We arrived Wednesday afternoon for a little vacation time before the conference started. Matt from Rhizome Productions got us reservations to Bern’s Steakhouse and even picked up the tab. Who says volunteering at beer festivals does not pay off! Bern’s was amazing. Do not miss it if you are ever in Tampa. While it is not inexpensive, it is worth every dollar. We enjoyed the best steaks we have ever tasted. The food, wine, local craft beer and service was impeccable. And save room for dessert! The dessert room is separate from the main dining room and they escort you there after dinner and throw in a tour of the kitchen. The dessert room is divided up in small private rooms made of oak staves from wine foeders (giant wine barrels). You can phone song requests to the piano player from your private foeder while enjoying the most decadent desserts imaginable.
Thursday was another vacation day, so we hopped on the streetcar to Ybor City, the old Cuban part of town. Ybor (pronounced E-bore) has gorgeous old architecture and worn brick paved roads. The streetcar runs directly through the center of old Ybor. The trip felt like we were using time machine. Ybor boasts a wide variety of entertainment, shopping and dining options. We hit Tampa Bay Brewing for lunch, and ran into the Beer Judge Chronicles team. A few blocks down the street is the Cigar City Cider & Mead. Yeah, it’s the same Cigar City. The 2 Beer Guys crew showed up and we had a great reunion drinking cider and mead from Cigar City and other guest taps. Amber and June were smarter than the boys and headed back to the hotel for dinner and a good night’s rest before the conference kicked off. But who needs rest when there is a new beer town to explore? The guys Ubered to Angry Chair for some of the finest beers in Tampa. Their Turbid IPA was fantastic, like a blend of Heady Topper and Julius. It was that good. After a few more stops, we met up with the Dukester and closed down Cigar City’s brewpub. We had drank well all day, and the conference had not even started yet.
The conference launched Friday with regular kick-off speaker Julia Herz of the Brewers Association. Julia’s passion for craft beer is infectious and she always gets the crowd excited. There is a lot to be excited about nationwide, especially in Florida. Did you know there are about 80 breweries in the Tampa/St Pete area? We learned that and more in the beer in Florida session. Most everyone has heard of Cigar City or Funky Buddha, but most beer in FL is limited to local markets. But is that a surprise? Nearly every region is bursting with new breweries only known to locals. It is a great reason to travel this beautiful land.
And then the beer flowed. Green Flash & Alpine hosted a pre-dinner reception to share their wonderful West coast beers before the beer & food pairing dinner hosted by the conference hotel. Hotel food and beer? Yep. It was delicious. The Waterside Marriott gets craft beer better than any hotel we have visited. The on-site sports bar had a stellar draft list. The dinner was exceptional and was paired with a wide variety of Florida beers. After dinner, the beer did not stop. The sponsors treated us to a beer expo with good times, great people, delicious beer and more swag than we could carry home. Then the real fun started. The epic Night of Many Bottles kicked off at 10pm, and while some headed to their rooms, the rest of us soldiered on. Everyone brought their local favorites and there was more beer than we could touch. Rare beers were the rule, not the exception. Westvleteren 12, anyone? Who needs sleep when there is so much good beer?
But it was tough to get up Saturday morning. The Night of Many Bottles left us foggy, tired and a bit dazed. But we are beer bloggers. This is what we do. It is the job we signed up for. The first two time-slots were breakout session, so June and I split up and covered each. One of the best parts of BBWC is the helpful information about blogging, marketing and media skills. I took the brands and analytics session while June learned about social media engagement and share-worthy visual content. By then we were hungry and MillerCoors and World of Beer did not disappoint. We were treated to four delicious pairing, and the highlight was a bucket-list-worthy beer. A fresh unfiltered keg of Pilsner Urquell was flown in days early from Plzen. A. Ma. Zing. Try it if you get the chance, even if you have to fly to the Czech Republic.
Back at the hotel, the Beer Babe and Bob Townsend schooled us in better beer writing before the one and only Stan Hieronymus delivered the keynote session. The good folks from Petrus shared their sour beers and let everyone try their hand at blending. We heard it was a great session. You read that correctly. We passed on the sour session. At least one every BBWC you just have to sneak out for some rest. We had a long night ahead and needed to recharge the batteries with a little siesta. And we were glad we did.
We boarded the bus to JJ Taylor, the MillerCoors house in Tampa, for the annual live beer blogging. It’s a whirlwind and you’ll miss it if you blink. We were grouped by tables of ten and sampled one beer every 5 minutes. 10 breweries stopped by to talk as we furiously tweeted, instagramed, untappd and blogged in real time. It is the craziest, and probably the most fun, part of the BBWC. After the live beer blogging, we split up onto three buses and darted off for a progressive dinner. Every bus traveled to the same breweries, but in a different order. June and I joined Dave & Julieanna from Sips, Suds & Smokes and hit Copperhead first. The crab cake pops were a delight and the rest of the food was delicious, as well. Next up we hit Ulele, a classy brewpub that makes excellent beer and some of the best charred oysters you’ll ever taste. Finally, we closed the evening with authentic Cuban sandwiches at Tampa’s big dog, Cigar City. The beer and food were special, but the best part was their people, especially Oswald. That young man loved his job, the beer and the people enjoying his beer. He has a bright future in the craft beer industyr. What a day!
What a day!
The conference always passes too fast and Sunday came quickly. Historically, the first Sunday morning session is sparsely attended. But the room was full to everyone’s surprise. Troika & Elle shared their passion for building community with an entertaining and fun presentation. They quickly woke up a sleepy crowd. After a great beer tourism session, we were near the end. Then, with the announcement of BBC17 in Milwaukee, the 2016 event was over. We traded hugs, high-fives, and goodbyes and many left the conference at noon. Some of us old-timers have learned that it is best to rest up and fly home on Monday. The day job has been on hold a few days, one more is not going to hurt.
For the lucky few who stayed, a small group enjoyed the post-conference excursion to St Petersburg. After several days in Tampa, it was great to experience beer on the other side of the bay. If you’re in St. Pete, check out 3 Daughters, Green Bench, Cycle, and Rapp. The great folks at Visit St Pete took good care of us all day long.
If you didn’t make it this year, we hope we see you in Milwaukee for BBC17! Always drink good beer. Cheers!
Special thanks to all our sponsors. We know you are the reason we had such a great time. Thank you for your smiles, time, generosity, swag and most importantly, the delicious, delicious beer.
Visit Tampa Bay
National Beer Wholesalers Association
Petrus Sour Beers
Marriott Tampa Waterside
World of Beer
Marker 48 Brewing
Visit St. Pete / Clearwater
J.J. Taylor Distributing Florida, Inc.
Beer Industry of Florida
Visit Buffalo Niagara
Rogue Ales and Spirits
Coppertail Brewing Co.
Nuts For Drinks
Live Beer Blogging
Cigar City Brewing
JDub’s Brewing Company
Terrapin Beer Co.
New Belgium Brewing
St. Pete Brewing Co.
Florida Beer Co.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Crooked Thumb Brewery
Lagunitas Brewing Co.
See you in Milwaukee in 2017!