Day 409

Friday, the last day before Reading Week, and I had no classes, which should have meant it was the unofficial start of Reading Week. However, I attended the first annual conference of the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) today, and since I’d been given the student rate for admission, I figured that means I’m still in class, sort of.

These one-day events always start with a bit of breakfast; even though it was the OCB conference, there was no beer served with the croissants. Alas.

The first speaker, Robert Rubinstein of Target Marketing, provided some trending data regarding beer sales:

  • From 2007-2011, mainstream beer’s share of the Canadian market fell by 4%. At the same time, the market share of premium beer (all higher priced beer, including imports and craft beer) rose 5%.
  • In the States, that trend is even more pronounced, with mainstream beers losing 17% market share in the past five years, while craft beer’s share is now 6% of the total market.
  • In Ontario, craft beer saw an increase of 10% in sales in 2011, while mainstream beer sales fell by 7%. (This translates to a 2.5% share of the market by craft beer, versus 43.3% share for mainstream beer.)
  • The forecast is for those trends to continue over the next three years; in 2015, craft beer will be up to a 4% share of the market, while while mainstream beer sales will fall to 39% of the market. (Rubinsteain also predicted that craft brewers will double their overall annual output by 2015, to 3,000,000 hL.)
  • The number of people employed by the Ontario craft beer industry, currently about 700 people, will increase to 900 by 2015.

All of this, of course, makes members of the OCB say, “Yay!”

Next up was the keynote speaker, Dr. Roland Folz of VLB Berlin. (VLB Berlin is one of the oldest and most respected brewing schools and research centres in the world.) Dr. Folz talked about designing new breweries in light of future consumer trends. He suggested that brewers need to

  • understand key variables of the supply chain for raw ingredients, and how those could impact brewing
  • minimize use of raw ingredients–and expecially waste of raw ingredients–to provide less exposure to those key variables
  • design a minimum number of “mother” beers, that can then be customized to provide a full line
  • ensure consistency of product through standard operating and sanitation procedures
  • cut manufacturing costs: efficient use of resources, proactive preventative maintenance of equipment, and a safe and healthy work enviroment will be more profitable than trying to increase sales.
  • Location of future breweries and how they look: since beer doesn’t travel well and transportation costs will continue to increase, brewery location that is both close to market and with a high visibility to encourage consumer traffic will become increasingly important

Dr. Folz also mentioned a few of the areas of technology that we might see in the near future, including a free-swimming detector that could broadcast analysis of fermentation from inside the fermenter vat, and solar heating systems that could significantly reduce the costs of heating brewing water.

Danielle Wedral of Advanced Microbial Detection reminded us that culturing a bacterial plate takes 10 days, and even then, we may not be sure of what we have cultured. She then showed us their microbe detector (called a PCR) that uses DNA analysis to provide exact results of what is swimming around in your beer or wort in only three days. A very shiny toy, although I’m not sure a small craft brewery could afford it and the ongoing supplies. However, perhaps two or three small breweries working together could afford it…

Time for a mid-morning break. Still no beer.

Uwe Jansen from Denmark talked about brewery designs that provided efficient brewery operations, but also looked shiny and nice for what was expected to be a growing trend in the industry: visitors who come for tours of the brewery.

Lunch time. Beer. Lots and lots of craft beer. Tubs of bottles and cans of craft beer. Oh, and there was some food too. I met many people I knew either from meeting them at the college, or through my summer job. Good times, good times.

In the afternoon, Sebastian Delgado of Krones showed us some mouth-watering bottling and canning machines. Because we seemed to be talking trends today, he gave us the newest things to watch for: cans that would have a label sleeve applied at the brewery (rather than being pre-labelled at the time of manufacture), and foil “caps” for cans to ensure that the lid area remained clean. Apparently those foil caps are already big in Europe, and have the added bonus of providing the brewer with another potential labelling area.

Ken Belau had recently translated some 1930s German brewing manuals concerning the style known as Berliner Weisse–an extremely sour style of wheat beer once favoured in Berlin but now largely forgotten. He had then translated his research into an actual beer brewed at Niagara College. (Yay Niagara College). Of course there were samples. Sour, really mouth-puckeringly sour. Wow, was it sour.

There was still one final speaker, and then dinner and the first OCB awards, but I had a family commitment, and many kilometres of rush hour traffic with which to contend, so that was the end of the day for me.

Okay, NOW it is officially Reading Week. Nine days. Two papers to write. Maybe a road trip to a brewery or two as well. Purely for research purposes, of course.

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