Monday 15 November 2010

Beer Bloggers Conference Days 2 and 3

Surprisingly day 2 (days 0 and 1 here) didn’t begin with the kind of show-stopping hangover I expected. Sure, I felt like hell, but it was a mild version of death and one that was easily cured with a breakfast of American proportions. That and more lavish writing about sunrises and mountains.

The conference started quietly with four presentations on technical stuff such as social media, mobile apps and tools to use which help to track buzz and sentiment, but this was more interesting on a day job level and not so much for the blog. The one piece of information which interested me more than any other is that between 2008 and 2009 there was a 700% annual increase in the time users spent on facebook. That’s not people sign ups or hits; that’s how long they use it for and it signifies a change in the way people use the internet. That’s a pretty big deal.

Lunch came next. Jay Brooks and I were going to head to Twisted Pine until Greg Koch invited us to the Mountain Sun (yeah, I’m name dropping). We walked in the unseasonal November heat, arriving with a glisten of sweat and gasping for a beer. Mountain Sun is a cool place, kind of a hippy cafe and restaurant with a brewery out the back. The beer is good which I found by working my way through a sample of six. My favourite was the Killer Harvest, a fantastic pumpkin beer that was simultaneously light and creamy with hints of spice. Lunch was good too – a huge burger, of course – even if we did have to eat it in two minutes flat to make it back to the conference (and even then we were 15 minutes late).

Every meal should look like this
The session we made it back late for was Women and Craft Beer. This was the controversial one of the weekend and sparked lots of debate (too much debate to resurrect here – my opinion is that beer is for everyone so why do we need a specific craft beer movement for women...). Thankfully, Greg Koch restored order to the room with his key note speech, an engaging look at the beer industry from a number of different angles.

Then came the wild hour of the weekend: Live Beer Blogging. It works like this: one hour, 12 breweries and 12 tables, each table with up to 10 people around it, huddled over laptops and phones. That’s five minutes for each brewery at each table and they have to pour one beer and talk about it: it’s speed dating with breweries. As the bell rang to start, the first beer was poured. Ours was Mountain Standard Double Black IPA from Odells. Before we knew it the bell had rung again and a gasp was followed by a mass gulp with glasses being emptied ready for the next brewery visit. I was tweeting on my laptop, taking photos on my camera and trying to write in my notebook, all whilst trying to listen and drink – multi-tasking as its best. As well as the Odells, we also had: a Deschutes Fresh Hop made with Crystal hops straight from the harvest to the kettle; a New Belgium La Folie 2010 which I discovered is universally loved by everyone but me – I just don’t like Flemish reds and think they taste like tomato juice; Dogfish Head poured a 2006 World Wide Stout which was chocolate, cocoa, vanilla and wow. Breckenridge, New Planet (gluten-free beer, but you wouldn’t know it), Great Lakes (great porter), A C Golden, Karl Strauss, Widmer (Brrrbon was all about the bourbon), Rogue Chocolate Stout (poured by Sebbie who is the one on the label) and Great Divide (an Oak Aged Yeti to finish) also poured. The hour was intense and I think most people started feeling it (the booze and the speed) about half-way through as heads started to spin – great fun though!

After the speed drinking we had an hour free so I went to my room and watched X Factor highlights while wrapping up bottles of beer in my pants (English meaning, not American) to bring home – rock and roll. When we met in the hotel lobby again we had to wait almost 45 minutes for the world’s most incompetent bus driver to pick us up who then, when she finally arrived, managed to lodge her bus in the middle of a car park (known locally as a ‘parking lot’) for 15 minutes to the detriment of the oncoming hangovers of the drinkers onboard, who needed food and beer pretty desperately. My note book simply reads (and I have no idea when I even wrote this): ‘Stupid bus driver.’

Eventually we made it out and over to Boulder Beer Co, another great brewpub filled with great beer. Mojo, their IPA packed with mango, mandarin and pineapple, three flavours and aromas that make any beer more awesome, brought me back to life. We had tacos, which I ate with a knife and fork like an English gentleman, followed by more beer: a fresh-hopped amber, an Obovoid oaked oatmeal stout, a Hazed & Infused (a great hoppy pale ale) and a few others, I don’t remember what - I was busy schmoozing with Mariah (Mrs Calagione!) from Dogfish Head.

After dinner the pub crawl began. Five bars in town were offering a free beer to each of the conference attendees. I went to the first one and then soon after somehow found myself walking through frat parties on the University of Colorado campus towards an unnamed speakeasy somewhere with Greg from Stone and about six others (it all goes a big hazy around this point). When we finally arrived (the promised 5 minute walk turned into 15) it looked like a backwards hoe-down in 1950s middle America with two singers at the front and people dancing (actual dancing) in a very small square of space, with wood-panelled walls all around. We ordered a beer and I sat perplexed until it was time to leave. Some things are too odd to comprehend. We ended back in Mountain Sun where we stayed until 2am (drinking more of that fantastic Killer Harvest).

Mountain Sun
Day 3 was short and sweet. Three bloggers talked about their sites while everyone else sipped beermosas (Breckenridge’s Agave Wheat mixed with orange juice, although I preferred the beer on its own – it was really nice and refreshing). Then Jay Brooks discussed the future of beer blogging (there is no answer but we are it) and the closing statements were made followed by the goodbyes and the ‘come to [insert US city here] sometime and I’ll show you around.’

The whole conference was better than I expected and the evening events were great fun. But more than all of that it was about the people I met and how they made me feel welcome, how they extended welcomes to visit them or offered to buy me a beer because I was in their country, how they love beer, how they are keen to recount their story to others or just to chink their glass and say cheers. Beer bloggers are the people who love beer so much that they want to tell others about it and they make for great drinking partners.

A final beer and burger at the airport and I was falling asleep as I waited to board the plane. It was exhausting, interesting and so much fun. I could’ve spent another week in Colorado visiting Boulder and Denver, going to more bars and breweries, climbing some mountains and eating more burgers, but I had to leave. It may have been a crazy three-day adventure but it was totally worth it. 

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