Last week, I attended the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) and World Beer Cup (the “Olympics of beer competition”) which took place in San Diego, California. In 2008, I spoke at CBC and was looking forward to speaking again this year on customer engagement. I was also looking forward to attending this year’s World Beer Cup Gala Awards Ceremony and of course taking the time to visit some of the outstanding breweries in the San Diego area. I got to do all three!
I left for the conference on Thursday. That night, my partner Mark Edelson and I were invited to attend a beer dinner at the Lost Abbey Brewery
. On the bus ride to the brewery, we got to chat with Tom Peters from Philly’s Monks Cafe as well as Lost Abbey’s head brewer Tomme Arthur. I had the pleasure of sitting next to an old friend, Lost Abbey’s CEO Gina Marsaglia, and we talked about the industry and our mutual challenges. It was a great conversation. To top it off, Gina made all of the desserts for the 180 people who attended the dinner (the blue cheese ice cream was wonderful.)
On Friday, I had the opportunity to speak on the topic of customer engagement along with Chris LaPierre, head brewer of our Maple Shade location and Kevin Walter, head brewer in Lancaster. The topic is one that I am very passionate about; and as the world has changed, so have my thoughts on the subject. One of my favorite books on customer engagement is by the Gallop organization entitled Human Sigma. The premise of the book is that to have truly engaged customers in the restaurant or retail industry you must also have engaged employees. Over the years I have tried to personally reinforce how important our employees are to our brand, and I think this has been a big part of Iron Hill’s continued success. Chris and Kevin added some color as they talked about some of the different events that we do at the restaurant’s to make Iron Hill more engaging for our customers.
The highlight of the three days was obviously the World Beer Cup gala. All of our nine head brewers attended, along with my partner Mark and Regional Brewer Larry Horwitz. The dinner itself was phenomenal. It started with an hour long reception featuring all of the almost 4,000 beers entered into the competition.
The competition includes over 799 breweries from over 54 countries and 45 U.S. states throughout the world. The highlight of the dinner was the third course which featured grilled rib eye paired with Pennsylvania’s own Troeg’s brewing
Troegenator, a past World Beer Cup winner.
The first area brewer to win was Dogfish Head‘s Noble Rot with a silver in the Experimental Beer category (where else would you expect Dogfish to win!). The next area winner was the Troeg’s guys again winning a bronze for their Troegenator in the Bock category. No wonder it was on the table for dinner! Finally Philadelphia’s own Dock Street Brewery won a bronze in the Belgian Strong Ale category for Prisoner of Hell.
Between Dogfish and Troeg’s Iron Hill Newark’s own Justin Sproul won a bronze for his Grodzinski in the Smoked Beer category. This was Justin’s second medal at the WBC (he won a silver in 2010 for his Crazy Ivan Imperial Stout). As usual, I followed Mark and Justin up to the stage since I was the official unofficial Iron Hill photographer at the event.
About 20 minutes later, Iron Hill’s most award-winning brewer Bob Barrar (seven medals at WBC and 14 at GABF) was called up to the stage to accept the gold for his Russian Imperial Stout. I can tell you that although Bob has won his fair share of medals, if you know Bob he is a truly unpretentious guy and being recognized by his peers is truly humbling for him. As usual, I walked up with Bob and Larry to take a photo of him accepting his award when it was announced that Bob had one a second gold for his Old Ale! So when Bob went on the stage he actually accepted two awards. Congratulations once again Bob for your awards and everything that you have done over the many years to make Iron Hill great.
At the end of the individual awards they name the World Cup Champion Brewery Award winners which are based on the number of individual medals a brewery wins at the competition. For the second time in a row, Iron Hill was recognized as the best in the Small Brewpub category. As I sit here on the plane flying back home I have to say how proud I am of all of the Iron Hill brewers.
Of course it all ended with a post awards party celebration that the Brewers Association hosted at the hotel which featured about 100 draft beers from local San Diego breweries. I got to personally congratulate longtime friends Sam Calagione and his wife Mariah for their award as well as the guys from Troegs. I also got to congratulate some of our other friends including Tomme Arthur (five medals for Lost Abbey and Pizza Port) and Natalie from Russian River (bronze for Supplication). All in all, it was a wonderful weekend and I can’t wait for 2014 when the conference comes to Washington, DC.
Kevin Finn, President, Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
Check out all of the photos from the Craft Brewers Conference and World Beer Cup on Iron Hill’s Facebook account.