For four days last month, Minneapolis was awash in beer brewers as the Craft Brewers Conference took over the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Sponsored by the Brewers Association — a trade group representing small and independent breweries — the CBC is an annual gathering of national and international beermakers and brewing industry professionals.

This year's massive trade show drew more than 10,000 attendees from all over the world, with equipment makers, hop suppliers and swag producers showing off their wares. Dozens of seminars offered opportunities to learn about making and marketing beer and running a successful business. Nightly social events at breweries throughout the city were places to network and forge relationships. And, of course, there was beer everywhere.

I last attended a CBC in 2010. A look back at my coverage offers interesting insights into the massive change the intervening years have brought to the industry. For starters, only 2,000 people attended that conference, which was crammed into a single hotel ballroom.

In 2010, craft beer had a 7.6% dollar share of the total U.S. beer market. There was both hope and doubt that it would ever see 10%. Today its share is nearly 27%.

At the end of 2010, there were 1,756 operating breweries in the U.S. and worries about saturation. Prognosticating about the future of craft beer, one brewer said, "2,000 or 3,000 breweries in the U.S.? It probably could happen in 10 years." At the end of 2021, there were 9,247 breweries, and the number is still growing.

The World Beer Cup is an every-other-year, international competition held at the CBC. My first column for this newspaper covered the 2010 gold-medal win for Summit Extra Pale Ale. That year there were 3,330 entries from 642 breweries in 44 countries. This year saw 10,542 entries from 2,493 breweries representing 57 countries. Five Minnesota breweries took home a combined six medals, including two golds.

Backyard perks

Hosting this year's conference was a boon to Minnesota breweries. For one thing, it allowed many more of them to take advantage of the opportunity.

"The great positive impact for all Minnesota breweries is that they all went. They got to go," said Eric Biermann, founder and president of Inbound BrewCo in Minneapolis' North Loop. "If they had to travel, 90% of them wouldn't have gone."

It also gave many taprooms a much-needed boost after two years of pandemic-related slowdowns. Those near the Convention Center saw an uptick in traffic as early as three days before the convention. During the conference, taprooms were packed. But being the host city wasn't without issues; balancing conference attendance with running a brewery was a challenge.

"It's not as exciting as getting to go off to some other state and city and getting to do these things and have fun partying with your peers," said Daniel Justesen, president of Minneapolis' Utepils Brewing, before the conference. "Our brewer is trying to figure out how do we shut down production that week to allow the brewers to go to the conference. And keep the brewery neat and clean for all the events that are happening here. This is all going to be exciting and fun, but it kind of puts a hitch in your staff of trying to produce the beer and package and go to the conference."

During the conference he described leaving the brewery late at night, attending early morning sessions the next day and then returning to the brewery. "In another city, after the seminars you're basically out to have fun. We came back to work."

Craft collaboration

Craft brewing is a very collaborative industry, and competition with cooperation and camaraderie is an important part of its identity. That makes the social aspect of CBC the most important part for many brewers. The opportunity to talk to vendors and forge relationships with other brewers is as valuable as the educational seminars.

"You kind of get in your own little bubble," said Neil Miller, head of beer and co-founder of HeadFlyer Brewing in Minneapolis. "It's good for a brewery to do repeatable production, but sometimes to be innovative and creative you've got to get other ideas. So, getting to talk to people — Where are you from? What are you up to? What things are going on there? — that was really cool."

For Delta Brown, a marketing coordinator at Utepils, it instilled a strong sense of belonging. "In my mind craft beer seems like a niche. And to walk into a space with 10,000 people who all have the same niche that you have and work with is really incredible. ... It just felt like I was with my people."

"For me it's been more personal," said Justesen. "We do business with a lot of people in Europe and for the last two years there's been no travel. To get to talk to people that we've met over the years and developed relationships in terms of buying equipment and ingredients — it's that personal aspect."

St. Paul's Dual Citizen Brewing Co. took home a World Beer Cup gold medal for its Mayhem and Mischief barley wine. "It's obviously a massive deal for the brewery," said creative director Marc Anderson. "But to also be able to represent Minnesota as a whole is very important to us. To be included among our peers and to be included on an international stage like that was humbling and inspiring and gives us the drive to keep doing what we're doing."

As the dust settled, brewers reflected about the conference's impact on the beer industry in Minnesota. "I think there is a lot of pride," said Justesen. "I think there is probably a lot of relief that it's over because it is a lot of stress."

For Miller, it was a chance to show off Minnesota beer to the world. "I think being a flyover state we're a little bit underrated or not as recognized. So, I think this gave a lot of people from out of town an opportunity to come and see what we have to offer. See the diversity that we have in brewing and that breweries are being successful here in Minnesota."

Biermann sees the benefit going beyond beer.

"I think it helped the reputation of Minnesota, not just about breweries, but just about Minneapolis being a great place to be. Because of COVID and George Floyd and all the stuff going on, you could tell that people were thinking 'what's Minneapolis going to be like,' " he said. "But I never heard anyone complain about anything. They really enjoyed themselves. I don't think it's just a reflection of the beer industry. I think it's just Minnesota. We're still Midwest nice."

Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at