by Eric Ginsburg
As I stood in the hallway on the first floor of the Proximity Hotel scribbling in my notebook last week, just outside of a panel on Calling on Chain Account Buyers at the annual North Carolina Craft Brewers Conference, I was pretty surprised to look up and see someone I’ve known since I was 16.
It took me a second to recognize Eric Knight — it’s been years since I saw my fellow Guilford College alum and peer from high school back in Massachusetts. Plus, he grew his hair out. But there he was, holding a cooler full of his beer and getting ready to walk into the session.
I had no idea that a year and a half ago he opened Steel String Brewery in Carrboro, though as he caught me up on his life I vaguely recalled running into him at a bar way back when he mentioned the idea. A lot has changed in that time, and Knight’s not the only one who opened a brewery. A bunch of people did.
North Carolina’s craft-beer scene has rapidly evolved into a juggernaut of an industry, and the growth is enough that the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild — the group that organized this conference — hired its first full-time director at the beginning of this year. Just as Knight and I said our goodbyes, someone from powerhouse brewery Highland stopped guild Executive Director Margo Knight Metzger a few feet away to tell her that the conference had been a huge success and that she should be very proud.
The two-day convention, held in Greensboro’s gleaming Proximity Hotel and attended by almost 300 people from around the state, included a glut of panels, industry exhibitors and dinner at Natty Greene’s Brewery downtown before additional drinks at the newly opened Gibb’s Hundred Brewing several blocks away.
Three people from Preyer Brewing, the brewery under construction on the north side of downtown Greensboro, split up to cover concurrent panel discussions, regrouping in the hotel lobby and quickly trading notes on everything from applicable employment law to yeast management.
In another session, Matt Monroe, a brewery representative for Natty Greene’s, was among the crowd sitting on gold chairs and listening to Suzanne Brown of Visit NC talk about ways the state’s tourism body tries to associate craft beer with the state and explain how local beer and travel go hand in hand.
“You can go to DC and have a [Foothills] Hoppyum but it’s just not the same as going to Winston-Salem and having it at a Dash game,” Brown said.
Kristen Moore, of Visit Charlotte, expanded on Brown’s point, emphasizing the importance of breweries connecting with local convention and visitors’ bureaus and coming up with creative ideas including travel packages and unique events. As part of its publicity for NC Beer Month in April, Moore said Visit Charlotte bought and distributed 5,000 labeled pint glasses and accompanying coasters with information about #CLTbeer and the monthlong event.
The conference wasn’t just an opportunity to learn, but also to network and celebrate. It ended as all such events probably should, with a dinner buffet and awards, including the presentation of the Brewers Cup trophy to Crank Arm Brewing of Raleigh for its Rickshaw Rye IPA.
Remember how I said a lot has changed in the last few years? The brewery — an expansion from a rickshaw company — opened at the end of July in 2013. What a testament to the state’s beer revolution.