My inbox reminds me a lot of a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested wasteland. Occasionally I’ll come across signs of life, in the form of messages from friends I actually want to read, but for the most part, I’m being crushed by the monotonous drone of countless emails telling to “BUY THIS!” and “OMG YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!”
Then, on Feb. 3, I received a message from Organarchy Hops, a hop farming and supply company with farm locations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The subject line simply read, “Agenda Released – Beyond Brewing Forum 2016.”
I may not be the most well-connected or observant person in the world, but I hadn’t heard of this event before. A surprise since I’m a pretty big fan of Organarchy, after having been introduced to their crew during a session at Flying Dog about what they do, as well as hop growing and care for homebrewers.
My interest sufficiently piqued, I opened the email…
Organarchy Hops, together with the Northeast Hop Alliance, brings hop growers and brewers together for the Beyond Brewing Forum 2016. Join 300 of your brewer and hop grower peers for 2-days of actionable insight delivered by an all-star agenda of speakers from the most respected brands, an in-the-trenches Field Day, unique networking events, and much, much more.
A few weeks later, here I am – one of the sponsors of the event:
Well, first, let me start by saying I know I’m not some huge publication who’s pushing boundaries and making waves every time I sit down in front of a keyboard. Yes, I have a column in the local paper, and I do try to put something meaningful on these virtual pages. But at the end of the day, I’m boring pajama and cheese enthusiast who has a passion for beer and the people behind it who make it so awesome.
That said, Beyond Brewing Forum was unique in a way that captured my attention. And it goes back to something Maryland Office of Tourism partnership and outreach manager Heather Ersts mentioned during a recent interview.
Though it didn’t make it to the final column, she said that one of the things that makes Maryland beer special is that often you’ll find the use of local ingredients help breweries define who they are, as well as their place within the community. While you see this most often with farm breweries, the same can be said for more standard commercial brewers like RAR, Monocacy, Flying Dog and Burley Oak (just to name a few), who often make it a point to incorporate local ingredients into their beer.
So when I compared the Beyond Brewing Forum to numerous other beer industry conferences that are coming up in the region, it stood out.
Instead of being the usual awe-inspiring, overwhelming massive parade of beer and breweries and educational trainings and sessions on every topic imaginable, it was very focused on bringing brewers and hop farmers together in a way I hadn’t seen done before.
Here’s how it works: At the Beyond Brewing Forum, there are two tracks for folks to attend – a “Brewer Track” and a “Grower Track.”
On the first day, brewers and growers will come together for breakfast and the opening keynote from Ralph Olson, the former CEO of Hopunion. After that, both groups will break for the rest of the day to attend sessions tailored to their interests. For growers, talks will include the future of East Coast hop production, the cost of growing green, the challenges of running family farms, protecting your crops for a healthy harvest, a Q-and-A panel with experts, and more. For brewers, top techniques and trends shaping 2016, harnessing the power of wild yeast, modern beer branding, 30 best practices to boost your brews in 60 minutes, and the future of flavoring beer are just a sampling of the topics that will be covered.
Then, after a full day of separately learning and digesting, brewers and growers get a chance to come back together for a “Field Day” full of field trips to places like Milkhouse at Stillpoint Farm, Organarchy, Fabbioli Cellars, Flying Dog and Vanish Brewery. How cool is that?
Events that are everything to everyone are flashy, fun and memorable, to be sure, but they’re often a dime a dozen.
To find an event like Beyond Brewing Forum, however, that not only boasts a ton of opportunities for education, but also brings into focus to the very necessary symbiosis between brewers and hop growers – and then gives it a platform to be nurtured and celebrated – is something I think is special and important. The Organarchy team has put together an event that has impact at an individual level and at the community level.
So that’s why I’m a Beyond Brewing Forum sponsor in its inaugural year.
Am I looking forward to learning a lot? Yes. But more than that, I look forward to supporting a local beer industry where the bridge between grower and brewer is strong, and ideas have an opportunity to be shared and realized.