Letters From America: Aussie First-Timers

May 16, 2023, by Will Ziebell

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Letters From America: Aussie First-Timers

Since time immemorial (AKA the 1990s), Australians seeking out lessons in beer and brewing have made their way to America to explore the scene in a country that helped fire the rise of craft beer. Not only has the industry there been viewed as a few years ahead of ours, but the sheer vastness of the country and the number of breweries, beer venues, growers, manufacturers and innovators there have made it a fertile ground. 

That's never more true than during the annual Craft Brewers Conference, where Australians are always among the international attendees. It’s no cheap undertaking: the conference price tag is high, hotels in Nashville astonishingly expensive (not least in 2023 with Taylor Swift performing across three nights in the lead-up), and the exchange rate working against us.

Once there, however, with more than 10,000 attendees, constant seminars, and a trade show filled with basically everything you could ever need to run a brewery, there's a lot to take in.

While it was taking place, we caught up with a couple of Australian first-timers to find out what inspired them to travel to the States and what they made of the conference.


Briony Liebich – Flavour Logic

 

Following a decade career in sensory at West End, Briony launched Flavour Logic a few years ago, running sensory classes to help the Australian beer industry better understand what’s in the glass. You can read more about her story here.

As well as attending the conference, Briony judged at the World Beer Cup, which took place in the days leading up to CBC.


What brought you to CBC?

I came to CBC because it followed up from my World Beer Cup judging invitation. So that was a pretty good reason to be here but also, since I've started my own business, I came for the networking and inspiration from a country that does more beer sensory than we do.

I’ve met a lot of people who were keen to share information and were really encouraging.


What’s been the biggest surprise while here?

The scale. It’s run on a massive scale and it’s definitely not just for brewers: there are all kinds of people here who do sustainability, quality work and so on.

 

It might not look too little but that's because everything's bigger over here.

How about the beer scene more widely? Have any breweries or beers blown your mind?

Jackalope Brewing (pictured above) has a really good venue, it’s a funky, colourful little place. Another was Barrique Brewing & Blending, which is doing really good quality styles with European inspiration.


It’s often said America is way ahead of Australia when it comes to craft beer. Do you think that’s true? And how does Australian beer quality hold up compared with what you’ve been drinking?

The quality is pretty good here but not as good as I thought it would be and prices are expensive. Speaking to fellow judges from overseas, we feel quality isn’t excellent out of the American beers we had, but all the trends are pretty similar to Australia.  

Hazy beers are just as popular here as they are in Australia, although plenty of brewers don’t love them. I don’t think there are as many fruited sours, and I think we do really nice fruited beers – and Australia has a good reputation for our excellent session beer.


Jay Neven – Revel 

 

Jay is a founder and the director at Brisbane-based Revel Brewing. He made his way to Nashville with a few other members of the brewery team.


What brought you to CBC?

It’s one of the biggest conventions for brewers in the world and we were really keen to come over because we’re in a growth phase at the moment.

We’re coming into a place where our production volume is doubling and we want to get ahead of that. So, coming here and exposing ourselves to what other breweries are doing and finding out how they handle the scale really matters. That includes talking to suppliers and manufacturers about what they think the best ways are, along with just meeting a lot of brewers. You get to meet a lot of really lovely people here and they’re all willing to share their stories.  

Forming those relationships is so important. We've just met Tom from Glacier Hops and we're going to stay with him on the ranch and get to know him a bit better and see what he's doing out there. And those sorts of relationships last a lifetime.


What’s been the biggest surprise while here?

Probably two things. One is it actually shows how cool BrewCon is in Australia. This is pretty epic and big but what we have home is awesome as well. I thought this was going to be this scale apart but it is pretty rad what we’re doing back home.

And then, also, it doesn't matter where you are in the whole world – every single person I talk to who owns a brewery or works at a brewery, they all have the same struggle. They will have had that, “Oops, I bit off more than I could chew...” moment, they had planning issues with council, or they pivoted during COVID in a similar way.


How about the beer scene more widely? Have any breweries or beers blown your mind?

The Lagunitas in LA was tasting great and fresh. In can, I’ve had some hit and miss, but every brewery I’ve gone to has had some cracking beers. New Heights just up the road here was really good.


It’s often said America is way ahead of Australia when it comes to craft beer. Do you think that’s true and how does Australian beer quality hold up compared with what you’ve been drinking?

I think maybe five years ago it was a very different story. I think everyone is kind of doing the same thing now; the beers here are great and the beers back home are great.

I don’t know what’s happened but now we’re probably toe-to-toe and even pioneering in some areas.


You can read all of the articles from Will's travels and interviews in the US here.

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