More than 1,200 people attended the inaugural Craft Beverage Expo in San Jose last week for three days of discussions, business development and networking opportunities.

With more than 150 exhibitors, ranging from production equipment manufacturers to label makers, looking to attract breweries, distilleries and wineries, the expo for small craft producers offered plenty of time for networking and discovery.

More than 25 breakout sessions focused on topics, such as Social Media 101, Are Your Ads and Marketing Programs in Compliance? and Entrepreneurial Triumph: Lessons Learned from Pioneers of the Early Revolution, which we had the opportunity to attend.

Featuring Vinnie Cilurzo, co-owner and brewer, Russian River Brewing Company; Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company; Rob Tod, founder of Allagash Brewing Company and Steve Hindy, co-founder, chairman and president of Brooklyn Brewery, the session featured some of the biggest names in the national craft beer scene.

Hindy, a journalist prior to co-founding Brooklyn Brewery in 1988, led the talk as moderator, starting with the evolution of craft brewing, with Gossman working with fellow pioneers Fritz Maytag of Anchor Steam and Jack McAuliffe of New Albion Brewing Company during the early days of the movement.

Hindy says the first generation of brewers came after those pioneers, with outfits like Brooklyn Brewery in the 80s sticking to only hops, water, malt and yeast in accordance to the German purity law that dates back to the 1400s. These breweries created mostly amber lagers, amber ales, stouts, porters and other traditional styles.

More experimentation arrived in the 1990s with the second generation of craft brewers, which includes Northern California favorites Russian River and Allagash. Many of these breweries made Belgian-style beers, barrel-aged beers, sour beers and introduced other innovative styles.

Non-brewers also played important roles, mainly British beer writer Michael Jackson and Charlie Papazian, the author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, a book that “probably helped launch 1,000 breweries if not 2,000,” Hindy said. Distributors, social media and the politics concerning the development of the Brewers Association continue to play an important role, he said.

While the history lesson was interesting, the ensuing open dialog proved to be a highlight of the hour-long session, with the four speakers sharing war stories from years spent working to perfect their craft.

One amusing story centered on the difficulty of selling Allagash White, a Belgian-style wheat beer brewed with coriander and orange peel, and how it took about 10 years to be accepted. When pouring samples during the early years, bar owners would regularly ask Tod, “What is wrong with that beer? Why does it taste different? Why does it taste weird?” It has since gone on to become quite a popular beer.

The speakers could have likely gone on for much longer than the allotted hour without losing audience interest.

Organizers say they expect about 50 percent more attendees for next year’s Expo, and there are plans to add a public tasting component. However, next year’s Craft Beverage Expo will move to Santa Clara the first week of May.