The Brewers’ Journal’s Brewers Congress — the verdict

Adrian Tierney-Jones spends a thrilling day at the Institute of Civil Engineers’ grand HQ in the company of brewers and industry experts 

Hello. I have just returned from the Brewers’ Journal’s Brewers’ Congress in London, at the imperial pile of architectural guile that the Institute of Civil Engineers calls home. It was rather fun, full of brewers and a few writers, plenty of insights, facts and figures, beers and a spirited call for the brewing industry to haul in the leers that still put women off beer drinking even now. It also reminded me that there was a couple of Brewers’ Congresses in North London in the 1880s, part of the Brewers’ Exhibition at the Agricultural Hall in Islington, which had been going since 1879. For some reason, I find that the events of then sound riveting (written without any sarcasm in my mind or the voice that I talk to Siri with).

Back in 2014 when I was researching Brewing Champions, a history of the competition that started at the Exhibition, I came across a Brewers’ Guardian from the 1890s (or was it the 1880s?) that mentioned a lecture at a Brewing Congress that went under the title of ‘the future of beer’ —what stood out was the writer’s comment on how an importing agent for lager, right at the very end of the discussion, bellowed out that lager was the future.  Did this man go into punditry? Elsewhere, there was an exhibition of curiosities from the industry, which ended up being sparsely attended, though I was not surprised given that publicity for the event made it sound like something out of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s Novelty Island (remember that?) —bottles and parrots, cups and parapets

However, the Congress that I attended, no barrel organs played and no red-faced men with suitably whiskery chops shouted the odds while the band shouldered the burden of a future where Untapped was more popular than the Bible. There were no clairvoyants or fortune tellers, but on the other hand there was a discussion about 2018’s trends (fresh and local, a closer relationship between the producer and drinker, less is more, more is less, as Cloudwater’s Paul Jones gnomically pronounced), and a day full of brewers and industry pundits pronouncing on everything from craft, the art and science of brewing, mental health in brewing, malting, labels and branding and women in the industry (thank you Jaega Wise from Wild Card for such a thoughtful and positive talk).

The irrepressible John Keeling of Fuller’s mused aloud whether brewing was an art or science. He was responsible for perhaps the quote of the day: ‘I’m a brewing philosopher, the Rene Descartes of the brewing world, I think therefore I drink.’ Gareth Williams of Tiny Rebel talked about cask and admitted: ’we didn’t enter this business to become millionaires’ — though the latter assertion would test the most righteous if AB-InBev came calling.

Elsewhere, Alex Troncoso from Lost & Grounded talked about the economics of brewing, mentioning that there was something heartfelt about a beer that was not perfect all the time (a comment I particularly chime with when it comes to the likes of gueuze and lambic); Yeastie Boys’ benevolent dictator Stu Mckinley asked that most valid of questions and answered it, ‘what is the most important thing in the world? The people, the people, the people.’ And Beavertown’s Creative Director Nick Dwyer curled up enthusiasm, knowledge and creativity into a scrunchy paper ball and threw it into the air and let it tell us about the way he came up with such fantastic branding.

Other speakers included Cloudwater’s Paul Jones, an ebullient Charlie McVeigh from Draft House, Dr Bill Simpson from Cara Technology on disasters of beer and the aforementioned Jaega Wise from Wild Card, who was fantastic on the problems that the industry still faces with the portrayal of women (something the Portman Group chap completely misunderstood when he showed an image of Dorothy Goodbody). That reminds me, how come there was only one female speaker (on the issue of women) amongst 16 speakers — time to recall John Keeling’s comment on how he was fed up of hearing how Georgina Young was Fuller’s first female head brewer: ‘she was head brewer because she was an excellent brewer.’