As I sit here sipping a Founders Breakfast Stout on a snowy winter day in January, I reflect on my experience at the 2018 Winter Conference. Foremost, I was elated to receive a scholarship from Fermenta, a collective that perpetuates knowledge of the craft beverage industry. I am a new member and as green as a hop in the craft business. I have been bartending and managing at a small brewery in Grand Ledge, MI called Sanctuary Spirits for almost 2 years. This puts me in the position of “sponge;” I am here to soak up as much as I can. This scholarship was an opportunity to do just that. Thank you Fermenta!
To launch the experience, I met with Fermenta member Angie Williams at the hotel and she was a beacon of knowledge to this first timer. I parked and met her for the Sensory Evaluation. This was led by Kevin D. Payne, an intriguing character, from Bell’s Brewery. Since I haven’t participated in anything like this before, I followed Angie’s lead. Kevin covered 3 major qualities of brewing: Analytical, Microbiology, and Sensory. The warm up beer was a sour. This put my taste buds on red alert. I am not a sour drinker. Our evaluation was tallied on an app and the data was compounded for immediate interpretation. They were able to determine that most of us could identify acid issues and identify the control (Two-Hearted). This had never been done before and was quite impressive.
We were shuttled to the Kalamazoo Wings Event Center, where approximately 125 venders were set up with a wide variety of hops to glassware. We received our badges with our names and affiliation. I was enjoying a nut-brown ale and a walking taco when Angie convinced me to try my hand at curling. I was in a frame of mind to try whatever was handed to me, so why not?
Curling was extremely fun, pushing a stone across the ice like a contorted diver. We were awful, but it didn’t matter. We smiled, joked, fell, and laughed some more. I was happy to try something new and make some friends along the way. Afterwards, I caught the shuttle back to the hotel and checked in. I had the pleasure to meet the other scholarship winner, Natalie, at the trade show. We opted to get dinner together at the hotel bar.
The food and drinks were delicious. Sometimes when you meet a new person, things are automatically comfortable, like a pair of jammy pants. This was Natalie and me. She was sprite-like and easy to talk to. We were convinced this was in the stars for us to meet.
Thursday started with the inspirational Dan Carmody from the Eastern Market. If you ever wanted a jolt back to living a life worth living this is your guy. My favorite quotes included;” Good times are essential to our humanity” and “Sitting around and observing shit is just as important (as social media).” His speech was inspirational, and made me feel like I could conquer the world. His methods used in life and business made sense to the basic flow of failure, risk, community, entrepreneurs, and humanity. He included the history of beer through his life and his personal experiences with drinking. His energy and personal touch set a tone for the whole conference. Well done, Dan!
After lunch I attended Julie Stanley’s “Restaurant on a Mission.” She owns and operates The Food Dance Restaurant in Kalamazoo. Her mission: a collaboration between restaurants and local craft artisans. Farm to table at its peak. Her vision of how to run her business was inclusive to a level I had never seen before. Keeping all staff rotating within most departments, and open to budget analysis with any employee interested. She also provides them with benefits if they attend collaboration meetings. A curveball in the modern restaurant industry.
Fred Bueltmann’s “Express yourself” touched on the structure of public speaking. He included motivation, context, content, format, and preparation. His most impactful section for me was “say it your way,” in which he talked about a woman with stage fright at a wedding. Her speech began with something like, “I am not a good public speaker, so who wants to read my speech?” I liked how this made it ok to know your strengths and weaknesses to make even the fearful a good speaker.
The last speaker for Thursday was my personal favorite, Joe Short of Short’s Brewery. A kaleidoscope of a man! First, he brought a bottle of “Machu Beechu” for each attendee, bottled just that morning. He showed a lot of promotional videos for events, which had us rolling with laughter. The marketing is personal and engaging toward those with common standards, interests, humor, and love of beer. His ideas come from supporting what you believe in, and this marketing aspect allows a sharing of values which is not only genius, but real. I am truly on the bandwagon for this kind of marketing.
To end Thursday’s seminars, we were all treated to dinner. The menu was outstanding! Shrimp and grits, beef tenderloin, lamb sliders, just to name a few, all paired with Michigan craft beer. The experience was tantalizing to the taste buds, and all I can say is: I wish I hadn’t gotten full so fast! Good food with good beer is a touch of heaven.
The entire experience was made complete by meeting the most outstanding people. Brewers and people in this industry are friendly and fun. I was able to network with people working in the industry all over Michigan, learning about breweries I didn’t know existed. Each person I spoke to had a unique story of how they got involved in craft beer. The Fermenta ladies went the extra mile to make a newby feel included. They were not only welcoming and accommodating, they might just be some of the coolest people I have met. Cheers to Fermenta and thank you again for this amazing opportunity.