Recently, I was interviewed about the state of the local brewing industry in the wake of Big Beer interests—AB InBev-owned 10 Barrel, MillerCoors-owned Saint Archer, and Constellation Brands-owned Ballast Point Brewing—elbowing their way into the San Diego market. In answering questions, I echoed the primary lament of employees at independent breweries throughout our county, which is the concern that people who want to support local, authentically “craft” breweries will think they are doing so by purchasing beers from the aforementioned companies (as well as other acquired brands including Wicked Weed Brewing, Elysian Brewing and Goose Island as well as “faux craft” brands such as Blue Moon and Shock-Top) due to subterfuge and falsehoods conveyed via Big Beer marketing campaigns. It is a consumer’s right to choose. If they make an informed decision to purchase ales and lagers from Big Beer because they aren’t concerned about buying and drinking local, that is their prerogative. But for people who do care and go out of their way to buy local, San Diego breweries simply want those folks to get what they they think they are paying for and feel comforted in the knowledge that they are, in fact, supporting San Diego breweries.
At this point, I was asked what consumers can do to ensure they aren’t fooled. It’s a great question and, being so entrenched in the industry, something brewing company employees probably don’t think about as often as would be prudent. The obvious answer is “educate yourself”, but it leads to another great question: HOW? And I have a solid answer: Visit the Breweries list at SDBeer.com and scan the list of Guild members. The Guild’s regulations dictate that no brewing company owned in whole or in part by a Big Beer interest can qualify for membership. This is to protect the integrity of membership as the organization strives to educate the public on the importance of supporting local breweries (be on the lookout for an upcoming “get educated” campaign from the SDBG), especially as they find themselves under increasing attack from macro-beer giants with far greater resources and far less honorable (and far less legal) business practices. You can trust this list to guide you to bona fide independent operations. And you can help local breweries by sharing this online resource with others who share your locavorian ethics. It actually protects local consumers from more than just Big Beer.
Membership in the San Diego Brewers Guild and participation in its initiatives is voluntary. Although the Guild enjoys nearly 100% membership by qualifying businesses, no arms are twisted. The Guild has been key to the evolution and prominence of San Diego craft beer for the past two decades. Yet, believe it or not, there are some local brewery owners who choose not to be a part of it. While that decision in and of itself does not vilify a local, independent brewery, it does tell you something about that company. In a time when banding together and helping not only local businesses, but local consumers has never been more important, there are outliers who aren’t heeding the call to arms. Locavores looking to support local breweries would do well to patronize the 100-plus operations looking to actively protect this region’s reputation and incredible sense of community over those who abstain.
As an aside (and I am in no way asserting that owners of non-SDBG member breweries fit the following description), there’s a new strain of brewery entrepreneur out there—people who think they have all the answers; who don’t help their neighbors and colleagues; who go it alone because they think so highly of and want everything for themselves; who honestly believe that every component of their business should be proprietary in an industry built on the open and honest exchanges of information, equipment, ingredients, manpower and, of course, beer. It’s sad to see. Without the openness and friendship they opt out of, the American craft-beer movement would not have progressed to the point where they would be able to be a part of it. To enter the brewing industry and actively erode the sense of camaraderie that makes it so special rivals the obfuscation and monkey-wrenching of Big Beer. With so many San Diego breweries upholding the long-held values that make this region’s beer scene so special, there’s no reason not to patronize them first or even exclusively. The key component there is to know who is making your beer and who is behind each brewery. Because so many of these individuals are locally focused beer-lovers just like you, it’s a fun rabbit hole to venture into, and the best first step is SDBeer.com.
San Diego beer is a wonderful thing. Locals and guests alike should feel good about enjoying it. The latest efforts of macro-breweries and money-grabbing newcomers have complicated things and made it harder to have a beer in tandem with a clean conscious. Fortunately, consulting the list of active San Diego Brewers Guild members provides an easy way to put all the business BS aside and go back to savoring local, independent, artisanal beer.
Owner; Monkey Paw Pub & Brewing, South Park Brewing Company & Hamilton’s Tavern
Big Beer conglomerate AB-InBev’s 10 Barrel Brewpub project seemed to come out of nowhere. Slated for entry into downtown San Diego’s East Village, it’s actually the latest in an ongoing string of strategically placed brewpubs AB-InBev is installing in the country’s foremost craft-beer communities under the name of the Bend, Oregon-based former craft-brewery it bought out in 2014. The arrival of this faux-craft, brewery-equipped restaurant has sparked the ire of the San Diego Brewers Guild. Last week, members of the local brewing industry and fans of independent local breweries rallied at a meeting of the Downtown Community Planning Council where, despite concern from San Diego businesses and citizens, the neighborhood use permit was approved. A public protest period is coming up, but the probability of the project being denied at any point isn’t likely. Seeking the voice of someone who, first off, will be the closest legitimate craft-beer competition for the 10 Barrel pub and, secondly, isn’t the least bit afraid to speak his mind, we sat down with Scot Blair, the owner of the East Village’s Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery (as well as nearby South Park Brewing Company and Hamilton’s Tavern). He responded with equal parts honesty and verbosity. The following is part one of a two-part question-and-answer exchange.
Why do you think AB-InBev and Big Beer in general would want to come into a community esteemed for its local beer, especially using an acquired brand from Oregon?
Scot Blair: It’s simple, really. They are expanding their footprint by any means necessary—assimilate and destroy.
With the Guild, CCBA and BA vehemently opposed to the 10 Barrel Project, how can it be viewed as a positive development by anyone?
SB: Obfuscation. Not only from Big Beer, but from our glorified real-estate moguls. Think of the people behind this. First you have Makers Quarter with developers Lankford & Associates and Hensel Phelps. Next you have HP Investors LLC and, mind you, they both partner together for a group they call L2HP. These are the puppet-masters. Now look at “Makers Quarter.” This is a tag-phrase they created when the only “maker” that was even doing anything in the area was Monkey Paw. If you listen well, their shills will tell you that this is going to bring millennial tech and residential to the East Village, and it will be a huge boon companion for growth in the community, and how wonderful all of this is for San Diego’s booming “craft” beer scene. This is absolute bull. These snakes, I’m sure, they could also tell us how SDG&E raising rates as the “only game in town” after year-in and year-out record profits is “great for the community,” too! The only entity this does any good for is them by way of giant cash windfalls directly benefiting their greed and, to be frank, it’s sickening to me and really shows what they are made of by way of caring about the community. They are simply doing everything and anything they can to lease property at all cost while trying to make up insane angles to convince unwitting consumers that this is such a good thing. It’s no different than Big Pharma or Wall Street, in my opinion.
— Editor’s note: When reached for comment, Michael Burton, the commercial broker for the bindery building and its property owner, told us that “the property was publicly marketed, and 10 Barrel was the only brewery to show interest in the location.”
How do you feel the arrival of the 10 Barrel project will impact other local brewing businesses such as your own, Half Door Brewing Company and Mission Brewery?
SB: I can definitely find a silver-lining and make lemonade as I’ve done my whole career, but in reality, brewpubs like Monkey Paw and Half Door will have to work even harder with far less with which to fight that uphill battle on quality. So obviously and most certainly it will have an impact. You have to understand the common consumer has been, and continues to be, so misguided. The real fans and independent thinkers of great beer are still a strong minority. The vast majority of beer-drinkers are simply enamored with marketing, hype and all things with a sheen that glimmer. To think that, in this day and age, making fantastic, award-winning beer is not enough, is sad. Great beer still falls deaf to the ears of too many of our San Diego locals who aren’t getting the right message from these deep-pocketed snake-oil salesmen standing at their pulpits hyping to fleece.
Can beers brewed at the 10 Barrel project be regarded as “local”?
SB: They are local as much as Citgo gas-stations are local. This is a classic wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing scenario. Of course it’s not local! Sure, it will create some local jobs, but the money spent by the people will go right into the hands of AB-InBev. People can play technicalities, but in the end, what folks should be supporting is small, independently owned mom-and-pop establishments. This is the moral ethos that people think about when they try to spend local, not billion-dollar companies, large restaurant groups, big real-estate conglomerates. C’mon…really?! There is no integrity in them and, at its core, it personifies despicable greed.
What can be done now, and by whom?
SB: First off, it starts with you and other people like you and all of us, really. We have a voice in our spending habits. Let’s use it! I have never had a problem calling out bullshit or speaking out against what I feel is injustice. I get that folks may not like the obtuse nature of my opinion and that’s okay, because I’m trying to prevent people from drowning and I’m trying to continue the mission. We need to continue to shove our way to the front and pull the curtain back on these mistruths, call out these scumbag real-estate developers who would have you believe that the only option for them was to sign AB-InBev to this deal. What a crock of shit that is! They care about the community? The industry? Yeah, so much they are bringing in our biggest threat without exhausting efforts elsewhere. Obviously, telling someone they can’t open a business isn’t the answer. It’s un-American, even if the rich get richer and the small businesses go under. The local beer community should be in outrage and should be vocal, imploring folks to simply not go (to the 10 Barrel brewpub). Instead, dump twice as much support into these very small, independent places because if you are about “local” and you are about “indie” and you are about “community,” then it’s your obligation to HELP SMALL BUSINESS SURVIVE! People need to walk the walk when it comes to this specific dilemma. I think we have a lot more hypocrites than we do pioneers and it shouldn’t be that way in this day and age.
This is only the start of some eye-opening and thought-provoking back-and-forth. Check back to our website for the second-half of our Q&A with Scot Blair on Tuesday, March 1.
It’s been the talk of the Internet for days, but for me, it started a month ago when a trusted source in Northern California informed me that sales reps from a certain Big Beer company were crowing about how psyched they were about the impending acquisition of an undisclosed “San Diego craft brewery.” Like many who have since heard this recent rumor, I started considering which of the county’s brewing companies would be the first to sell-out to the big guys. And like many, my short-list was headed by Saint Archer Brewery. There were other potential sellers, but if ever there were a significantly sized San Diego brewery built to be sold and primed to cash in, it was this one.
In the two-plus years since Saint Archer debuted, the company has often courted controversy. Within its first several months of existence, it jettisoned one of the county’s veteran salespeople and cut ties with brewmaster Ray Astamendi, an industry trouper who has since gone on to wow local beer fans at his own operation, Fall Brewing Co., while rising to stud status as a brewhouse consultant for Premier Stainless. Upon doing so, they proceeded to hire away Pizza Port standout brewer Yiga Miyashiro to revive credibility. Thanks to he and brewmaster Kim Lutz, Saint Archer’s reputation improved, though the majority of beer nerd die-hards never bought into a marketing campaign nearly devoid of beer (mostly skateboards, beachscapes, lifestyle pics and shots of alt-sports athletes), especially when the company went against its “brewed in San Diego” branding, angering many San Diegans with a post professing the company’s affections for Dodger Stadium, while subsequently trashing Petco Park and engaging in insulting back-and-forth messages with dissenting social media users. The company released an apology about a month later, in May.
Many will not be surprised to learn that London-headquartered MillerCoors announced it will acquire a majority-share of Saint Archer. (After being denied when asked directly more than a month prior). Macrobreweries purchasing or acquiring majority shares in legitimate craft brewing companies to increase sales and market share while simultaneously chipping away at its competitor base is nothing new. It’s been occurring for some time and ramping up over the past few years with acquisitions of companies like Elysian Brewing Co., 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Goose Island Beer and, most recently, Lagunitas. This, however, is the first time this has occurred in San Diego County.
Most within the craft beer industry and its growing legions of fans concede that it was only a matter of time before a local interest sold out. San Diego is a market with a stellar reputation for the manufacture of artisan ales and lagers, as well as a population that consumes a great deal of craft beer. There was much to be gained by purchasing a willing San Diego craft brewery, including an instant foothold in the local and national industry. Many are the drinkers who don’t know or don’t care who owns or controls a brewery, providing the opportunity for MillerCoors to build off of the Saint Archer brand and San Diego’s good name immediately.
Of course, it’s within any business’ right to sell to anyone. That’s their prerogative, but that’s not the problem. Big Beer actively pushes legislation meant to hurt the small guys, as we’ve seen in Florida. Big Beer also controls many of the distribution channels in the United States, so expect to see more Saint Archer at the Coors-focused bars.
Many local, long-tenured breweries I’ve spoken to are not happy Big Beer is now in their backyard. Some of them claim they would never sell, most vocally (my employer) Stone Brewing Co., the owners of which have guaranteed that to their employee base on multiple occasions. These are breweries whose beers won the awards and hearts of beer drinkers the world over, laying the foundation for San Diego County’s reputation as an epicenter for craft beer innovation and quality. The same reputation that Saint Archer leveraged to look attractive to MillerCoors. The same reputation MillerCoors hopes to leverage to look attractive to consumers. Many are worried Big Beer’s presence will taint that reputation. Only time will tell in this latest “first” for San Diego’s brewing industry.
A press release with additional information is below.
SAN DIEGO and CHICAGO – Tenth and Blake, the craft and import division of MillerCoors, announced today an agreement to acquire a majority interest in Saint Archer Brewing Company.
Founded in San Diego in 2013 by a talented group of entrepreneurs, artists, skateboarders and surfers, Saint Archer brews an award-winning range of ales including Blonde Ale, IPA, White Ale and Pale Ale. Saint Archer expects to sell 35,000 barrels of beer in 2015, up more than 100 percent over 2014, making it one of the fastest-growing breweries in California. Tenth and Blake plans to support its continued growth under the ongoing leadership of Josh Landan, Saint Archer co-founder and president.
“We have always wanted to get great beer into more people’s hands,” said Landan. “We were fortunate that brewers big and small were interested in partnering with us, but Tenth and Blake was the clear choice. Tenth and Blake shares our passion for putting great beer first. Joining Tenth and Blake allows us to keep doing what we love right here in San Diego, but now with more resources to innovate and grow. With Tenth and Blake’s help, we hope to one day be a national brand.”
Saint Archer’s management and their team will continue to brew, package, ship, and sell Saint Archer’s outstanding portfolio of high-quality brands. Saint Archer will be run as a separate business unit of Tenth and Blake.
“We’re really excited about our partnership with Saint Archer,” said Scott Whitley, president and CEO of Tenth and Blake. “Saint Archer is consistent with our strategy of building our high-end portfolio while driving topline growth. Josh and his team represent everything we look for in a partner. Saint Archer brews award-winning ales across a variety of styles that are complementary to our current portfolio—including some outstanding IPAs. We’re excited at the prospect of working together to support the continued success of Saint Archer.”
Saint Archer picked up two gold medals at the 2014 San Diego International Beer Festival and a gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival.
Saint Archer joins other leading crafts in the Tenth and Blake portfolio, including Blue Moon Brewing Company, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, Crispin Cider Company and a minority equity stake in Terrapin Beer Company.
The transaction is expected to complete in October 2015. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
About Saint Archer Brewing Company:
Saint Archer Brewing Company was founded on a unique strain of creative talent: World-class brewers, Artists and Musicians, Surfers, Skateboarders and Snowboarders; all coming together with passion and commitment to express our collective true love – handcrafted beer. Saint Archer has been a long time in the tank and we hope you taste our appreciation and gratitude in every sip.www.saintarcherbrewery.com
About Tenth and Blake Beer Company:
Tenth and Blake is the craft and import division of MillerCoors. The Tenth and Blake family includes Blue Moon Brewing Co. at the SandLot in Denver, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. in Chippewa Falls, Wis., 10th Street Brewery in Milwaukee, Crispin Cider Company in Colfax, Calif., AC Golden in Golden, Colorado, Birra Peroni in Rome, Plzeňský Prazdroj (Pilsner Urquell) in Pilsen, Czech Republic, and a minority equity stake in Terrapin Beer Co. Tenth and Blake beers and ciders include Blue Moon Belgian White, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, Crispin Original, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Pilsner Urquell, George Killian’s Irish Red, Colorado Native and Grolsch. You can find out more at www.Facebook.com/TenthAndBlake.