What Happens When 200+ Brewers Get Together in One Place for 2 Days?

Well perhaps not quite what you imagine, well ok yes lots of beer gets consumed and yes some people are a bit late getting started on day 2 and yes some don't surface at all, but on the whole it is a pretty business-like event, with beer.

The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) holds its annual conference in March each year and for the third successive year it was in Stratford on Avon, at the Holiday Inn, a lovely spot by the side of the River Avon.

SIBA is the trade association of Independent Brewers and has over 600 members ranging in size from tiny micro breweries to some large regionals. It also has lots of Associate members representing a lot of brewery suppliers and some large breweries not eligible for full membership. It is the body that lobbied successfully for the introduction of Progressive Beer Duty which allowed many of its newer members to spring into existence.

The Annual Conference has the formal AGM - and for once we weren't debating what to call ourselves. SIBA started out as the Small Independent Brewers Association but then some of its members weren't so small any more or they and the group didn't want to be labelled as such and since then it has been struggling with what to call itself, whether to retain the SIBA or dump it and how to fit what it does call itself into that acronym. Currently it is the Society of Independent Brewers and Associates. So it fits, sort of.

This year the debates were much more interesting around what constitutes "good" real ale or craft beer. Many SIBA members are focussing on different kinds of products - keg beers for one. Just about all the craft beer in the US and in Europe is served in keg and they don't get hung up on the CAMRA line of "keg beer is not real ale". Cloudy beers are another - again no-one expects a Belgian craft beer or a German wheat beer to be clear but the guidelines for judging SIBA beer competitions have clarity as a criterion. SIBA is responding to this: last year they introduced a keg craft beer competition which attracted over 40 entries and at the AGM this year it was agreed to take a good look at the clarity criterion on the judging panels. So a group of brewers will get together, including the proposer of the motion and sort it out. All pretty friendly and civilised.

Another highlight of the conference is the trade day when just about all of our suppliers for everything from malt and hops to labels, glasses, software and brewery insurance are gathered at the conference to show their wares. It is a really good way to get around suppliers (and their competitors) and make or renew a personal contact, find out what they have in the pipeline and maybe check out alternatives.

The picture shows the breweery team enjoying a sample of beer with Will from Charles Faram, our hop suppliers. The beer was brewed by Little Ale Cart in Sheffield to show off a new hop variety which Farams are developing. No idea who the chap in the foreground is!

Finally though, there is chance to network with other brewers, find out what is going on with them and what their issues are currently and how they are coping or have coped with issues bugging us. The brewing world is a pretty friendly one where competitors are often also friends and neighbours and mostly willing to act in a friendly and neighbourly way.

Sue Morton

Thanks to Douglas at barclayimaging.co.uk for the piccies.

Last Updated: 14th March 2012
Author: Sue Morton

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