The 80th annual National Beer Wholesalers Association Convention and Trade Show convened at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas Oct. 8-11 filling 100,000+ square feet of trade show floor and attracting nearly 4,000 industry representatives. The convention was a chance for distributors to research all that’s available in the world of brewing, while the trade show was a showcase of breweries from all over the world representing nearly every beer style with 265 different exhibitors displaying their wares, and 85 breweries pouring more than 500 different beers. 

The most congested spaces on the trade show floor were amongst the tables of the more than two dozen craft breweries represented in the Brewers Association-sponsored Craft Brewers Pavilion, and the rest of the trade show appeared to be dominated by artisanal beer sporting plenty of flavor. No surprise there, for although the growth of craft beer has recently slowed somewhat to a single digit increase of 6.2%, it continues to increase its share of sales and in 2016 accounted for a 12.3% share of the total U.S. beer market (up from 11% in 2014). Additionally, the number of operating breweries in the U.S. is at an all-time historic high, which as of June 30, 2017 according to the Brewers Association midyear analysis stands at 5,562, compared to 3,739 the last time this convention convened in 2015. 

Artisanal Imports, which can always be counted on to bring interesting and excellent products from around the world, brought Elgood’s Coolship Sour Mango Ale (Wisbech, England), and Trooper ESB and Trooper Hallowed Belgian dark ale, developed by Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson and brewed by Robinson’s Brewery (Cheshire, England).

 

Photos by Joe Urcioli - Unibroue brewmaster Jerry Vietz and Bob Barnes

Another example of a rocker making beer could be found at the booth of Unibroue (Chambly, Quebec), where a real live rock star was posing for pictures and enjoying his beer. Dave Mustaine, the original guitarist of Metallica and current Megadeth star, after becoming fast friends with Unibroue Brewmaster Jerry Vietz, worked with him to create A Tout le Monde, a saison named for Megadeth’s 1994 hit song (which translates to “for everyone”). Vietz brewed five different batches till they found the one they both agreed on. The beer is currently served at Megadeth concerts whenever possible and Dave says it is quite popular with fans. Interestingly, it’s only the second saison the brewery has made (the other being Blonde de Chamblis) and at 4.5% has the lowest ABV in Unibroue’s portfolio.

 

Flying Monkeys booth at NBWA

Other outstanding brews from our Canadian friends were to be found at the booths of two breweries from Ontario: Flying Monkeys Brewery poured its 11.5% ABV City and Colour Imperial Maple Wheat, a wheatwine made with dark maple syrup that made me think of pancakes; and Nickel Brook Brewing had its 11% ABV Winey Bastard, an imperial stout aged in Pinot Noir barrels.

 

Garage Brewing rep Jodie Augustine

For brews on the wacky side, one had to head over to Brew Rebellion (San Bernadino, Calif.), which was pouring its Saturday Morning Cartoons Breakfast Cereal Milk Stout infused with Fruity Pebbles (with actual bits of the cereal embedded in the white wax the bottle cap and neck are embossed with); Sunup Brewing (Phoenix, Ariz.) had its White Russian Imperial Stout that mimicked the classic cocktail; Garage Brewing (Temecula, Calif.) brought its Marshmallow Milk Stout; and not to be outdone, Southern Tier Brewing (Lakewood, New York) introduced its Thick Mint, a tribute to the popular Thin Mint Girl Scout cookie.

Central Waters Brewing (Amherst, Wis.) had one of the best barleywines I’ve ever encountered, its Bourbon Barrel Barleywine aged in oak bourbon barrels with rich flavors of dark fruits and wood.

Sour beers have recently come to the forefront and there was plenty to be sampled. Oceanside Ale Works (Oceanside, Calif.) had Funk-n-Delicious Peche; Victory Brewing (Downington, Penn.) its Sour Monkey, a bretted version of its Golden Monkey tripel; and Caldera Brewing (Ashland, Ore.) the provocatively-named Mother Pucker Raspberry Sour, which uses a yogurt culture for natural kettle souring.  

This was my 10th time attending the trade show, which has become noticeably dominated by craft beer choices, a trend that has grown exponentially over the past 18 years. If this trade show is any indication, it would appear that more and more distributors are embracing the craft beer segment as it slowly but surely chips away at the pie, securing a larger piece of its share of the beer market.

The NBWA is a major beer biz convention that wisely comes to Vegas every other year and alternates in other cities (sans trade show). For more information, visit the NBWA’s website at www.nbwa.org.