If you haven’t read my article, The State of San Diego Craft – 2015, you should. This will be a series of posts where I share the complete and full statements from 20+ amazing individuals that contributed to my work. I’m going to start with those that I used in the article and then release the rest in alphabetical order. I identified with both of these statements for vastly different reasons. Brandon does a great job of capsulizing the biggest issue of 2015, the purchase of Ballast and Saint Archer by big beer entities and Karl reminds us that we’re a little pretentious for our britches. Thank you to both of these men for their thoughts, I truly appreciate it!
Up first is Brandon Hernandez:
2015 was a big year of both growth and change in the local craft brewing industry. Everyone within the industry saw the growth coming. Essentially, it was more of the same from what craft brewing companies saw as far as production and sales growth over the past several years. That said, the growth among nearly every in San Diego County brewery was even more than expected. What only those truly paying attention saw coming was the voluntary surrendering of independently owned brewing companies to macro-brewing giants and international conglomerates. It was bound to happen and San Diego remained untouched by this phenomenon much longer than many of us expected, but it still hurt to see former comrades like Ballast Point become businesses that, rather than contributing to the famed rising tide that has for so long floated all the ships in the San Diego beer seas, instead work to actively retard the elevation of those collegial breakers. As a result, a lot is being made of the definition of a “craft brewer” these days. Forums are being held and brewers at Big Beer-owned breweries are passionately asserting that they are still craft brewers. But this isn’t about what the employees of companies such as Ballast Point or Saint Archer are or how they brew; it’s about the ultimate result of people purchasing the products they produce. Unfortunately for legitimate independent craft brewing companies, the result of purchasing beers from Saint Archer or Ballast Point or any other corporate sellouts is that the money spent on their beers – San Diego mainstays or not, delicious or not, extract-laden or not, cheap or inexplicably more expensive than all other comparable beers on the market – will be used to further tilt the playing field in favor of Big Beer and attempt to slay real-deal local businesses. This is Big Beer’s mission and it hasn’t changed for countless years. This is simply the latest chapter and the latest round of snaky tactics from fat-cats who, in 2015 and, now in 2016 with the East Village 10 Barrel brewpub project, has continued to profess its desperation via two-faced marketing and business moves (mocking craft breweries, brewers and beers while buying breweries, keeping their brewers and deceptively making money selling those same beers) and further prove that when you have enough money, there really isn’t much to worry about. Unlike small, independent craft breweries, Big Beer and other such cold corporate entities pay to make the rules and buy their way out of any threat of fair competition in which their shoddy commodity products would have to stand on their own flimsy merits against a vast universe of far superior, traditional and avant-garde ales and lagers that should be easily victorious over watery, nondescript adjunct brews that still fit the long-time descriptor “fizzy yellow beer” yet, thanks to the almighty buck, barely stand a chance.
Brandon Hernandez, AleSmith & West Coaster SD
Next up is Karl Prohaska:
As an observer and participant in the Food and Beverage Industry, but not really a craft beer guy, 2015 has been an interesting year. Having read that first sentence, allow me to clarify. I am an unabashed fan of craft brewers. I am a huge supporter of who they are and what they do. I know, too well, the sacrifices they make; the lives they invest; and the level of care they bring to the table every day. I understand how exhausting it is to really give a damn and sweat each and every detail about a product in a way that 90% of the populace doesn’t have to in their daily jobs. It is for those reasons that I give craft brewers the love, respect, and admiration they are due. On the other hand, I don’t drink much of their product. I loathe the over hopped, in my opinion, IPA’s that everyone is so in love with. I will never stand in line for Pliny the Next Door Neighbor or any other beer. If you need someone to be the champion of the craftsman who produce the beer, look no further. However, if you want me to get into a shouting match about which hop variety is best; how many ABU’s is the proper number; or is “sessionable” a communist plot, then move along.
This year has been a year of seismic shifts to the craft beer scene. San Diego continues to grow and prosper. The sheer number of breweries and armloads of awards are living proof of that. The fact that there are even more breweries that can be staffed by really qualified brewers is an even bigger proof. It’s easy, relatively speaking, to open a brewery. Finding great brewers is the hard part and San Diego has great brewers waiting on the bench for their shot at the big time. The fan base is broad and growing. It’s vocal in its support… boy, is it ever. Let a publication suggest that it’s not the best, greatest, or most wonderful craft beer scene in the US and people lose their minds. Pitchforks are grabbed; torches are lit; and the angry mob takes to the streets of the internet with a zealots sense of purpose. You’re a proud bunch, San Diego Beer Drinker, and you have every right to be but herein lies the rub.
You want to stand on mountain tops and shout to the world that “San Diego has AMAZING beer!’ but then you get upset when someone notices.
There has been much wailing and renting of clothes over the evil empire of “Big Beer” and the massive checkbooks owned by them. Giant companies don’t grow because of a business thyroid condition. They grow by feeding the beast, and the beer beast is hungry. Being proud of our beer and jumping up and down saying “look at us” has made the beast take notice.
It’s easy to look at the numbers and say craft beer is a very, very small percentage of total beer sales. It’s even easier to say they “Big Beer” is unwelcome here and try to mobilize against them. But like Smaug from The Hobbit, Big Beer wants it all and simply doesn’t care what you think. Our awards; our vocal support; and our fantastic beer have brought the dragon here. Hopefully it’ll sleep on its recent conquests and leave the rest of the villages alone.
Karl Prohaska, Mad House comedy Club