Loc: Mashville, TN
About a week or so, after I had flown down to Austin to check out the digs (and accepted the job), Kenny got in touch with me and asked if I was interested in joining him at the Craft Brewer’s Conference, this upcoming May in Nashville. My answer was an obvious, ecstatic, ‘Yes!’ – the last CBC I had attended was in Portland, back in 2014. Unfortunately, I was visiting for the position in Ukraine, at Pravda, during the majority of it’s happenings, so I missed out on the seminars, out of town brewing friends, and the endless fun (drinking).
With my plane ticket and Airbnb booked as soon as I could, now there was just playing the waiting game. My patience was wearing pretty thin by the time CBC came around last week, as Phoenix hasn’t exactly provided the same type of amusements I’m used to in Portland, or even, Lviv, but god damnit, I survived.
I arrived into Nashville the Saturday afternoon prior to the start of the conference (I was really trying to stretch my days away from Phoenix – it’s 105F/42C as I’m writing this), and was honestly surprised to feel right at home in Nashville, despite having to look at my Google Maps to figure out where the hell I was in relation to the rest of the country.
There was a definitive ‘Portland’ feel to the city as I pulled up to my insanely gorgeous Airbnb, centrally located in the quaint neighborhood of Germantown (highly recommended, by the way – everything I needed was within a 10 minute walking distance, including dozens of restaurants, and a few grocery stores). I was welcomed with lush mixes of street art, and historical markers, signaling to the past occupants of the now (and as I learned, newly), gentrified, part of the city. Not more than a 5 minute walk, East or West, you were met with a completely different atmosphere.
My first night I took it fairly easy, as I knew my days ahead would be pretty loaded with meetups and, of course, drinking. While I was touring around the neighborhood, getting the feel for the surrounding digs (and dinner for my grumbling tummy), my gracious host shot me a message with a recommendation for ‘Kuchnia & Keller’, an Eastern European and German fusion restaurants, with a killer taplist. You know I was all over that. Bearded Iris Brewing was my next stop after dinner, and after a quick stroll over there, was welcomed to an expansive, accent lit taproom area (killer patio area, too), with 10 taps all filled with #hazybois. They were absolutely well done, and not that I was initially against all taps filled with IPA/DIPA/Fruited, but after a few of them, I would have been cool with a nice Helles or Pils as a cleanser.
Figured this was as good a sign as any to head home.
Sunday was mainly encompassed meeting up with Kenny & his wife, Thelma, and figuring out our attack strategy for the conference ahead… Not to mention, taking in all the live country music being played at any bar/restaurant (some were multiple levels!) we found ourselves throughout our whole stay here.
CBC was Kenny’s really big entrance to the industry, and honestly, probably the best way it could have happened. As we hiked over to the Music City Center for our badges and sweet #swag, we spoke about the exhibitors we wanted to check in with, in regards to equipment we would need for the brewery, and the massive amounts of seminars the Brewer’s Association had ready for us to attend through-out the week.
As Kenny & Thelma were only staying until Wednesday, and myself until Friday, we figured hitting the gut of it Tuesday, and focusing the rest of the our time with ‘sightseeing’ and seminars. We were also able to scope out the expo prior to it actually starting, upon badge pickup, which is always fun, especially for those who have never attended before.
Recommend by a brewer friend, ‘Monells’, a famous southern breakfast restaurant in Germantown, was on my list of places to eat. I had attempted to attend there Sunday morning, but the crowd was too thick. Thankfully, come Monday morning, I was out the door and first there by the time they opened… It helped I was literally staying half a block away. The family style dining was a nice treat too, as I was accompanied by a few of the guys, the CEO included, from the Institute of Brewing & Distilling, over in the UK, at my table.
But oh man. While I was hungry, I was not expecting the onslaught of comfort food brought my way in waves.
Luckily, the instant food coma was enough to prepare me for the 4 hours of washboard road I was about to drive down in the necessary, but sterile, TTB Bootcamp seminar. It had been awhile since I had attacked the Brewer’s & Expense report forms, plus, it was something Kenny wanted to learn, as well.
Hell, we even learned that if you’re incorporating new ingredients, not currently featured on the TTB exempt list, you need to submit a formula, no matter the size or packaging you’re using… Something, every brewer I know, does not do… But the TTB showed us first hand the lack of funding & employees necessary to keep up with the massive surge of breweries, soooooo ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
My favorite part about Monday, though?
Some Ukrainian love, of course. Semen & Natalia, with Silpo, one of the largest speciality markets in Ukraine, had come all the way over from Kiev for the conference, in hopes of seeking out some export/import companies for bringing Ukrainian beer into the US. As a gift, were able to bring over a bottle of Pravda’s Double Wheat IPA, Breakfast of Champions.
I was always adamant about never bottling this beer, mainly due to it’s hop load, and the style itself – it’s really just meant to be enjoyed fresh on tap, not packaged. Regardless, the bottle beer had held up well, despite it being a month old. Nice aroma, but the hop flavor had perished considerably.
A bottle of ‘HayDay’, from VarVar, was supposed to come along for the ride as well, but sadly, Natalia had her bag lost by the airline. Major bummer.
We were able to meet up with our branding guys, Cody & Issac, from CODO, for dinner Monday night, at Pharmacy Burger. A few miles outside of downtown Nashville, it was quite enjoyable to get outside the city and see the surrounding area (i.e. the non-tourist parts). Pharmacy had a small tap takeover of a few of the local breweries, plus killer burgers. Lots of talk for branding, and just general excitement to finally meet each other in person. Looking forward to working more with them & their team.
Hopefully, soon enough, we’ll have the name official for Y’ALL.
The conference ‘officially’ started on Tuesday, and our focus for these next two days was mainly on sifting through our list of manufacturers. We met down there bright and early, and honestly wandered into the thick of it.
Prior to the expo, I had put together a fairly comprehensive list of requirements I had for what we were looking for in brewhouses, tanks, chiller, etc, including a few wacky customizations. Sadly, my extensive list wasn’t put to of good a use as I would have hoped, as the majority of the guys there were mainly sales. We were still able to weed out who we wanted, though, just based off the small chitchats we had.
The whole process is god damn exhausting, that’s for sure. Luckily, the German Hop Grower’s were there, and while they probably couldn’t tell, their solid line of Pilsner on tap had me over the moon.
This week, hopefully, we’ll have some quotes from all the manufacturers thrown my way – anything to keep me busy.
As this piece is fairly long already, I won’t bore you with the details of each exhibitor…
But I will show you this stunning Slovenian oak & ash foeder I was drooling over. Keystone Fermentation had brought along their foeder/cask importer, including the master cooper, himself! We spoke with them for quite some time, asking a lot of questions in regards to their process & upkeep. Was absolutely energizing, and something I’m looking forward to working with in the near future.
Out of everything at the expo, the seminars were the one thing I was looking forward to the most, specifically the more technical-focused ones. The only problem was, many of the seminars I wanted to attend were scheduled for the same time slot, making it a bit difficult to choose. Thankfully, the BA posts the presentations, including audio/video from the seminar, at a later date.
To be honest, there wasn’t a single seminar I really elated over – all were very well done, but all seemed to be very baseline. I believe a lot of this had to do with short, one hour, period they were allotted, which lead to a lot of information in a short amount of time. All the ones I attended felt rushed, which is funny, given the TTB Bootcamp was 4 hours long.
The dry-hopping seminar with Tom Shellhammer, hop scientist extraordinaire, from OSU, could have easily gone a few hours more. Or, maybe I’m just solo in that expedition. So much to explore in the ‘hop creep’ symptom a handful of brewers, myself included, have experienced with increased attenuation in relation to massive dry-hopping amounts.
Wednesday morning pretty much blended back into Tuesday, at least in my mind. We stuck around for more exhibitors/seminars, but didn’t have much time, as Kenny & Thelma had to take off that afternoon. Kenny’s main focus that day had been on securing this property we had been looking at over in Dripping Springs, and it was getting down to the wire (More updates on that, soon).
While I was wishing they could have stayed for a few more days, I was excited to stretch out and explore Nashville on my own. After a couple more seminars that afternoon, I was able to meet up with some very old friends (Ian!) from Kansas for dinner at Martin’s BBQ, where I had actually gone the night before, as well (Yes, it was that good).
If you, reader, end up going, shoot for the upstairs portion of the restaurants – it’s the quirky area that blends the aesthetics of a tropical RV park into a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. The seats were all from old cars! How cool is that?
With plans to meet up the following day, we finished up dinner quickly, said our goodbyes, and I made my very excited stroll down 2nd Ave S. Along for the ride was a bottle of ‘Sikorsky’, Pravda’s dry-hopped mix-fermentation persimmon beer. I was finally heading to the one event I was absolutely looking forward to the whole damn week…
The Milk The Funk meet-up/bottle share, hosted by, the one and only, Bootleg Biology.
It absolutely did not disappoint in the least.
Many meet & greets, mouthfuls of pizzas, and loads sour/funky beer were consumed, and all graciously hosted. Being present at the event was so invigorating – here, gathered under the one roof, were all these individuals brought towards by this one, small, subsection of brewing. Beautiful.
My hope, by next time, is I’ll have some of our own bottles to bring along.
After a very relaxing Thursday morning, I leisurely made my over to the expo. Was the final day, and with a lot of the ‘to-do’ boxes ticked, I was able to just roam around the floor without a plan (or care, for that matter). Sticking near the BSG and various vendor booths, I was able to try a bunch of really delicious beers before heading over to the last of seminars. Was able to meet the guys from Speciation Ales (Mitch!), and hung out with them until we parted ways for food.
The evening consisted of devouring a delicious peanut butter burger at Jack Brown’s, and right there, while seated at the bar, it finally hit me that I definitely couldn’t do this for another week. While the idea of going hard the last night was in my head, I ended up taking it pretty easy, meeting up with the Arizona Wilderness boys for drinks at Crying Wolf, where they had a DJ spinning metal all night.
Was quite the perfect way to end the trip.
Now that I’m back in Phoenix, and reminiscing (as I’m throwing this all together), my favorite part about these conferences/festivals is the collection of the brewing industry coming together and enjoying their mutual time. It’s not very often that we can all do this, so it’s absolutely something very special. Was able to see so many folks over the week that I hadn’t seen in years, especially since being over abroad, so that was easily one of the highlights of the whole trip.
While my main priority for Nashville was CBC, I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t carve out more time for sightseeing of the actual city (They have a full-scale replica of the Parthenon!), plus the plethora of music museums that inhibit downtown. An insane amount of food to tackle, as well. The weather treated us all very well, while we were there, so I was able to get a few runs in on the greenway path, that swoops along the Cumberland river into downtown. Perfect week for having some time to myself.
Flying back overhead, I forgot how much I loathe the suburban sprawl of the Phoenix area, and lust for any area that has decent public transportation, and sustainable neighborhoods. Nashville was never high on list for US cities to visit, but I’m sure glad as hell I did.
I’ll be back, Mashville.