By Bob Townsend
The Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) is a big-time trade show and industry event for brewpubs and packaging breweries that travels to a different American city each year.
In early May, some 14,000 brewers and beer business people descended on Nashville, where the official CBC website greeting — “It’s Time for CBC, Y’all!” — made me want to conjure the gonzo spirit of that son of Louisville, Hunter S. Thompson.
The last time I attended a CBC somewhere in the South, it was 2003 in New Orleans, and it ended up kind of crazy, in that “city-that-care-forgot” way things occasionally get there.
I seem to remember Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione at d. b.a. on Frenchman Street singing Woody Guthrie songs while dressed as Woody from “Toy Story.”
And Freddy Bensch, Big Kahuna at SweetWater, led an impromptu psychedelic parade down Bourbon Street to check out some of the bad decision bars and clubs along the way.
Back then there were less than 1,500 craft breweries in the U.S., and besides Abita and SweetWater, few could be found around the region.
Now there are over 6,500 in operation all across the country. Thousands more are in planning, and the South has become one of the fastest growing places on earth for new craft breweries.
But beyond being in Nashville, and all the y’all, the South didn’t figure much in the official program of the CBC this time.
The two general session keynote speakers were Midwesterners — Paul Saginaw, co-owner and founding partner of the famous Zingermans deli and gourmet food company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Deborah Carey, founder, and president of Wisconsin’s beloved New Glarus Brewing.
They both built companies with admirable cultures. But the same could be said of the good folks behind many upstart Southern restaurants and breweries.
Happily, one night during the conference, a group of them took over Kuchnia and Keller, a hot new Germantown bar and restaurant that chef Aaron Clemins and Nashville restaurateur Tandy Wilson opened in late 2017.
Organized by Creature Comforts Brewing from Athens, Georgia, the collaborative event dubbed the K+K All Nighter also featured beers from Nashville’s Southern Grist, Atlanta’s Wrecking Bar, and Brasserie de la Senne from Brussels, Belgium.
Kuchnia and Keller are the Polish and German words for kitchen and cellar, places where you both make and preserve food and drink.
Clemins, a Milwaukee native, passionately recreates hearty favorites from his youth, like braunschweiger, wurzfleischm and pork schnitzel, in a gleaming open kitchen surround by an L-shaped chef’s table.
For the All Nighter, two Atlanta chefs, Ryan Smith of Staplehouse and Terry Koval of Wrecking Bar Brewpub, joined Clemins in the kitchen, as the trio cooked up a mouth-watering array of dishes perfect for pairing with the wide variety of beers listed on the other side of the menu.
While the chefs worked, the brewers, including Yvan De Baets of Brasserie de la Senne, David Stein of Creature Comforts, and Jamie Lee of Southern Grist, milled among the crowd gathered around the bar and talked about their beers.
Among the outstanding parings, I enjoyed the wheat-driven, herbal hop character of Creature Comforts' Dayspring Grisette with Koval’s roasted beet salad, layered in baby mustard greens, ramp relish, cured egg yolk, and thinly sliced, hop-cured coppa.
Smith’s surprisingly rich but delicate roasted cabbage roll with beef cheeks and green garlic broth proved a cross-cultural match with the refreshing lemony-hoppy flavors of Brasserie de la Senne’s lively Taras Boulba blonde ale.
I was more than sated after a few more rounds of those kinds of combos. But it didn’t stop me from venturing into the Nashville night. And I grabbed a ride to a club to hear visiting Memphis musicians Liz Brasher and John Paul Keith rip through two sets of righteous rock and soul while I sipped bourbon.