They came from all over the world, the people and their beers. Brewers, trade show vendors, beer judges, media folks and more gathered for the Craft Brewers Conference, Brew Expo and the World Beer Cup competition in the newly awakened Minneapolis Convention Center. After the sessions, they met up at cozy breweries, bars and restaurants each chilly evening. It felt like homecoming week.
The first full day of CBC 2022, presented annually by the Brewers Association, started with industry awards. San Franciscan Ramon Tamayo, currently brewing at New Belgium Brewing and Magnolia Brewpub in San Francisco, and Annette May, the first female Certified Cicerone and founding faculty member of the Schoolcraft College Brewing and Distillation Program took the stage to receive Mentor of the Year awards along with warm appreciation for their work in mentoring new brewers from underrepresented communities. Entering its third year, the BA’s mentoring program was created to “foster equity in the craft brewing community,” according to the program description. Heartfelt tributes from people mentored by Tamayo and May underscored the impact this program can have in opening doors.
Themes of diversity, equity and inclusion ran through many of the seminars and programs for 2022. Workshops and attractions such as a preview of a documentary on African Americans opening craft breweries drew crowds and elicited seldom-heard discussions.
“It’s not JUST about the beer!“
On the second morning, Natalie Cilurzo, President and Co-founder of Russian River Brewing Co., gave a keynote address that struck a broader theme of craft breweries and community. Past CBC keynotes from such celebrity speaker’s circuit standouts such as Billy Bean and Michael Pollan drew better – there was evidently a little extra sleeping-in this year after that first night of seeing old and new friends. However, the enthusiastic crowd that showed up was treated to a moving presentation that cut straight to the search for meaning in craft beer.
Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo had been in Belgium prior to the conference, planning to return to California before heading to CBC.
Covid had other ideas. Quarantined and unable to enter the US until they tested negative, the couple was waiting it out for what would total ten days when Natalie tripped and broke a bone. She eventually got to the conference on time to give her speech on a knee scooter, underscoring the spirit of dedication she wanted to talk about.
While preparing her talk, Natalie had looked at the sense of purpose of breweries such as Creature Comforts, New Belgium Brewing CO., Pravda Brewery in Ukraine, and Weathered Souls.
Recounting the extraordinary adversity the industry has faced in the last two-plus years, she went through questions those struggles brought up, including, “What the HELL are we doing? Why do we continue to get up every day and go to work, despite this unrelenting barrage of challenges?” and ultimately, “What is our company’s purpose?”
Her account of finding purpose at RRBC zeroed in on the night in 2017 when wildfires swept through the city of Santa Rosa, “crossing a 6-lane highway, leveling hotels, shopping centers, thousands of homes and anything else in its path,” and killing more than 40 people in their community. “At the time, Vinnie and I were in the middle of building our new brewery in Windsor, and we were bleeding money,” she recounted. “We were in no financial position to start writing checks to help fire victims.”
She told about the Sonoma Pride beer they brewed at RRBC and how about 60 other breweries brewed batches too, with all proceeds – about $1.1 million – going to local nonprofits helping get residents back on their feet. While Cilurzo didn’t mention it, that effort became a model for other fundraising beers brewed at multiple breweries in the years since then.
In addition, the crew at the Russian River Pub made another kind of impact in the wake of the terror and loss the fire had brought.
“Our little brewpub in Downtown Santa Rosa quickly became the gathering place for displaced members of our community who were seeking news, needing a place to charge their phones and looking for a warm meal and a cold beer,” Cilurzo recalled. “Our employees transcended their roles as servers, bartenders and bussers to become therapists, providing support and someone to listen to the many stories of evacuation and survival.”
She showed the hall a photo of a note written on a napkin that was left with one of the servers, reading the words aloud.
“Dear Vinnie, Natalie, Grant & RRBC,
Thank you so much for the beer, lunch and respite from the trauma. The support and caring from our community feels amazing and is why we WILL rebuild and STAY in Santa Rosa. Thank you for helping us make a decision about our future living arrangements! Being here today was like coming home, in a way it’s allowed us to breathe easy for an hour. Thanks for so much more than a meal and a beer for which we are also very thankful!
Susan & Paul Donner, San Miguel Rd. Santa Rosa “
“Sometimes,” Cilurzo said, “your reason for being just smacks you in the face.”
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