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All the taps are dry, hotel conference rooms are empty and inspired craft beer professionals are returning home from San Francisco, which played host this past week to the Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America at the Hilton Hotel from March 23-26.

A record breaking crowd of thirty-nine hundred brewers, executives and beer luminaries from around the world attended educational seminars, browsed the trade show, networked and mingled with old friends while drinking copious amounts of craft beer.

The conference schedule was packed with seminars and hospitality events. The first highlight was the Welcome Reception at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. The museum was a spectacular backdrop. Beer stations manned by Northern California breweries were positioned throughout the facility in dramatic fashion.

Russian River Brewing poured in front of the colossal aquarium filled with 38,000 colorful fish and sea anemones, while Magnolia Brewing, Social Kitchen, Anchor Brewing and 21st Amendment occupied the African Hall, where majestic animals grace beautiful dioramas. Guests happily explored the entire museum while sipping beer and eating tasty finger food.

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A heroic server from 21st Amendment Brewery

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Adam from Linden Street Brewery (right).

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Sam Calagione and Dave McLean

One of the most anticipated events of the entire conference took place the following morning when legendary brewers Fritz Maytag and Ken Grossman delivered the keynote address. Instead of giving a traditional speech, the two men sat in easy chairs to share memories and anecdotes from the early stages of their respective careers.

It was humorous, informative and very inspiring. Near the end of their chat, bottles of Fritz & Ken’s Ale were passed through the crowd for a ceremonial toast and a chorus of popping corks filled the room. You can listen to the whole discussion over at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

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Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing

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Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing

Just like any other conference, a major element of this event was the BrewExpo trade show, which featured over 200 hundred vendors in three large ballrooms. This is where the real business of the conference took place. Staff from breweries, brewpubs and prospective nanobrewers wandered the aisles to gaze at equipment, accessories, sniff hops and handle grain.

The variety of vendors was immense. Label printers to mash tun manufactures vied for attention with impressive displays that in some cases featured large scale brewing and bottling equipment. In a few instances brewers placed orders, but the majority simply stuffed samples for research and business cards into over-sized swag bags.

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Larry Bell, owner of Bell’s Brewery, and Penny Pickart from the Breiss Malt Company.

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Meissenburg Designs

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If conference goers weren’t on the trade show floor they were sitting in one of fifty-three different seminars offered over three days covering a wide range of topics: sustainability, exportation, packaging, operations, quality, technical brewing, public relations, marketing and government affairs. They were also designed for breweries at every size and level, but there did seem to be an emphasis on seminars for start-ups and nanobrewing operations.

Most of the sessions were lead by a panel of brewers or experts in their respective field and in some cases included beer samples for demonstration purposes. Some of the more popular seminars included Yeast, The Versatility of American Hops, High Gravity Panel Discussion, Barrel-Aged Sour Beers from Two Belgian’s Perspectives, The Long view of the Big Picture featuring pioneer Jack McAuliffe and Beyond Hops and Malt: Infusing Passion and Creativity Into the Brewing Process.

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Monk’s Kettle Chef Adam Dulye (left) with Stone Brewing founder Greg Koch leading the seminar Working with Chefs.

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Versatility of American Hops Seminar.

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Floris Delee and Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head Brewery.

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Marketing to Boomers Seminar

While the majority of the Craft Brewers Conference is about education, improving quality and performance, it’s also one big party. Beer could be found around any corner in hospitality events, seminars, at lunch or in the hotel lobby, which made it challenging for some to stay awake in afternoon seminars.

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After the daily schedule of seminars were over special events at bars and restaurants popped up all over town. Some were private affairs, but most were open to the public. In most cases individual breweries would take over a location and feature a wide range of special or rare beer.

Deschutes Brewery invaded the Bay Area with seven events across the region while Lagunitas and Anchor Brewing made the biggest splash by renting out the Fillmore for a free concert by British rocker Richard Thompson. Another late night option included the CityScape Room on the forty-sixth floor of the Hilton Hotel that opened for two nights with free beer and incredible views. It was so popular the first night that the fire Marshall shut down the elevators over safety concerns.

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Ezra Johnson-Greenough from Upright Brewing (left) with head brewer Larry Sidor from Deschutes Brewing at City Beer Store..

Despite the dreary weather the conference has received great reviews. Bay Area breweries, bars and restaurants shined and as wonderful hosts reasserted the regions prominence as a craft beer destination with historical roots that established the current industry.

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Craft Brewers Conference Closing Reception.

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