Craft beer gets introspective with UK symposium

UK writing professor Jeff Rice, at the Beer Trappe in Lexington, makes a strong case for craft beer being an academic topic.
UK writing professor Jeff Rice, at the Beer Trappe in Lexington, makes a strong case for craft beer being an academic topic. Lexington Herald-Leader

The craft beer movement isn't built on hops alone: Writing and social media have played a major role in promoting craft beer, according to a University of Kentucky professor.

"Craft Writing: Beer, the Digital, and Craft Culture" is the brainchild of UK writing, rhetoric and digital studies professor Jeff Rice, who will host a one-day symposium Feb. 15.

On the event's website, Rice lays out the case for craft beer as an academic topic:

"Craft beer, the annual production of under six million barrels of beer by small breweries, is one of the fastest growing areas of the food industry. According to the Brewers Association, craft beer provides over 108,000 jobs and its retail dollar value in 2012 was estimated at $10.2 billion.

"In the last 20 years, over 2,000 new breweries have come online, commanding almost 6 percent of the overall American beer market. These breweries have, in turn, helped revitalize city neighborhoods, generated new jobs in related industries, and played a key role in expanding digital and social media usage."

Normally you think about drinking beer, Rice said, "but this will be about the ideas, the craft, the writing. And we tie it to the really strong emerging artisanal food movement in Kentucky."

To warm everybody up to the topic, the symposium will open with a get-together at Country Boy Brewing in Lexington on Chair Avenue on Feb. 14 with a chance to meet the next day's speakers.

The lineup includes some well-known names to craft beer enthusiasts:

■ Stan Hieronymus, author of For The Love of Hops, Brewing with Wheat, and Brew Like a Monk. Blogger at Appellation Beer and For the Love of Hops.

■ Julie Johnson, Co-owner of All About Beer, former Editor of All About Beer. Currently Technical and Contributing Editor.

■ Teri Fahrendorf, 25-year beer industry veteran, founder of the Pink Boots Society, author of beer related articles, 19 years brewmaster at Steelhead Brewing, Triple Rock Brewing and Golden Gate Brewing, and blogging gypsy "Road Brewer."

■ Roger Baylor, owner of New Albanian Brewing, author of The Potable Curmudgeon.

■ Jeremy Cowan, owner of Shmaltz Brewing, author of Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah.

■ Mitch Steele, Brewmaster at Stone Brewing, author of IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes, and the Evolution of India Pale Ale.

■ Garrett Oliver, Editor of The Oxford Companion to Beer, author of The Brewmaster's Table, regular contributor to All About Beer. Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery.

Keynote speaker Oliver "is a superstar," Rice said.

But all the speakers were eager to participate, he said. "Craft brewing is very locally oriented, very friendly. They want to come and talk, showcase and spread the word about what is going on craft beer."

Rice said his goal is to showcase some great writers who people might not be aware of, "to bring attention to areas where we don't often think there's a lot of writing going on. But actually there's a lot. People in food and beer doing a lot of writing about different things — business, cultural, history. ... So students and the community can start thinking about the issues of beer as something more than just drink."

And to give attendees some drink for thought, Rice arranged the visit to Country Boy and a "beer crawl" after the symposium to showcase more local beer at The Beer Trappe, Lexington Beerworks, West Sixth Brewing and Blue Stallion Brewing.

"As member of the faculty of a land grant university, I get to have a role in helping to promote what has become a major movement here in the Lexington — the craft beer movement," Rice said.

Rice seems to have tapped (pun intended) a popular topic. The event has drawn attention from well beyond UK writing students.

"I've hosted and organized lots of events, but this is the first one that also has a large component geared toward the community," Rice said. "And they're coming from farther away than I initially imagined."

Rice said he was getting inquiries from Tennessee, Maryland, New York, Chicago and Wisconsin, including "a lot of people in the industry, working in the emerging craft industry, beer bloggers, reps and enthusiasts."