Takeaways from the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference


The Craft Brewers Conference 2015. So many people. So many beards. So many handshakes, and not enough Purell.

I met a lot of passionate brewers from across the country. Talked to vendors that support the brewing industry, from label designers to bung manufacturers, and spoke to attendees from around the world (Chinese tank manufacturers! German hop growers!).

It was a lot to take in. Here are just a few random industry observations on attending the largest brewer’s conference (including sessions and walking the massive tradeshow floor) in the U.S.

Stop putting mountains on beer cans and bottles. Speaking with a couple of branding and design experts, I asked for their advice to new brewers. Here’s what they told me: Hire a real designer (not your “next-door-neighbor’s cousin who did some design stuff in college”); be original with the design; have the design tie in to your story or have it tell your story. Design is just one sliver of your brand, but it’s an important one and shouldn’t be the last thing you do before releasing your beer to the world. And if you’re an Oregon brewer – stop it with the mountains and rivers imagery. It’s been done.

photo 1

There were no shortage of hops growers.

The media room at CBC. Media rooms at most conferences are usually bustling with writers furiously cranking out copy under deadlines. My two visits there I encountered:

1. A group of journalists huddled around a laptop, watching (more than once) the new Star Wars trailer on full volume.

2. Someone playing some sort of game on his phone – with the volume up to 11. Really dude?

The Widmer Brothers are genuinely nice guys. And their new low-ABV offerings rock.

The theme of the conference: water and sustainability. There were a couple of sessions on sustainability, but the most obvious examples were the keynote by the EPA’s head honcho to talk water and air quality, and the Natural Resources Defense Council’s “Brewers for Clean Water Campaign” that has many brewers already signed up to participate. The campaign is helping to “ensure protections for their largest, most irreplaceable ingredient” (i.e., water). I’ll be writing more on this in a later post.

photo 4

This display was made up of growler caps representing where brewers were from. The west represented well.

Lots of amazing off-site events and tours. Based on my Twitter feed, the Crosby Hops tour was awesome. Sorry I missed it. Can I get a rain check?

New brewers: Choose your location wisely. Most of what I’ve written for New School has featured new breweries or new taprooms. I’m always interested in how these new places select their sites or building space. The session on “site selection” and “brand as place” was a fascinating and realistic look at how breweries need to carefully choose their locations (zoning, nearby utilities, transportation, expansion capabilities) and then tying that space into their brand. Not surprisingly, examples of successful brewers were Hopworks and Breakside Brewery. Each has successfully chosen their locations carefully, has managed to scale up in each location, and has done so without compromising the integrity of the product. (I’ll definitely be doing a post on this topic later as well.)

photo 5

So many cool beer-related products on the tradeshow floor, like the GrowlerWerks, a pressurized growler system.

John Chilson
John Chilson

John Chilson writes about Portland history and architecture at Lost Oregon. He's also written for Neighborhood Notes, Travel Oregon, Portland Architecture, Askmen.org, San Diego Reader, and Portland Food and Drink. Follow him on twitter at @LostOregon for local history nerdism; for beer tweets he's at @Hopfrenzy. Shoot him an email at hopfrenzy@gmail.com if you want to get in touch.


  • Mike Haines
    Mike Haines
    Fri Apr 24, 2015 8:34 PM

    I love Breakside and their beers, however, their original Dekum location was not a suitable site for expansion. The new package brewery location in Milwaukie is absolutely well thought out. Nice write up.

    • Andrew
      Sat Apr 25, 2015 5:39 PM

      From a brewer’s perspective on the seminars, especially with dry hopping, the take away was ‘there is no one right way, don’t be afraid to pioneer a method.’