Convention: One big Party?

When I was director of Hop Growers of America, most brewers, or anybody for that matter, didn’t care much about convention. When attendance was greater than 150 people, it was a shock. Convention was a time when growers and industry members would get together to discuss industry issues, drink free beer and play dice together. The meetings, I’ll admit, were a bit on the gloomy side. You have to remember that unless there was a warehouse fire or an alpha shortage, prices were often below the cost of production. Discussions involved much head shaking and trying figure out how to curb over production. In short, it was a lot of inside baseball. Growers drank a lot every evening (that hasn’t changed) and coffee was the lifeblood of the morning meetings. You could usually count on serious and thought provoking discussions.

Fast-forward 10 years … Hop convention is a big party! Some hop growers truly feel like rock stars and have naturally succumbed to hubris. There were more brewers at convention this year than you could shake a stick at, with about 650 people in attendance. How could you not think you were king of the world with all that attention? One brewer with whom I had breakfast enjoyed his first convention. He commented how great it would be if there were even more brewers in attendance.

Brewers communicating with hop growers and merchants is ultimately a good thing. Is convention the right venue for that? All the focus on selling and developing relationships has pushed some discussions to the side. There are a lot of issues growers and merchants need to discuss without brewers present. Planners today organize meetings regarding new variety development, increased hop quality. Everything has a theme of sustainability. The talks about cost of production, market forces, managing supply and the alpha surplus/shortage are conspicuously absent. Of course, that type of talk isn’t any fun when times are good.

Maybe people don’t care to watch the pennies when the dollars are flowing in. Maybe they just want to live for the moment knowing they cannot avoid their nemesis anyway when it comes. Lack of discipline in the hop industry can lead to big problems. Let’s not forget … The industry never figured out a way to manage supply and demand. They have been fortunate they haven’t had to for the past 7 years.