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When you mention an event in late March, college students usually think of spring break. Brewers on the other hand, their minds go to the Craft Brewers Conference — held this year in Washington, D.C.

The event brings together about 5,000 brewing industry professionals, including folks from plenty of N.C. breweries: Highland, Catawba Valley, Nantahala, Mystery and more attended this year. However it was a future Asheville brewery that almost stole the show, according to the Brewers Association recap.

New Belgium’s Kim Jordan gave the keynote speech, and her quotes were all over on Twitter. She encouraged craft brewers to “think big,” and to stay “intentional and intriguing.” She also delivered powerful lines like, “[Craft brewers] are the best thing that has happened to this industry since the repeal of Prohibition.” You can imagine the applause.

New Belgium’s head brewer, Peter Bouckaert, was also in the spotlight. The Brewers Association announced that he would receive one of three major awards. The prize, for “Innovation in Brewing,” was awarded in large part due to New Belgium’s ambitious barrel-aging program.

Plenty of smaller brewers made their mark at the conference as well. While there are many tailored classes and superstar presenters like Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River and Greg Koch of Stone, the few brewers that I talked to after the conference seem to agree that the best part about the conference is simply being there. The event gives brewery owners and employees from all parts of the country an important break from business as usual so they can hang out, and geek out, about beer.

Erik Lars Myers of Mystery Brewing summed up the experience: “This was my first time meeting Kim Jordan and Ken Grossman [of Sierra Nevada], and the first time I got to sit down and actually talk with Leah Wong of Highland … it was the standout moment of the entire week for me,” he wrote in an email. “Mystery was, by far, the smallest brewery in N.C. represented, and Kim, Ken and Leah treated me with respect. I felt — at that moment — an amazing amount of camaraderie. It might sound silly, but every once in a while I feel like we're still at the kids’ table both at Mystery and in North Carolina in general, and to have my opinions, feelings and words amongst these veritable giants of the industry was really quite wonderful. It shows what a close community craft beer really is.”

Local collaborations

With everyone feeling warm and fuzzy, it’s no surprise talks turned to collaboration projects. While there’s nothing confirmed yet, a few rumors have started circulating (including one that Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head may be planning an Asheville beer dinner). In the meantime, plenty of other area brewers are kicking off spring with collaboration beers and events:

Asheville Brewing’s Doug Riley and Noah Tuttle of Oskar Blues have a collaboration project out at both breweries right now. Dubbed “Big BAMA Buzz,” the Imperial Brown is described as “big and bold.” Unlike many Oskar Blues beers, it’s lightly hopped; however, it’s steeped with Ethiopian coffee for an extra kick. It was released Monday, April 8 at both the Oskar Blues Brewery taproom in Brevard and at Asheville Brewing’s Coxe Avenue location. It will only be available at the breweries, and proceeds will benefit the Animal Compassion Network.

Also just released is a five brewery and one malthouse team beer. The Red Rye Ale (from Nantahala, Heinzelmännchen, Bearwaters, Frog Level, Tipping Point and Riverbend Malt House) is just hitting taps and was brewed to celebrate N.C. Beer Month (ncbeermonth.com).

Speaking of N.C. Beer Month, this coming weekend (April 12 to 14) Highland Brewery has partnered with a variety of local businesses for an N.C. Beer Month weekend trip. The excursion includes accommodations at Aloft, a tour of Highland and Riverbend Malt House, a LaZoom comedy tour stopping at Thirsty Monk, dinner at Lexington Avenue Brewery and brunch at The Blackbird. Of course, if you already live here you can copy the itinerary and stay at your own house.

Wicked Weed and Thirsty Monk put their brains together to brew a Belgian Strong ale called “Wicked Monk.” According to Luke Dickinson, the reddish-brown beer will feature, “Black currants and ancho chilies … and it should finish out around 9 percent ABV.” Release details were still to come at the time of writing, but there will likely be a “dual release,” with the beer tapped at both Wicked Weed and Thirsty Monk at the same time, very soon.

On April 26, Oskar Blues is at it again … but this time it’s not all about beer. The Junction and Oskar Blues will co-host a beer dinner. Right now, all we know is that there will be five courses and it will cost $65 per person. Call the Junction at 225-3497 for more information and to reserve a seat.

Don’t drink too much, since the next day (April 27) is The Best Firkin Beer Festival. Described as “a pre-Prohibition era festival,” the fest will have food from the Lowdown Food Truck and Jack of the Wood. There will also be music from The Big Nasty Jazz Band. But let’s not wander too far; the focus here is on the beer. Many, many local breweries will be in attendance as well as plenty of out-of-towners (Blue Point, Terrapin, SweetWater, Mother Earth, Olde Hickory, Holy City, and more). Get your ticket now at http://thebestfirkinbeerfestival2013.eventbrite.com.

Wicked Weed has a couple collaborations this month. The 12 Bones BBQ collaboration beer, released April 5, is a Belgian Ale featuring malt from Riverbend Malt House that was smoked at 12 Bones BBQ, as well as about 100 pounds of North Carolina sweet potatoes. The release event had another treat in store: 12 Bones debuted “Freak Sauce,” a new barbecue sauce made with Wicked Weed’s popular Freak Double IPA.

Last but definitely not least, on May 2 Thirsty Monk and New Belgium team up to present the Sour Beer Symposium. Lauren Salazar, Sensory Specialist at New Belgium, will host an event centered on “the art and science of blending.” Tickets are $40 and will likely go fast. It’s worth noting that the only other cities on the tour are Portland, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Diego. Visit http://sourbeersymposium.eventbrite.com for your ticket.

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