makes it. For 2016, the word to sum up the year for Craft Beer Cellar is “change.” Last year, owners Suzanne and Kate sold part of their franchise and brand store to longtime friends, Joseph Yarid & Marla Yarid-De La Cruz. They brought on others to help them with managing the daily operations of their rapidly growing franchise. This has undoubtedly changed things for the better and made the Craft Beer Cellar family stronger as a whole.
Considering how far Craft Beer Cellar has come, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on their success and to get a fresh perspective from some of the newer stores. To do so, I reached out to a couple of the new kids on the block: CBC Fenway and CBC Fort Point.
Craft Beer Cellar Fenway opened on April 2nd of this year. I live in the Fenway neighborhood and work right across the street from the store, so a Craft Beer Cellar opening nearby was a dream come true for me. I’ve been a loyal customer of whichever Craft Beer Cellar store was closest to me since I bought my first beer from them. It was the business model that attracted me. It’s all about choice at Craft Beer Cellar, and the amazing staff help you to make the best and most educated choices when it comes to beer.
It’s no different at the Fenway store. Owned and operated by Phil DiCarlo and Jana Wolfova, the store is located just a block or two away from the historic Fenway Park in Boston. I first met Phil and Jana before the store had even opened, when they invited me in to see how they were getting ready. Since their Grand Opening they’ve been just as inviting, greeting those who enter the store with a smile. I often stop by after work just to say hello or attend a tasting. Each time they or the beer geeks on staff have made me feel more than welcome. It is truly my favorite place to buy beer.
I reached out to Phil, who shared the story of how he became interested in opening his own Craft Beer Cellar store. “A few friends and I were at The Armsby Abbey sending off a friend to go west and work for Rogue.  Over drinks, one friend mentioned the newly opened CBC in Newton.  Having never been to Belmont, this was the first I had heard of CBC.” CBC Newton was also the first Craft Beer Cellar that I had shopped at and the one that turned me into a dedicated CBC shopper. “The next day Jana and I went to CBC Newton and were blown away.  It was an awesome store that just was so incredibly well merchandised and had really helpful knowledgeable people,” Phil told me. “I had a new favorite place to buy beer. Jana went straight to work to check on franchising.  We were both intrigued but spent the next few months doing research before initially contacting the Franchise team.  Jana and I had talked about opening a business but never found something that fit as well as this seemed to. When we did meet with Kate and Suzanne and were just once again blown away by their passion for what they were doing.   We signed up for a franchise two months later.”
Phil also told me about how they looked at several locations around Boston, but knew they wanted to be in Fenway after seeing an open storefront while driving through the area. It took Phil and Jana two years to open their store in Fenway, with many regulatory and construction hurdles to overcome. It was a trying time for them, but they were patient and committed to seeing their store open.
I next asked Phil what the craft beer community in Fenway is like. “Since opening in April, the Fenway store has been everything we could hope for in the two years leading up to opening;  a real vibrant enthusiastic neighborhood with very passionate craft beer drinkers,” he said. “We get a very mixed group of customers; some locals who have been thrilled to have us in the neighborhood, some tourists that are in town for a Sox game or a concert and looking for local craft beer, commuters working in the area.” I’d consider myself to be in the first category of customers.
Finally, I asked Phil if he’d recommend any beers that are on their shelves now. “I like to recommend beers from breweries that people may not have tried before.  So many customers had never heard of SingleCut and now we sell out in a day.  Another brewery I like to recommend is Brewmaster Jack, whether it is their IPAs or their Tennesse Prinse, they make great beer.  Jana has converted the neighborhood into Pilsner Urquell and Golden Monkey fans. Part of the challenge of our store is to have a constant mix of new and different product in that help us stay different from visit to visit.  A lot of customers like to experiment with new beers and keeping a pipeline of new stuff constantly arriving is both fun and challenging. We really get a lot of satisfaction hearing customers across the store actually shriek when they find something (it happens a lot).”
Phil left me with me with some parting thoughts on their store. “After 5 months we think our store is still learning and will continue to get better.  What we hope to be able to replicate is that feeling people get when they walk into an Apple Store.  In an Apple Store, having a great product to sell is only part of it. It’s also the knowledgeable and helpful team and the experience around the product.    We have a long way to go to meet the standard set by one of the best retailers of the #1 consumer product in the country, but that's the bar we set.”   
Craft Beer Cellar Fort Point just opened on August 17th. Located steps away from the renowned Trillium Brewing Company, CBC Fort Point adds yet another option for beer geeks near Boston’s Seaport District. Trillium is an incredible brewery, there is an amazing restaurant and bar known as Row 34, and now there is an outstanding bottle shop right around the corner at 34 Farnsworth Street. I attended the Grand Opening at which I tasted some of Suzanne’s favorite beers, including the Orval Trappist Ale. Those that came in for the tasting couldn’t help but learn something as Suzanne spoke knowledgeably about each beer she sampled, noting the Brettanomyces used by Orval. It was tasty and educational!
I also had the opportunity to meet the owner of the store, Barry Sussman. He told me, as many others have, about how he had been a customer at the Belmont store and had been inspired to open one of his own. He also spoke of how helpful Phil and Jana of CBC Fenway had been in dealing with the hurdles the city and the state put in front of him. It was nice to hear how supportive other members of the Craft Beer Cellar family had been, and as I looked around I noticed it for myself. Owners of several other stores had stopped by and were there as customers continued entering the store to buy and taste beer.  One big, happy family!  
I asked Barry to share the story of how he decided to become a Craft Beer Cellar store owner. “I had been thinking about doing something different for a long time. I'm a CPA by background and knew it was time for a change. The challenge of course is finding the right thing to do. Ideally, you can find a way to combine a passion and a job. Two of my passions are running and beer. I looked down both paths and quickly decided with the craft beer explosion that beer was the right way to go. Since CBC is a great franchise and it had a local opportunity, it was a fairly easy decision to make.”
Barry also told me about what made his location special. “Being in what Boston Magazine called ‘the beer hub of Boston,’ Fort Point is already a beer destination with Trillium and Row 34 and all the other local restaurants with strong beer offerings.” As for the craft beer community: “It’s interesting. In our short time open there's actually three distinct communities here: the residents, the office workers and the tourists. It’s a surprisingly big tourist community and they're very interested in our local offerings. But they all seem to be quite knowledgeable.”
Barry had more to say on what makes Craft Beer Cellar stand out. “We strive to offer the widest selection of great craft beers, not just any craft beers but the great ones. We also love to talk beer with our customers. Some people come in just wanting to browse around and chat about what's good but they don't need anything at the moment. We love those conversations. Especially with the out-of-towners.”
As far as current beer recommendations go, Barry had a few. “Can I say, all of them? I just tried Innis & Gunn's rum aged beer for the first time. Terrific beer. Aeronaut's Hop Hop & Away is a strong session IPA. A personal favorite has always been Left Hand's Nitro Milk Stout. There's really too many to name.”
After talking to Phil and Barry, I wanted to get some fresh takes on Craft Beer Cellar from the customer’s perspective. TJ Farrell is closest to CBC Westford and has shopped at CBC Belmont frequently. Wherever he goes, he says he has always had a great experience at CBC because of their great customer service and supremely knowledgeable staff. “Freshness is never a question when you shop there, and the ability to buy singles and mix your own six-pack is huge. It’s a great way to try different brands or styles,” TJ told me. “I also love the annual Advent Boxes they do, so much so that I now buy three every year – one for myself, one for my brother, and one for a friend. Another excellent way to expose yourself to some brands/styles you wouldn’t normally seek out on your own.”
Mike Callahan expressed similar feelings. “Awesome staff, amazing beer selection,” he said. He’s been to both the Fort Point and Westford locations, but goes to Westford more based on its proximity to him. Seems people like visiting their local Craft Beer Cellar as much as they like visiting their local brewery.
Craft Beer Cellar continues to age like a fine barleywine. With each year that passes and every new store that opens, the brand grows stronger. Owners, beer geeks, and customers all become more educated as they become involved in the continuous learning process of craft beer. People come to associate the name Craft Beer Cellar not only with the selection and service, but also with the experience. There’s nothing quite like shopping at a Craft Beer Cellar and, if you haven’t already, I’d suggest visiting the one nearest you as soon as you can.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Becoming A Homebrewer

I've wanted to brew my own beer for years. Ever since I met my first brewer in person, I've thought of brewing myself. That's why after thinking about it for a long time and being encouraged by friends, a few months ago I took the plunge and finally started homebrewing. That's a decision I am very happy that I made.

To start things off I travelled to my local homebrew supply store. It's a small shop, but has everything you need to brew batches of beer in all styles and sizes. When I visited the store I asked the owner how he would recommend that I start brewing. He recommended that I start all-grain brewing instead of using malt extract, as he found homebrewers who did so were more engaged and learned more quickly. I decided to follow his advice and chose an Oatmeal Brown Ale recipe for my first homebrew.

The owner of the store then walked me around the store to help me collect the ingredients for the recipe. We first collected the grains that would be needed to produce fermentable sugars for the yeast to consume. We then put the grains into a mill for grinding, save for the flaked oats that would be added to the brew. Next we picked the hops and finally the yeast to complete the recipe.

Now, I live in a small studio apartment in Boston. Part of my hesitance to begin homebrewing was the amount of space it would take. However, the store owner informed me that all I would basically need was the room to store a 5 gallon bucket. After hearing that, I purchased the necessary equipment including the kettle,  siphon, hydrometer, cleaner, sanitizer, bottle brush and capper, as well as the fermentation and bottling buckets. I then went home to prepare for my first brew day.

After cleaning and sanitizing all of my equipment (perhaps the most important part of brewing), I filled my kettle with water and put in on my stove to begin heating. I placed a nylon straining bag in the kettle and, once the water reached the required temperature, added the grains. As the malted grain released its sugars, the water soon turned into wort. I next took the bag out of the kettle and began boiling the wort before adding the hops I had chosen. Once enough time had passed I placed the kettle in a bath of ice water in order to chill the wort down to the necessary temperature before pouring it into the fermentation bucket, sealing it, and pitching the yeast. My brew day was over, but fermentation had just begun.

I had taken a hydrometer reading from some of the wort in order to obtain the original gravity, which provides a glimpse of the possible ABV of the final brew. I placed the fermentation bucket in my closet and over the next few weeks monitored it to ensure the brew was fermenting (usually by observing the airlock for carbon dioxide release) and to maintain the correct temperature. Bottling day, when it finally came, was relatively easy. It mainly entailed filling and capping, besides transferring the beer from one bucket to another, adding some priming sugar, and cleaning up afterwards. I then let the bottles sit to condition for another couple of weeks.

I decided to purchase labels for my first homebrew and to enter it into a local homebrewing competition for fun. Upon tasting the beer I was glad that it had turned out as I hoped it would. I received positive feedback from friends and family, who seemed to enjoy it even more than I did. Overall the experience was very educational and a lot of fun. I just finished my second homebrew, a honey wheat ale, and I am very much enjoying brewing as a hobby. I'm not sure where it will lead, but I do know there's nothing quite like drinking your own beer.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Raising the Barstool's Best - 2015

This week I read a post written by Carla Jean Lauter, otherwise known as The Beer Babe, with her take on the best beers in Maine this year. Her post inspired me to reflect on my own year of beer here in Massachusetts. As we're now in the last month of 2015, it seems to be an appropriate time to write about the best beers and breweries I've had the pleasure of experiencing throughout the year.

Best New Brewery in Massachusetts: Medusa Brewing Company

I attended the American Craft Beer Fest in Boston back in May, at which I had the chance to try beers from throughout New England that I had never had before. I tasted my first brew from Lord Hobo Brewing Company, which is now available in most stores in the area. I also got the chance to try a beer from Medusa Brewing Company for the first time, but I knew it would not be my last. Their Zweihänder Imperial IPA displayed a talent for using hops, which was only confirmed after later tasting some of their other IPAs like Citra Legacy and Laser Cat. Here's hoping we see more brews available from Medusa in the Boston area!

Best New Massachusetts Beer: Artaic - Trillium Brewing Company

It seems like every year the new beers being released in Massachusetts continue to improve. This year was no exception. When Trillium Brewing Company released a Double IPA known as Artaic back in May, it instantly became a favorite of mine. Named after a local mosaic design company Trillium collaborated with, Artaic is brewed with 100% Mosaic hops and local raw wildflower honey. It is sweet, citrusy, and nicely balanced overall. A masterpiece!

Best Massachusetts IPA: Santilli - Night Shift Brewing

This year Night Shift debuted its flagship IPA, Santilli. Created from one of the brewery's batches of its rotating IPA called Morph, Santilli smells of fresh pine and has a big citrus flavor with a bitter finish. It's a surprisingly smooth IPA loaded with hops that I could drink just about every day. The fact that it comes in a beautiful tallboy can makes it even better!

Best Massachusetts Stout/Porter: Crasher in the Rye - Clown Shoes

Earlier this year, Clown Shoes released a new version of its Undead Party Crasher with some tasty twists. Rye malt was added to the mix, and the usual hickory smoked malt was replaced with oak smoked malt from Blacklards Malt Company in Texas. On top of that, half the beer was aged in bourbon barrels while the other half was aged in rye barrels. These halves were then combined and bottled as an Imperial Stout with a roasty coffee aroma followed by the sweet taste of milk chocolate along with a creamy oatmeal flavor and a rye whiskey finish. It was delicious!

Most Creative Beer in Massachusetts: Hay is for Horses - Cambridge Brewing Company

Hay is for Horses was first brewed in 2013 but was available in bottles this year. A "Nordic" Pale Ale brewed with fresh, locally grown hay as well as oats and gruit herbs, the beer is light and grassy with a nice spice. Very easy to drink!

Best Label/Can Design: Muerte - Backlash Beer Company

Massachusetts has some incredibly talented artists creating the labels for its breweries. Whether it's Kevin Cimo's rustic and charming renditions of local landmarks for Trillium Brewing or Michael Axt's eye-catching and colorful work for Clown Shoes, there is no shortage of beautiful label art around here. Yet, one beer's label caught my eye more than any other, and it was based on work that artist Sophy Tuttle did for Backlash Beer. Years ago Backlash featured her art on the labels of the beers in their Apocalypse Series. They were black and white, but depicted epic scenes with rolling landscapes. Her artwork was featured on the label for Death, Backlash's Imperial Stout, which was then inverted for the label of Resurrection released last year. This year her work returned on the label of Muerte, an Imperial Stout brewed with vanilla beans, cinnamon, peppers, and coffee. Featuring an elegant portrayal of the classic calavera representing the Mexican holiday often referred to as Day of the Dead, the label is absolutely gorgeous. I hope we see more of Sophy's label art next year!

(Muerte's label is so cool, Trevor Carmick of Beer Labels In Motion even brought it to life!)


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Bonding With Brewers

Hey everyone! It's been a while. Things have been pretty busy, but I've decided it's time to start blogging again. I've spent a lot of time thinking about potential topics I could write about to get back into the swing of things. After much deliberation, I thought of a subject applicable to brewers and beer fans alike: how consumers connect with the people that make their beer.
There are many ways that those who drink craft beer form bonds with brewers. I'd like to lay out some that I find important to show how these connections are created, strengthened, and how they contribute to promoting a brewer's brand.
Social Media
We live in an age where everyone is plugged in. People share pictures of their beer on the internet to make sure others know that they actually drank it. Today, most brewers have some sort of social media presence. Whether it's on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Untappd, or all of the above, brewers are online and sharing their beer with the world.
I believe social media is critical to the success of startup brewers, not only because it can expand their reach beyond the scope of their distribution, but because it allows them to introduce themselves to people that may otherwise never hear about them. For instance, I've only heard about some breweries through their Twitter accounts, which led me to their website, where I found a link to their Facebook page and eventually found them on Instagram. These sorts of connections create a network that only continues to grow as more people invite others to share in their discoveries.
Social media also allows brewers to engage their consumers in a way they never could before. Brewers may not get the chance to meet everyone that drinks their beer in person, but they can talk about their beer with their fans over the web. They can share what they're brewing, when beers are being released, and tell consumers about events featuring their beer. I've enjoyed getting to know the people behind certain breweries and hearing about their progress simply by reading their blogs, which I often find through social media.
Drinking the Beer
It may be that you heard about it through social media and arranged a trade. It may be that you were at a restaurant and saw it on the beer list. It may be that you were in a shop and saw it on the shelf. It may even be that you went to a beer fest and saw it at one of the booths. However you found out about a beer, your personal opinion on it only forms after drinking it. If you drink one beer and like it, you're more inclined to try another from the same brewer. If you try more of their beers and like them, you'll feel that they have a reputation for making great beers. You'll then want to talk about those beers with others, who may then try the beer for themselves. Word of mouth is a powerful thing!
Meeting the Brewers
Nothing strengthens the bond between brewers and their consumers more than meeting face-to-face. When you meet a brewer and talk to them on a more personal level, you become more personally invested in their success. When you know the people who brewed your beer, you feel even better when drinking it. In getting out there and spending time with the people who drink their beer, brewers not only enhance their connections, but form new relationships with consumers that can last a lifetime.
Visiting the Brewery
Not all brewers have a space of their own, but those who do have something very special. They have a place where consumers can come together and share in their appreciation for the beer the brewers make. They also have the ability to show consumers how and where their beer is made. There's nothing quite like drinking a beer inside the building it was brewed in. When brewers have a place to call home, the consumers will come to them.
Building the Brand
As more people connect with brewers, their brand becomes more recognizable. Simply wearing a shirt with their logo or mentioning their name may spark conversation. These connections begin locally, but can grow to connect people around the world who drink craft beer. In connecting with their consumers, brewers who start small may become much bigger over time. I know that the more connected I've become to my local brewers, the more I've tried to support them. I not only drink their beer, but I want to share it with others. When that happens, everyone wins.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Conference to Remember

Those who read this blog probably know of other beer blogs that are out there. It's interesting to read different ones and see the perspective that each blogger is writing from. After the beer bloggers conference ended, many people wrote multi-part blogs that covered each day of the conference. Others posted videos of their experiences in Boston. As a recent addition to the blogging world and a first time conference attendee, I've decided it would be best for me to give a broader view on the conference as a whole.

For me, the first day was all about introductions. Things kicked off with a trade show, at which I was introduced to several breweries that I had never even heard of before. Not only did I get the chance to try many new beers, but I also got to start picking up some "beer schwag," the promotional items that both bloggers and breweries gave out for free throughout the entire conference. On top of that, I had the opportunity to meet beer bloggers from across the country that I had been following over the internet for a long time. Over the course of the conference there were plenty of "twitroductions," or in-person meetings of people following each other on Twitter. The most exciting thing for me was finally being able to meet the crew behind the SBL Podcast!

After that, I had the opportunity to introduce Boston's craft beer scene to those who hadn't yet experienced it. We traveled to the Samuel Adams brewery on a bus, and on the ride there I began pouring what would be the first of many "bus beers," Trillium's Fort Point Pale Ale. There was a palpable feeling of excitement when we arrived at our destination, perhaps because everyone was a little buzzed.

I became just as excited as the evening progressed. We were treated to a keynote speech from Jim Koch himself, who later invited us to taste some 10th anniversary Utopias with him in the barrel room. If that wasn't enough, they had a variety of special beers on tap for us along with a nice spread of beer-infused food for us to enjoy! It was a fun night, to say the least.

The second day seemed to be more educational. There was a long list of presentations on the agenda, each one covering a different topic related to beer, blogging, or both. The beers kept pouring and the information kept coming. Being new to this, I did my best to soak it all in like a sponge. It was a long day, but I learned a lot!

On the final day of the conference, things got a bit more personal. The bloggers themselves were able to take their turns giving presentations about what they do and where they came from. Afterwards Ray Daniels, Founder and Director of the Cicerone Certification Program, gave a closing keynote speech  in which he shared his story with us and gave us all some advice on how to become better writers. I am truly grateful to have learned so much from those with such a wealth of experience.

To write about each and every event we attended in detail would take a great deal of time. From the Heavy Seas party at Stoddard's to our visit to the Harpoon Beer Hall, there was a lot going on. Needless to say, the weekend was a whirlwind of sorts. Though, even with the nonstop drinking and learning, I still wish we had more time.

If there was one takeaway from the conference for me, it was this: don't underestimate the value of quality time. The Beer Bloggers Conference brings together people who have priceless stories and lessons to share with others. It's not often that you're able to have a conversation about beer with so many knowledgeable people at once. If for that reason alone, I'd recommend attending the conference. If you're anything like me, it will be one of the most valuable experiences you've ever had. 

(For those who still want to know more about my time at BBC 2013, follow Raising the Barstool on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Of course, you should also visit the Beer Bloggers Conference website. I'll see you at BBC 2014!)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference

The 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference has ended, and with it, a weekend filled with learning, discussing, and drinking. As a relative newcomer to the beer blogging scene, I thought I'd start by giving my general impressions of the conference. It was my first time attending, so I don't have anything to compare it to. However, I did take plenty of notes during the conference and hope to write much more detailed blogs about the events that took place each day in the near future.

Overall, I am very happy that I decided to attend the conference this year. I really had no excuse since it was being held right down the street from where I live. Aside from the convenience, there were many other benefits to taking part in the conference, especially considering how long I've been blogging. I got the chance to learn from presentations full of all sorts of useful information. I had the opportunity to meet other bloggers who I've always looked up to in-person. I also got to drink a lot of great beer.

The pace of the conference was fast, to say the least. It seemed like we were all going from one event to the next without much of a break in between each one. Don't even get me started on the live blogging. The days were certainly packed, but I can't complain. Everything we did was pretty incredible!

It was nice seeing my fellow beer bloggers in the flesh as we reflected on the state of beer blogging together. I loved the diversity there was in the group that decided to attend the conference as well. It didn't matter if we were male or female, young or old, hopheads or sour fans. People came from all over the country to drink and talk about the one thing we all enjoy: beer!

Looking back on this year's conference, I have to say that it was extremely memorable. I'll remember all the fantastic conversations I had over the weekend, all the wonderful beers I tasted, and all the fun we had. Most of all, I'll remember just how much I learned in such a short time. I had no idea what to expect when I signed up for it, but the conference turned out to be more than I could have ever imagined.

Now that it's over, I feel like I can use what I gained from the conference to take my blog to the next level.  I'm still in the early stages of my blogging journey, but I think I now know which direction I'd like to head in with my blog. It may take some time for me to find my way, but once I discover my niche and establish myself as a dedicated blogger, I'm confident that things will begin to take off.

I hope that you'll come along for the ride with me. As a lover of local beers and the law, I'm going to move towards tailoring my blog posts to the craft beer community in Massachusetts and the legal issues that those in the beer industry face in this state. Before that, I'm going to try to give a more specific account of the lessons I learned at the beer blogger conference. Look out for more posts from me in the days ahead!