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Opinion: 10 Barrel is NOT local beer

Mar 31

I work for a San Diego brewery. There aren’t enough words or page-space on the planet to adequately convey how much that means to me and others in San Diego County’s craft-brewing community. Membership means so much: pouring one’s heart and soul into a collective movement; being engaged, thoughtful, upright stewards of a region’s hard-earned reputation; helping out would-be competitors by lending them time, ingredients, machinery, cold-box space, advice and even manpower; standing shoulder-to-shoulder with friends and colleagues in the name of lifting a rising tide. And it means doing all of this in one of the most competitive environments for beer in the world. Many are the brewers crafting world-class India pale ales that aren’t even in most peoples’ top 50 IPAs. Those beers would kill most anywhere else, but being a part of this scene is so special, brewers are willing to trade fame elsewhere for the challenge of securing their own piece of the San Diego brewing dream—one that was realized through the sweat, elbow-grease and determination of artisans who’ve fought for years, armed with little more than quality ales and lagers, to garner recognition that’s hard to come by in a culture dominated by the likes of Budweiser, Coors and Miller. So you can understand why many of us are more than a little angry to see Big Beer hijack our hometown’s name on a technicality in an attempt to fool locals and visitors alike into thinking one of their brands is one of us when they most certainly are not.

The 10 Barrel brewpub project site in the East Village

Last January, news broke that a 10 Barrel Brewing brewpub was coming to downtown San Diego’s East Village area. Many beer fans are familiar with 10 Barrel as the Bend, Oregon-based craft brewery that sold out to AB InBev in 2014, then immediately expanded its brewing capacity and beer distribution after major investments from its new owners. It is one of the numerous craft interests to sell part or all of itself to giant macro-beer conglomerates in the past half-decade as Big Beer behemoths struggle with decreasing market-share, thanks in significant part to the rise of the craft-beer movement and the country’s shift to buying local products and supporting local businesses. Seeing the steady increase of craft’s market-share, Big Beer went with the if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em model, gobbling up regional brands as quietly as possible and winning back shelf- and tap-space nationwide. And now, with people shifting to the support-your-local-everything model, AB InBev is constructing “local” 10 Barrel brewpubs in cities with notable craft-beer cultures and sales, including Portland, Boise, Denver and our very own San Diego.

Perhaps you’ve heard about this project. If you haven’t, it definitely isn’t for lack of trying on AB InBev’s part. With the San Diego pub scheduled to open next week, in typical Big Beer fashion, they are making a full-scale marketing push with media tours and advertisements (one as flashy as a full back-page and partial front-page wrap in a popular gratis San Diego publication printed over consecutive weeks) proclaiming their shiny new property as a “San Diego pub and brewery”. Yes, it’s a pub. Yes, it’s a brewery. Yes, it’s in San Diego. But this would be like seeing a Waffle House or White Castle come to town and bill itself as “a San Diego eatery and place to detox after the bars close.” Yes, it’s an eatery. Yes it’s a place to detox after the bars close. But it’s in no way “San Diego” just because of geography. These are chains that have no history here. They belong to other communities, communities that it would be a lot more respectful to name versus omit, but to do that would undermine AB InBev’s entire mission: to blend into the fabric of one of the country’s most revered brewing regions to snag a piece of the pie for themselves and, in the process, destabilize a vital craft-centric area. The 10 Barrel brewpubs are to small, local breweries what Wal-Mart is to Main Street USA mom-and-pops and hometown interests, built to replace in the name of growth and prosperity at the expense of all others.

America’s drink-local shift is one of the best things to ever happen to regional breweries…but it’s the bane of the big boys, whose only playing pieces in the micro-regional game are the pawns they’ve shelled out millions for in hopes the public won’t be able to tell the difference and will patronize thinking they are supporting actual, authentic craft-beer companies or, in this case, local craft breweries. Siting their two-story, roof-deck adorned, aesthetically pleasing, bell-and-whistle rich brewpub in downtown San Diego was no accident. The number of visitors who stay, play and attend events at the nearby San Diego Convention Center is immense. The vast majority of them won’t know the 10 Barrel brewpub is different from downtown’s legitimate local brewing operations (Half Door BrewingKarl Strauss BrewingMission BreweryMonkey Paw Pub & BreweryResident Brewing and Knotty Brewing, for those looking to make an informed decision), and will likely flock there as it will certainly have robust advertising geared directly to out-of-towners. A percentage of these misinformed individuals will go on to tell others about drinking “San Diego craft beer” at this place called 10 Barrel, the lie will be perpetuated and—like the notion that Budweiser is some all-American (it’s not) king of beers (as much as the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s team” simply because their owner says so)—AB InBev will chalk up another small victory against the thousands of craft breweries that know they’ll never win, but simply wish to compete on a level playing field they will never have. Big Beer simply won’t allow it, because if those corporations had to rely solely on the merit of their products, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

The brewhouse at 10 Barrel in San Diego

San Diego is already home to satellite links in national brewpub chains, namely Gordon Biersch and Rock Bottom, neither of which make such attempts to proclaim themselves as San Diegan…even though they’ve paid plenty of dues and, in turn, have every right to count themselves as real and respected members of our community. The head brewer for the former is San Diego’s most respected lager expert. In addition to offering advice to the many dozens of local brewers who’ve sought it, he also holds numerous industry mixers to help foster the camaraderie of our county’s fermentation specialists, and has helped countless local charities. And the brewer who helmed Rock Bottom’s San Diego brewpub for nearly a decade-and-a-half served as the president of the San Diego Brewers Guild during a time when that volunteer position’s luster was at an all-time low. These brewpubs deserve the description AB InBev is self-proclaiming…but they are far from the only ones who’ve paid their dues.

Last weekend, Pizza Port’s Solana Beach brewpub celebrated its 30th year in business. In three decades, Pizza Port has grown into an empire of five coastal brewpubs that has earned scores of national and international medals for beers spanning styles the world over, and brought up more talented young brewers than I have time to list here. Its tiny but mighty Solana Beach spot opened nearly a decade before the likes of San Diego County breweries that would go on to become giants, seeing the beauty in brewing house beers before it was a proven business model rife with modern-day pomp and prestige. Pizza Port blazed trails and helped a great many along the way, all the while staying true to its local roots. Now there’s a business that should have ads plastered all over the local rags with the proud proclamation SAN DIEGO PUB AND BREWERY.

Big Beer looks at an institution like Pizza Port, Karl Strauss’ quintet of local brewpubs (including San Diego’s longest continually operating post-Prohibition brewery downtown), the 20-year-old San Diego Brewing Company and other authentically local operations, and they think to themselves: How can we make consumers think we’re every bit as local as them?

Make no mistake. AB InBev isn’t interested in being a member of San Diego’s brewing community. The purpose of installing a 10 Barrel brewpub in the heart of San Diego is to chip away at the local brewing community, siphoning off precious market-share from other San Diego craft breweries through its latest attempt at consumer deception. And to do it with a purchased craft-brand hailing from another city that even 10 Barrel barely belongs to at this point is about as convoluted as it gets. Which is a great thing for AB InBev. In a few years, how many people will remember this progression? Right now, even with the subject of acquisitions and locality at the forefront in the brewing industry, only the most engaged beer enthusiasts know which brands are truly craft and which are now Big Beer concerns or faux-craft brands created by macro-beer conglomerates to look like legitimate craft interests. It’s only going to get more difficult.

Monkey Paw’ Pub & Brewery’s sign and brewpub are visible from the upstairs deck at 10 Barrel’s San Diego brewpub.

When meeting with 10 Barrel co-founding partner, Garrett Wales, earlier this week at his downtown property, he said he feels good about his company’s “partnership” with AB InBev in light of acquisitions that have taken place after he and his partners’ decision to sell, pointing to Ballast Point Brewing, Lagunitas Brewing and Stone Brewing, which he says sold a big portion of the company to a private investors and was subsequently “gutted.” (When reached for comment on this subject, Stone co-founder Greg Koch, commented that he and co-founder Steve Wagner “remain the majority owners, maintain full board control, are 100% within the Brewers Association’s definition of a ‘craft brewer,’ and pull their own strings and write their own checks, thank you very much.”) Wales says 10 Barrel is 100% responsible for all of its brewpub expansion initiatives and that AB InBev merely signs off on ideas and subsequently signs checks. He says that the San Diego pub is not being billed as a part of the Bend-based business and instead as a “San Diego pub and brewery” because it will operate as an “independent arm of 10 Barrel” that will be “completely localized” and have its own regional feel.

When asked about the elephant in the room—namely, the bitter reception from San Diego brewers and devout fans of local craft beer—Wales contested, saying the reception has been “extremely good”. He mentioned a great deal of positivity on social media and said his team has visited many of San Diego’s breweries, interacted with their personnel and said they are as psyched 10 Barrel is coming. However, in communications conducted yesterday on the condition of anonymity, 80% of local brewery owners questioned stated they feel 10 Barrel’s arrival is a bad thing, with most of them expressing anger over deceptive advertising tactics as well as perceived underhanded and destructive motivations on AB InBev’s part..

Wales is aware that there are those who are against his project, but dubs them “a vocal minority.” Overall, he is bullish on the brewpub’s chances for success and urges locals to take 10 Barrel at face-value and give the business a chance. San Diego brewers are used to being in the minority; it’s a craft brewer’s lot in life, thanks mostly to Big Beer’s efforts to keep smaller competitors down. Please just give us a chance is the war cry of the entire craft-brewing industry. Like labeling an out-of-town Big Beer venue as “San Diego”, it sounds silly for a corporate wolf in local sheep’s clothing to lift that mantra from small businesses that actually need attention from a populace that so heavily consumes macro-beer over craft-beer—even at the height of the latter’s popularity—that Big Beer boasted well over 75% market share by volume nationwide in 2016, according to brewing industry trade group, the Brewers Association.

San Diego’s beer culture and reputation didn’t happen overnight. Our people—your people, San Diegans—worked unbelievably hard to build this magical confluence of flavor, quality and cachet in our own backyard. We will continue to protect and preserve it and hope San Diegans will do the same. Supporting local businesses is a noble notion and an even nobler practice. To each their own, of course, but if you agree, be sure your money is going where you think it is and not to a multi-national conglomerate Trojan horse.

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18 Responses to “Opinion: 10 Barrel is NOT local beer”

  1. […] recently, Brandon Hernandez, from Societe Brewing Co, wrote a great piece about the topic, titled, 10 Barrel Is Not Local Beer. The piece is absolutely worth the read, and Brandon echoes how many San Diego craft brewers feel […]

  2. […] Diegans coming down on 10 Barrel as a AB InBev-funded interloper is nothing new. West Coaster’s recent take was comprehensive enough to practically render further commentary redundant. […]

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  3. Jared J, North Park

    In many respects, I see Brandon’s point.

    But I’m also very leery whenever a writer makes claims about how “real” or “authentic” xyz happens to be. I started noticing this when then presidential nominee, Mike Huckabee, wrote a book about “real Americans” and not those city types that aren’t “real”, because they don’t go to church on Sunday.

    If I eat at Rubio’s, how do I know my fish taco is “real” if it wasn’t produced with the exact ingredients as on a beach in Baja? If I go out for Korean BBQ and the owners are Chinese, is it real or bastardized?

    Does Brandon only use locally sourced hops from California when brewing? Only from the Pacific Northwest? Does he buy his malt from somewhere in Germany? So is his beer really San Diegan?

    Does he only buy American cars?

    This whole purity argument seems very hypocritical for so many reasons.

    I would rather judge beer on merit and flavor. The people working at 10 Barrel probably live in San Diego and if the beer is produced on-site, guess what — its San Diego beer.

    Brandon’s warning about how kosher one brand is vs another echos a timeless refrain. Avoid the new guy in town because he’s dangerous and has ill intentions. The “I was here first and am therefore more legitimate than thou” reeks of the same ethos that is propelling the construction of a border wall to our south.

    I don’t like the ever advancing sprawl of corporate interests either, but the consumer still bears the responsibility of educating themselves. So if local beer snobs want to sneer and shun the new kid at school, because he comes from a wealthy family, then it’s their right to behave with grade school maturity and object to any foreign changes to their tight knit community.

    I’m guessing 10 Barrel’s table at GABF will still say Oregon above it, and Lagunitas, with a HUGE factory in Chicago, and half owned by Heineken will still say Petaluma, and if you’re educated about the industry you’ll know the difference in the long run. But Brandon’s Salem witch trial isn’t going to stop me from going to 10 Barrel and trying their beers, simply because he says it isn’t real or authentic enough.

    I know that if their beer tastes anything like Karl Strauss’, I won’t be going twice, but I’ll let their beer and staff speak for themselves before I make my choice.

  4. […] to open in East Village, and this beer writer wants to remind everyone that it’s owned by a big beer company and therefore shouldn’t be welcomed into the local craft beer community. (West […]

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  5. Brandon. You just don’t get it. You don’t understand that now over 100 San Diegans have jobs that help them pay their rent and buy their groceries and some have kids and these jobs enable them to buy clothes for their kids. You don’t get that many of these jobs offer benefits including medical and 401k where many jobs in San Diego do not. And Brandon, what about the millions of dollars paid to the construction companies that employed San Diegans to build the facility who when they drive by they can say that they worked on it, and because of that facility, they could pay their bills. And Brandon, what about the revitalization of a depressed area that will occur because a large company who has the financial means took a chance when others would not? And finally Brandon, as I travel throughout this country, I take great pride when I see our local breweries with growing shelf space in liquor stores in the middle of nowhere, but I also know that the small breweries from those areas have less shelf space for their brews which means that their growth could be stunted resulting in fewer jobs for their local people. Should those small breweries write the same type of editorial in their home newspapers? I’m sure the brewery that you work for has plans for growth. How would an editorial similar to yours help your small brewery if you were trying to expand resulting in additional jobs? Funny, I don’t remember seeing negative adds in Virginia when Stone or Green Flash announced their expansions. No Brandon, just welcome arms from a Governor and local officials who understood the economics of jobs and that those who don’t have a job can’t buy craft beer or much of anything else. And no Brandon, I don’t work for 10 Barrel but I do have friends who are excited to serve that first beer here in San Diego knowing that they have a good job from a company that so far has treated them very well. Brandon, you really don’t have a clue and obviously not a big thinker.

  6. Frank J

    Ex SD Guy… Thanks for being an ‘Ex’

    • Ex SD guy

      So clever. How’s that working out for you? Being clever on the internet?

  7. […] Those beers would kill most anywhere else, but being a part of this scene is so special, brewers are willing to trade fame elsewhere for the challenge … Source link […]

  8. Ex SD guy

    Brandon decided not to post my comments because I’ve called him out. Brandon, you’re a leech. I laughed at you when I knew you and told you what a fraud you were then and this only proves it.

    • Brandon doesn’t control the comments. I do, and sometimes the filter gets weird and flags stuff which means I have to go and approve them manually.

  9. Brian McGee

    10 Barrel publicly acknowledges who their investors are, even in this interview. I don’t see how including something like “brought to you by ABInBev” in their advertising is really going to make much of a difference or be less “deceptive” as you put it.

    Local San Diego breweries are expensive operations to start & run. Most involve some combination of investors & lenders to make it happen. Are local breweries being deceptive by keeping this info private and not disclosing it to their consumers like 10 Barrel does? What if some of their money comes from sources that some of their consumers would not approve of? Should local breweries have to mention their investor details in their advertising too?

    You choose to passionately apply standards to judge “outsider” breweries yet you aren’t able to do the same for our local breweries who usually provide their consumers with even less investor info than 10 Barrel.

    Your opinions are quite disrespectful to all of the San Diegans who will soon be working hard at 10 Barrel (brought to you by ABInBev).

  10. Tim

    Spot on. I do my due diligence and almost never buy anything that is big beer owned. I, for one, won’t step foot in this place. Ever. Not when Monkey paw is right around the corner. I do fear that because of their big budget that they will prey on tourists. And in turn that’ll hurt the SD beer scenes reputation, because when it’s opened, 10 Barrel won’t be in the top 100 breweries of San Diego. Here’s to hoping they fail and do it fast!

  11. james harris

    So the owner of 10B said Stone was purchased by a PEF, then “gutted”? Hmm….

    • Ex SD guy

      If you look at all the changes and people brought in to run Stone you’d agree. That’s why modern times is picking their people off left and right. That, and Jacob took all of his lessons from GK personally.

  12. Ex SD guy

    Oh, and Brandon, you’re one of the biggest issues. You’ve leeched off of other people’s work for so long you’ve filled people in to thinking you know something. You’re the craft beer equivalent of the guy who does nothing for a gift but then signs it “and Brandon” then takes half the credit.

  13. Ex SD guy

    Alpine isn’t local…They’re pimped out by green flash now
    Ballast point isn’t local…They’re ran by constellation.
    Stone sold out and now contract their name only to liberty station, the airport, and soon coming hotel.
    Modern times is just a cheap clone of stone
    Saint Archer sold out

    So, outside of port…Who is worth it? SD has gotten too full of themselves and think too much of their opinion when nobody outside of CA gives them even half the same credit. I was one of them for a long time.

    I’ve seen bottles of 2012 IRS sitting next to helms brewing because nobody else knows the difference or cares. Get over yourselves

    • joerockt

      “nobody outside of CA gives them even half the same credit.”

      San Diego has more golds than any other city at the GABF. So, sorry, what?

      • Ex SD guy

        Natty ice won gold, pbr won gold. A bunch of snobs awarding each other awards isn’t exactly proving your point.