2014 Midwest Wine Conference Pours Beer First
The Midwest Grape & Wine Conference – the biggest wine event in the region – starts on February 4th in St. Charles, Missouri. Danene Beedle, marketing director for the Missouri Wine & Grape Board and member of the conference’s Advisory Board, says the big news this year is the addition of beer and distillation to the program.
See related story: Updated 2014 Midwest Wine Conference Schedule
Several sessions will focus on beer, one of them by Steve Parkes, owner of the American Brewers Guild. His three decades of beer making experience began in Scotland with a degree in brewing science. Parkes will give a talk entitled, Start-up Brewers: Home Brew to Brewery.
‘I think virtually everybody who wants to start a brewery begins making beer at home,” he said, ‘it’s such a common theme that we encounter with people coming into the industry through our programs.”
He believes the craft beer and local wine industries are natural allies when it comes to cross promotion and bringing in tourists. Parkes was involved in the US craft brewing industry from the beginning. When he arrived in the US in 1988, ‘Craft brewing was still a brand new thing.” He estimates that there were only about a dozen small breweries on the East coast during the 80’s. Now there are at least 88 small brewers in New York alone.
After more than a decade employing his brewing skills around the country he and his wife bought the American Brewers Guild and have been running it as a brewers’ school ever since. In 2012 they also opened a pub, Drop-In Brewery in Middlebury, Vermont.
Parkes says he doesn’t like getting bogged down in defining what’s craft beer and what isn’t. The important thing is the taste. ‘If you intend to create a beer with lots of flavor,” he says, that pairs well with food, and, “gives a pleasurable drinking experience then its craft.”
The business model he recommends to craft brewers is high margins and low volumes. ‘The most successful business model for the small brewery is this prestige package,” he explains. ‘We’ll make a little bit of it but we’ll make it with care and craft and love and we’ll charge a lot of money for it,” he adds with a good natured, British accented laugh.
Parkes thinks craft brewers have a lot to learn from the wine industry which he estimates as three decades ahead of the brewing industry in terms of knowing how to market a local product and bring it to a world class level.
However, it works the other way too. The Midwest wine industry could profit from emulating beers’ more popular appeal. ‘Brewing is endeavoring to straddle the gap between the high-brow and the working class and I think it’s doing a reasonably good job of it in America right now,” says Parkes.
Steve Parkes will give his talk, “Start-up Brewers: Home Brew to Brewery”, at the Midwest Wine Conference in St. Charles at 2pm on Wednesday 5th February.