Easiest way to draw a crowd in San Diego? Talk about craft beer.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

Our membership came out in force last night for our Crafting Beer Policy event, sponsored by Scutari and Cieslak Public Relations and hosted in the digs of San Diego’s newest brewery (for now), Modern Times Beer in Loma Portal.

(Yes, that’s a Post-it note mosaic of Jeff Koons’ famous statue of Jacko and his monkey, Bubbles.)

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

We asked five people from different pieces of the beer world to share their area of expertise for a look at what makes San Diego a great beer city, and what can be done to ensure it continues to thrive.

One of those speakers, Stone Brewing Co. CEO and co-founder Greg Koch, broke a bit of news.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

Members of the hospitality, tourism and craft beer industries are meeting on Sept. 19 for an invite-only confab to discuss how to fundamentally integrate beer into the city’s tourism identity.

That was the subject of Koch’s presentation.

San Diego is well known in the craft beer community for making some of the best beer in the world, he said. And craft beer has a large economic effect on the region: It’s a high-profit product for retailers, and the industry employs a growing number of people.

Yet unlike Munich, Germany, or Napa with wine, it’s still possible to meet someone in San Diego who’s unaware of the city’s brewing prowess. In fact, it’s entirely possible for someone to visit San Diego for a week and leave never knowing that the county’s home to more than 70 breweries, many considered among the world’s best.

The solution, Koch argued, is for the beer-drinking community to demand a “San Diego beer-first” approach from high-profile venues like the airport, Convention Center, zoo, Sea World, PETCO Park, Qualcomm, Sports Arena, and to encourage the hundreds of bars and hotels throughout the city to feature local products more prominently.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

Event host Jacob McKean, owner of Modern Times Beer, briefed the audience on the onerous process of opening his new brewery.

He even pointed out that his property, measuring exactly 30 feet in height, probably wouldn’t have been available if not for the 30-foot coastal height limit. Without the limit, the area might have become a series of condos.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

Neva Parker, head of laboratory operations with yeast provider White Labs Inc., spoke about the role yeast plays in beer, and gave a quick history of the 6,000-year history of humans fermenting malted barley into beer.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

And Tatiana Peavey, director of business development for TapHunter, made the case for the beer world building communities through social media.

Throghout the night, audience members commented on the event on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #vosdbrews.

. @StoneGreg is using a lot of stats from a recent study of San Diego’s craft beer industry with research by @VinceVasquezSD #vosdbrews

— Efrem Bycer (@ezbycer) June 28, 2013

Love that the panel is diverse in every way #vosdbrews http://t.co/1vsiLsgBQl

— Sam Ollinger (@ollingers) June 28, 2013

Speaking of #vosdbrews, Ms. Parker has a key role in part of my comments. I call @whitelabs the @qualcomm of #craftbeer

— Omar Passons (@omarpassons) June 28, 2013

@markkersey gets shout out for supporting craft beer industry at #vosdbrews event at @ModernTimesBeer

— Almis Udrys (@udrysa) June 28, 2013

This is pretty wild. There’s a whole bunch of people inside the Lomaland Fermentorium for #vosdbrews. Surreal pic.twitter.com/M2vgiVFx4f

— Modern Times Beer (@ModernTimesBeer) June 28, 2013

Growing San Diego’s #CraftBeer reputation & culture. Need all bars & restaurants to carry our beers first. @StoneGreg #vosdbrews

— Brian Marvel (@BrianMarvel) June 28, 2013

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

Local land use attorney and founder of the Craft Beer Debates series Omar Passons explained why he spends so much time evangelizing for beer-centric small businesses in his community. Not only do the companies encourage a sense of community that you can’t find in an Applebee’s, he said, but they’ve actively built a social conscience into their business models.

In a brief Q-and-A period, one of the city’s new planning commissioners wondered to what extent breweries have a health and safety responsibility within the communities they operate.

Koch said there’s no question they have a responsibility to uphold the law and ensure they aren’t a nuisance. But that’s no different than the responsibility of any respectable business owner.

McKean said attempts to solve the issue miss the point.

“We over-regulate, and under-enforce,” he said.

Many other questions came up over the course of the event that we intend to explore later. It’s a complicated industry that overlaps with all sorts of issues of public safety, planning and development, public transportation, science and innovation, economic development and hospitality and tourism.

For now, here’s a brief summary and/or refresher on the industry we put together for event attendees last night.


What is “craft beer?”

“A craft brewer is small, independent and traditional,” according to the Brewers Association, a craft beer trade group.

Small: Annual production below 6 million barrels.

For context, Stone Brewing Co., San Diego’s largest brewery, is expected to produce 210,200 barrels this year, and Modern Times Beer, where you’re currently sitting, is expected to brew 5,000 barrels in its first year. (1 barrel = 31 gallons)

Independent: Less than 25 percent of the brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage company that isn’t a craft brewery.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, for instance, two years ago purchased a 58 percent stake in Goose Island, a longstanding and widely distributed Chicago brewery, for a reported $38.8 million.

Traditional: Either has an all-malt flagship beer (its best seller), or has 50 percent of total volume in beers that don’t use adjunct products to lighten beer flavor.

Many pale lagers, like Budweiser, produced by large breweries use products like rice or corn in addition to malted barley as a means of cutting costs and lightening flavor. The complicated definition above allows craft brewers to use things like oatmeal, rye and wheat.

National Industry Facts

• The craft beer industry accounted for $10.2 billion in retail sales in 2012.

• There were 2,347 craft breweries operating for some or all of 2012.

• The industry grew 15 percent by volume and 17 percent by dollars from 2011 to 2012.

• Craft beer sales accounted for 6.5 percent of the beer market in 2012.

San Diego’s Beer Industry Facts

• Accounted for $299.5 million direct economic impact in San Diego County in 2011.

• There were 2,796 jobs in the industry, and $680.8 million in retail sales in 2011.

• More than half of all local brewing permits have been issued since 2011.

• San Diego County currently has 71 operational brewing facilities.

• Another 37 county brewing locations are in some stage of planning.’

Why is Voice of San Diego writing about beer?

• San Diego is making some of the greatest beer in the world. It deserves all the attention it gets.

• Our land use coverage is about describing the city we have, and discussing the city we want to have. Beer has made itself part of that conversation.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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