The founder of BevCon isn’t ruling out a return of the craft beverage conference, which two years ago got its start in Charleston.
“I have so many ideas, but I want to take a break,” said Angel Postell, who on Friday announced she was putting the annual program on an indefinite hiatus. “I just started a new business; I have young kids; I have a lot going on I want to focus on.”
Postell said she can envision hosting large-group motivational talks, similar to an address that sommelier Bobby Stuckey delivered at this summer’s BevCon, although she hasn’t yet settled on a place or date for them. Prior to bringing back BevCon, she said, she would “really go after cities” with a formal request for proposals; Postell in 2018 relocated the event to Los Angeles after two editions in Charleston. (During those years, this reporter served on BevCon’s advisory board as a media representative.)
According to Postell, the move was necessitated by a lack of local sponsorship, and its outcome didn’t figure into her recent decision to suspend BevCon. But former attendees say transplanting the conference undermined its strength as a regional alternative to the notoriously massive Tales of the Cocktail, which each July draws more than 15,000 cocktail enthusiasts to New Orleans.
“I have the highest respect for Angel, but I think that move was a mistake,” said whisky journalist Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast, who was a BevCon presenter in 2017.
“She had volunteers. She had venues. She had a great location: By trying to make it a bigger thing, I think that just screwed it up,” Gillespie continued. “I was thinking of proposing a few different seminars, and as soon as I heard it was in Los Angeles, I said no. While Los Angeles is a great city, I don’t think anyone wants to go to Los Angeles unless they’re trying to get in the movies.”
Gillespie said he was deterred both by the cost of traveling to Los Angeles and the logistics of getting around the city.
“Charleston was missed for walkability and charm, for sure,” Postell said. “But there was a lot more talent, and a lot more sponsors (in Los Angeles.)”
According to Postell, about 350 people attended BevCon in Los Angeles, although the total number reflects a mix of attendees who purchased day passes and those who signed up for single sessions. In retrospect, she said, “Los Angeles was too big, and people out there felt like they knew it all.” Still, she said the August conference was “a great event,” and worthy of being revived in some fashion.
“Before I made this decision, I’d been talking to people about buying it out and taking it over, but everyone’s really busy,” Postell said. “The ideal person would have resources, and just want to make this better.”
In an email to BevCon supporters, Postell explained she needs to devote time to her new event consulting company: “My goal was to ultimately raise money for food and beverage related causes, especially as it relates to disaster relief. This dream did not happen yet, but I am still dedicated to finding a way to do this and I know God has plans for me to do so.”
Additionally, she said, the niche that BevCon filled at the outset is gradually narrowing.
“There are a lot more of these events,” Postell said. For instance, “Tales is in great shape.”
Tales of the Cocktail re-emerged this year as a nonprofit with new leadership, following founder Ann Tuennerman’s departure in connection with a Mardi Gras episode involving Tuennerman and her husband that was widely described as racially insensitive. Yet even with Tales on firmer footing, Gillespie thinks there’s still room for a smaller educational event that attracts industry leaders.
“The people in the audience knew their stuff,” Gillespie recalled. “The session I was at, we had Christian Krogstad from House Spirits and Lance Winters from St. George Spirits in the audience, and those two would have called you out in a second if you got something wrong. ... When you have people of that caliber in the audience, that means you’ve got something good.”
To Gillespie, the path forward is clear. He said, “If I was in Angel’s shoes, I would come back to Charleston and say, ‘I’m sorry we abandoned you. We’re back, and we’re never going to leave Charleston again.’ ”
If Postell proceeds with a 2020 BevCon of some kind, she said Charleston would be welcome to compete for hosting privileges. But she disputes that she has any reason to apologize for leaving town in 2018.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it again if it had stayed in Charleston,” she said. “It was too expensive, and it just didn’t work.”