Breweries, industry pros unite for first Florida Brewers Conference

The three-day gathering solidified the Sunshine State's place in the national craft beer conversation.

click to enlarge Hosted in Orlando, the first Florida Brewers Conference ran from Aug. 7 to 9. - Thomas Barris
Thomas Barris
Hosted in Orlando, the first Florida Brewers Conference ran from Aug. 7 to 9.

The inaugural Florida Brewers Conference took place last week in Orlando — after years of planning.

Featuring representation from all over the Sunshine State, the three-day craft beer industry conference (and trade show), organized by Sean Nordquist, the Florida Brewers Guild's newly hired executive director, was no easy feat to pull off. As demand for local, independent brews surges in Florida and beyond, taking time off from the daily grind to attend a gathering like this can be a setback for those in the business of brewing. But anyone with a stake in local beer benefits, no doubt, from education, group discussions and legislation reform.

The conference's energy was palpable. Excitement flowed through the air as old and new industry partners discussed the state of Florida beer. Famed leaders in the biz — Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver and Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch among them — were even on-site to offer sage advice about the state's robust and ever-growing scene.

Chairman of the Florida Brewers Guild, Kent Bailey, who owns Ybor City-based Coppertail Brewing Co., opened up the conference on Aug. 7, setting the tone for the next few days.

"The entire industry uniting behind one common goal, elevating the craft beer industry in Florida, growing the market, and not taking market share from one another," Bailey said of what the industry's intentions should be.

He also addressed the elephant in the room: quality, a differentiator that's been sweeping through American craft beer as it has rapidly grown.

"Quality is key," the chairman said. "Just because it's local doesn't mean it's good.

"If a new craft consumer tries one bad locally brewed beer, it's over, and they won't come back for a second, which hurts all of us."

The seminars were focused on a wide range of subjects to help both novice and well-established breweries and industry professionals sharpen their tools and hone their talents. Topics included everything from a distributor-brewery relations panel and what it takes to curate outstanding taproom events to some quality control training and how to "Florida-rize" your beer by sourcing local ingredients.

"The main purpose of the conference, mostly, was to bring Florida brewers together to help them continue to develop their breweries. Whether they are in planning or regional, we wanted to offer an environment that promoted good QA practices [and] offered advice on things like marketing and HR, as well as promote camaraderie in the industry," according to Florida Brewers Guild board member Jay Dingman of Largo's Barley Mow Brewing Company, The Raven and now Sea Drift Ales & Lagers.

With craft breweries accounting for 12 percent market share of the beer industry across the nation, according to the Brewers Association's annual report — and more and more coming online over the next few months (Clearwater's Southern Lights Brewing Company and the Tampa location for 7venth Sun Brewery held their grand openings this past weekend) — the major theme seemed to focus on quality, identity and that there's still room for growth. Young nanobreweries like Deep Brewing Co. out of Tallahassee and growing indie-owned operations like Boynton Beach's Due South Brewing Co. may have a drastically different production capacity or personality, but their goal of making higher quality beer for in-state consumers is equally aligned.

More than anything, the first Florida Brewers Conference solidified the Sunshine State's place in the national craft beer conversation. And that is something to drink to.

Editor's note: CL contributor and certified cicerone Thomas Barris is the former sales and marketing director for Barley Mow Brewing Company. Follow Barris (@theparchdbarris) on Twitter.

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