Master Brewers Annual Conference

I just got back from the Master Brewers Association of Americas Annual Conference that was held this year in Austin, TX. This event is 3+ days of great technical sessions, presented by beer scholars, brewers, and scientists. I’ve been saying for a few years that this is the best brewing technical conference that happens in the United States, it is chock full of practical information and cutting edge research.
As a caveat, I am a member of the National MBAA Technical Committee, but I think I can be objective about this. I accepted a spot on the Technical Committee because I felt this was a great way to help make these conferences stay as valuable as they had been for me in years past. And my role on the committee is to assist with moderating sessions, review the technical presentations and posters that have been submitted, and suggest workshop topics for future events.

If you are a brewer, just a quick glance at the presentations and activities will prove my point about the value of this conference:
Wednesday October 23rd started with Austin area brewery tours and some pay-to-play Pre-Conference short courses on In-Line Instrumentation, Cleaning in the Brewery, and a Beer Steward Certificate Seminar (The MBAA’s version of the Cicerone Program). Many of the attendees showed up Wednesday for some board meetings and the opening reception.
On Thursday the Technical Sessions started in earnest. There were many Technical Sessions, in each one 4 presenters talk on very technical aspects of a certain part of the brewery process. This is the cutting edge brewing research that is being done all over the world, and excellent presenters from Germany, Japan and the UK complemented the American brewers and beer researchers. The presentations covered a diverse program that included research on brewhouse operations, world class management, beer filtration and stability, brewery utilities management, food safety and cleaning, sensory analysis, sustainability, and two excellent sessions on yeast and fermentation.

Then there are workshops, which are a little less formal and a little more practical reviews of things like food safety, brewhouse engineering, single malt and hops brewing, beer styles, gluten free brewing, and wastewater treatment.
And finally, there were the brewing fundamentals discussions on brewing water, the chemistry of which is still a bit of a mystery to me, so I found the talks very valuable.
Sandwiched in between the technical talks was a great trade show, a little less crowded than others, which gave me the opportunity to have great discussions with current and potential suppliers of ingredients and equipment. And several researchers opted to present posters, instead of oral presentations.

I always come back from events like this all fired up and ready to implement new methods of research in  our own processes, and new procedures or ideas that I got from trhe conference.

As an added bonus, we sell a lot of beer in Austin, and so we spent our evenings doing events and visiting some great accounts. One favorite event was a tap-takeover we did at Whip In, an old convenience store that has been converted into a bottle shop, grocery store and bar/restaurant, and has a very interesting food menu that combines elements of Indian food and Texas BBQ. It was really pretty amazing. And they brew their own beer too! “Namaste Y’all!”

We had an event at a great place called Easy Tiger, on the east part of 6th street, near the freeway. This place has a bake shop/coffee shop upstairs, and down the stairs is an excellent craft beer bar, with an outdoor patio that overlooks a beautiful creek. They have a relatively small menu, but the food is absolutely delicious, and focuses on meat.

On the west end of 6th street is a great craft beer spot called Star Bar, where we went very late one night. Friendly folks, and a great beer selection.

We had a “meet and great” at a newer place called Bangers, in an old residential neighborhood just south of 6th street that is getting renovated into a very hip area for restaurants and bars. Bangers does sausages and beer, they were smoking a whole pig when we were there. Not only do they have ana amazing selection of draft and bottled beers, but they also have a large outdoor area equipped with picnic tables, a music stage, and a dog run for those that don’t want to leave their dogs at home. All in all, a very cool place.


The whole hog at Bangers

6th Street itself is world-famous for the live music, and we popped into a bunch of places to listen to bands. I saw some pretty incredible guitar playing (not surprisingly, lots of Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top influences), but unfortunately, most of these places have a pretty lousy beer selection. One exception is Chicago House, a craft beer beer just 1/2 block north of 6th St. No music when we were there, but a great beer selection. While we were there they were pouring Stone Enjoy By IPA, 10 Barrel/Bluejacket/Stone Suede Imperial Porter, and a cask of Ballast Point Sculpin with Citra hops.  My kind of place!

The first night we were in Austin, we went to two places north of 6th street, closer to University of Texas.  The Draught House was our first stop-great beer selection and a great spot to watch the World Series. The next stop was Pinthouse Pizza, a pizza place with a brewery that reminded me a lot of Pizza Port here in SoCal. Great beer selection. We didn’t try the pizza but it sure looked good!

And of course, no trip to Austin could be complete without having some barbecue. This time, our rep Steve took us out to the famous Salt Lick, where I had the absolute best brisket I have ever had in my life. Next time in Austin I’ll be sure to try Franklin’s BBQ downtown, I heard from many it’s the best, but you have to stand in line for hours (or pay someone to do it for you).

Austin salt lick photo


The one thing I didn’t get to on this very full trip was visiting a brewery, like Real Ale or Jester King. There are a lot of brewers in Austin now, making some very good beers. I certainly sampled many, and enjoyed them. Next time!

5 thoughts on “Master Brewers Annual Conference

  1. Kevin

    Sounds like a great trip, and here are a couple tips for the next one. Be sure to order ahead at Franklin – they post availability on their website several weeks in advance. Sure beats the line! And further down Rainey (where Banger’s is) is a place called Craft Pride, that has ~40 taps of local TX craft beer. Awesome!

  2. Thomas

    The MBAA Conference sounds awesome. Sort of a three-day doctorate degree. I used to live in Austin and my taste buds went through a sense memory of smokey nirvana just reading this post. I have been to most places mentioned and am dying to get back and try the ones I haven’t.

    Since the post is mostly about food set in a beer environment (or is it beer set in a food environment?) I wanted to share an observation regarding breweries and brewpubs that serve food. Generally, awful. The times I have gone to a taproom of a brewery, a brewery whose beer I love, and had to stomach a lousy burger or a limp salad are too numerous to mention. Okay, I’ll mention. Take Russian River Brewery, for instance: World-class beer, Third-world food. Lagunitas is another. The food is more suitable for the lovable terrier mascot on their labels than for the customers at the brewery.

    Mitch, I think the question you have ask, “What is Quality,” regarding beer in a series of posts ought to be asked by a brewery regarding the food it serves to its customers. The entire customer experience of visiting a craft brewery shouldn’t be attenuated by crappy cuisine. After all, the same dedication a great craft brewery makes to its beer ought to be backed by the same dedication to the food its beer accompanies.

    Lastly, since I trashed two famous (and two of my favorite craft beer-makers) breweries for their food failures, let me point to perfection: Sierra Nevada. Just an excellent taproom/restaurant setting serving excellent food. It can be done.

    1. mitchsteele Post author

      When I started brewing in the late 1980s, I remember many breweries treated food as an afterthought. Simple things like burgers and chili. Gordon Biersch was the first brewer I remember that put an emphasis on the quality of their food. Brewers in general do not always make good restaurant owners. My 4 years brewing in a brewpub made me realize that I was not the kind of person to ever run a restaurant.

  3. Thomas

    “Evans’ IPA is the safest drink at all times and the best health insurance.”

    Curious if the safe drink claim was comparing the beer to drinking water or to other alcoholic beverages? Separately, the beer’s “best health insurance” claim would be a terrific alternative to Obamacare today.

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