I just returned home from a great week at the Beer Marketing & Tourism Conference in snowy, beautiful, super-friendly Vermont. It was a very busy few days of beer tasting, networking, listening to speakers, and trying not to buy all the cool-but-expensive things that we don't need from all the vendors at the brewery trade show. My favorite part of the conference was talking to other brewery owners and learning about their businesses. In New Jersey, by law you must offer every patron in your brewery a tour, for example. Fun fact! There were folks from all over the country at the conference and some international folks too. I chatted up everybody! Especially fun to talk to were the French Canadian folks. They said (in their great accents, btw) that a trend there is "B&Bs" - beds and beers, rather than beds and breakfasts. I love that idea!
A lot of the business/marketing sessions at the conference were "sanity checks" for me and let me know that Fat Hill is doing a lot of things right. We're a very new business so that was an awesome relief to hear. Other than that, I came home with a lot of little behind-the-scenes tips and tricks normal customers probably won't see happening but will make the business/marketing side of things run a little smoother for us as small business owners.
The governor of Vermont gave the conference welcome speech. That might sound like an odd booking but craft beer is big business in Vermont. They even deregulated some stuff a few years ago (not sure when, maybe it was always this way) that makes it easier for small breweries to compete against big beer companies when they distribute. (Rare.) Beer tourism is also big in Vermont. He reported that according to the web stats of the Vermont's official tourism website, it looks like 25% of visitors to the site are interested in the state primarily for the craft beer scene, and then other stuff is second (skiing, history, hiking, etc.) to them.
I had so many awesome beers during the trip. I'm a hop head so the IPAs from Prohibition Pig in Waterbury and The Alchemist in Stowe both made me very happy. Magic Hat also had an just-malty-enough English Mild that I loved. Another standout would be Pow Pow by Trillium Brewing (but they are from Boston, not Vermont) that is like licking a hop cone. So much good beer!
One awesome awesome awesome thing about this particular conference was that it was made up of about 50% women attendees. In my experience in the beer industry this is a rare thing and it was fantastic to have that kind of camaraderie I don't usually have at beer conventions. There were a lot of productive, nuanced discussions about women in beer and women as an emerging market. Albeit much less frequent, there also were some less nuanced and not-at-all-productive discussions. We have a long way to go before this industry is 100% female friendly but I do see things slowly getting better.
As far as taprooms go, due to the conference schedule I didn't have a lot of time but I did very much enjoy my flight at the vonTrapp Brewery in Stowe. Super friendly staff and the setup there is amazing...a huge lodge type building in the middle of the mountains. Views for days! Beer was great too - lots of Austrian/German influence, which is great for me because my undergrad term in Austria (feels like a LONG time ago) was when I started to like beer. Unfortunately, the days/times didn't work out with Hill Farmstead, so that's still on my To Do List.
I'll be back some day - hopefully when there's not two snow storms scheduled in one week!? Flight delayed five times on the way home but no big deal... the Burlington airport had rocking chairs, free wifi, and Vermont beer. :-)