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Monday, August 29, 2016

The 2016 Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference

By Matt Kelsey

Tampa, Florida took a moment to shine in the sunlight as the 2016 Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference was hosted in one of the nation’s top-rated beer cities, according to USA Today. Having lived in the area more than 10 years ago, I know firsthand that craft-beer was just breaking into the market back then. Unknown to me, the overall Tampa Bay area is now home to more than 70 breweries in the region and there seems to be no end in sight for the craft-beer market, as more are opening every year. What a perfect destination for a “beercation!” 

As a blogger, I’ve been able to interview a variety of people, sample interesting styles of craft beer and attend some really great events throughout the years, but I’ve never been prepared to attend an entire beer industry -sponsored weekend, jam-packed with informative, fun topics… and oh, yes, plenty of beer to sample, as well!

For three days in August, Zephyr Conferences rolled out the red carpet to provide industry experts speaking in a relaxed symposium-styled environment, progressive meals paired (and prepared) with local craft beer, brewery tours, sponsored meals and samplings, keynote speakers, live beer blogging, after-hours parties, the largest bottle share I’ve ever seen that offered samples of rare and great beers from all over the world and many more events that were all equally incredible.

But before the main event even began, I attended the Pre-Con Excursion to Jacksonville, which is the largest city by landmass in the continental United States, so that means there’s plenty of room for breweries there! I got to experience the Jax Ale Trail, which is similar to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, where tourists are encouraged to visit each location and get your passport stamped. Once you’ve visited each location, you’ll receive free beer gear. I was really impressed with the variety of selections by Aardwolf Brewing Company. Later that night, we visited Kickbacks Gastropub for a beer dinner. Tucked downstairs away from the public is a Belgian-inspired bar and dining space, private beer lockers, refrigerated beer catacombs where more than 100,000 vintage bottles and kegs of beers are stored to go along with the bar’s selection of 204 beers on tap and more than 1,000 different bottled beers from around the globe. This felt like visiting a castle full of beer! It’s highly recommended!

Once in Tampa, highlights included visiting Cigar City Brewing and Ulele Restaurant and Brewery, personally discussing barrel-aging and souring techniques with Brewery De Brabandere Brewmaster Yves Benoit, learning about Petrus Sour Beers while blending different craft-beer styles, a four-course beer dinner held at World of Beer and visiting with different craft-beer fans and writers from all over the world!

On Sunday, when the convention technically wrapped in Tampa, the Post-Con Excursion began. Brew Bus Brewing was our transportation for the day, whisking attendees to a variety of breweries throughout the nearby cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater (I had a blast at 3 Daughters Brewing!), while also serving up some of their freshly brewed craft beer, including Rollin Dirty Irish Style Red Ale, Last Stop India Pale Ale and You’re My Boy, Blue! Blueberry Wheat.

Overall, I can’t say enough good things about this event. I’m only upset this was the first year I’ve been able to attend. I’m still kicking myself for missing last year’s festivities in Asheville, North Carolina. I definitely won’t skip next year’s visit to the “Beer Capital of the World,” Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

As a craft-beer aficionado and as a beer blogger, I cannot recommend attending this event any more. I’d like to thank everyone involved for helping create a great event, especially to the Visit Jacksonville, Visit Tampa Bay, as well as the Visit St. Petersburg and Clearwater hard-working crews. If you can afford to go, Zephyr Conferences also offers the Beer Now Conference in Europe, running in conjunction with the American Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference. I can’t wait for next year to arrive, already!

For More Information: http://beerbloggersconference.org/

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