While the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) component of the biggest craft beer trade event in the country generates most of the hype, The BrewExpo America half has been growing just as quickly beyond capacity over the past several years. As the number of breweries dramatically increases from year to year, so too, does the number of vendors looking to cater directly to the market of small, independent beer producers.
The Brewers Association, which organizes the Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America, expects the number of attendees to hit 6,000 this year when the four-day event kicks off in Washington, D.C. March 26. That’s up from the just-under 5,000 that attended last spring’s edition in San Diego. The 2012 BrewExpo trade show component showcased the wares of 255 total exhibitors. As of last month, 390 already were signed up for next month’s show.
“And that’s not sold out, so there’s a chance we’ll get more companies registered—we’ve got maybe 70 booth spaces available,” says Barbara Fusco, sales and marketing director at the Brewers Association. Staging the trade show at the spacious Walter E. Washington Convention Center—versus in hotel conference centers as it’s been for the past few years—has enabled that extra vendor breathing room. The association was already having to turn potential exhibitors away at this point last year (the event was in early May) due to the limited space at the San Diego venue. Exhibit hours also have been expanded. The floor will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday March 27 and Thursday, March 28.
The exhibition is vastly evolved from what it was little more than a decade ago. It wasn’t easy to find equipment scaled for the small upstart brewer back then. And when a supplier tried something new, specifically tailored with the needs of craft in
mind, attendees didn’t know what to make of it. When Cask Brewing Systems tried to bring canning to artisanal brewing in 2002, it was practically laughed off the floor. Later that year, though, it inspired Oskar Blues Brewing Co. to embrace aluminum and the rest is history. Cask continues to be a regular exhibitor at BrewExpo America and this year will be highlighting its Semi-Automated Manual Canning System (SAMS). The SAMS is a table-top three-head filler system capable of filling about 15 cans per minute with one operator. It takes up only about 8 square feet of facility space. “We’ve always had a small manual system and we’ve had our fully automated line,” says Jamie Gordon, head of technical sales at Calgary, Canada-based Cask. “Being semi-automated, [SAMS] is designed to fill the gap between the very small manual systems and the fully automated lines we have.” The manual lines top out at about 12 cans per minute and the fully automated ones can fill up to 30 a minute.
Unlike Cask, Pacific Brewery Systems is a relative newcomer to the expo, having exhibited for the first time last year; the company’s been around since 2000. The Diamond Bar, Calif.-based company manufactures brew house equipment like kettles and fermenters. Company president Frank Ma—a veteran of the brewing equipment industry prior to the company’s founding—was impressed with how fast the trade show has been growing and made it a must-attend event. “I actually began marketing brewery equipment in the mid-‘90s and saw a booming period at that time and also a period where the phone doesn’t ring.,” Ma recalls. “But in the past couple of years it’s really picked up, especially last year. We’ve gotten a huge number of inquiries from a lot of people.” Craft brewers account for the bulk of Pacific’s business, though the company is flexible with the size of the brew houses it can produce—something as small as a 5-barrel system and as large as a 200-barrel configuration.
The company produces mainly stainless steel systems that can be fitted with copper sheets for a classic look. That appeals to brewers that want to add a bit of theater to their brewery tours or brewpubs whose systems are in plain view of the public. Pacific also offers a range of color sheets to help those small brewers distinguish themselves further from one another.
As small companies that cater primarily to the small brewer market have become quite common as the craft sector has enjoyed its current boom, so too have larger, established manufacturers whose bread and butter traditionally has been among multinational brewers but now increasingly have been offering product lines tailored to craft producers.
KHS has been one such company. Its Innofill Glass Micro filler for small and medium-sized breweries is one such innovation. It fills between 6,000 and 25,000 bottles of sizes that range from 100 ml to 3 liters. Its space-saving design is especially appealing for the smaller brewers. It can be monoblocked with either one or two capping systems as required.
For kegging, KHS offers the compact Innokeg Till CombiKeg line designed with the smaller producers in mind. It’s a compact keg washing and racking machine that houses not only the systems for washing and filling kegs, but the media tanks, controls and conveyors. It has a capacity of 60 to 100 kegs per hour, of sizes ranging from 10 liters to 58 liters.
To meet with these and many more suppliers, register for the Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America at craftbrewersconference.com.