One of the reasons San Diego brewers enjoy the camaraderie and success they do is the 1997 establishment of the San Diego Brewers Guild (SDBG). Back then, there were far fewer brewing companies in San Diego County, but visionaries from some of those veteran operations realized that strength in numbers would be key for development and promotion of the local industry. This year, the SDBG will celebrate its 20th year of collective success. In doing so, it will gather its longest-tenured while drawing off the innovation of all of its 100-plus members.
Later this month, Coronado Brewing Company will host a collaboration brew day during which brewers from SDBG member breweries will be invited to participate in the brewing of a special beer to commemorate the big two-zero. The recipe for that beer, a fittingly San Diego-style India pale ale (IPA), was developed by brewers at Coronado, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Pizza Port, Stone Brewing, San Diego Brewing Company, AleSmith Brewing Company and San Marcos Brewery and Grill.
The beer will come in around 7% alcohol-by-volume and be double-dry-hopped with Idaho 7, Motueka and Vic Secret hops. Additional hops will be donated by Fallbrook’s Star B Ranch and Hop Farm. Yeast was donated by Miramar-based White Labs while remaining ingredients were provided by BSG CraftBrewing. Additionally, El Cajon’s Taylor Guitars is partnering to provide old ebony fret boards from its African mill. That reclaimed wood will be fashioned into tap handles branded with the SDBG logo for this celebratory IPA.
Kegs from the 60-barrel batch will debut during San Diego Beer Week, which will take place from November 3 to 12. Coronado will also take the lead getting the beer out via its distribution partner, Crest Beverage. The beer will be available at retail accounts throughout the county, and make its official debut on November 3 during Guild Fest’s VIP Brewer Takeover at the Port Pavilion on downtown’s Broadway Pier. Proceeds from the beer will be donated to the Guild by Coronado once the beer sells through.
While Coronado is the hub this time around, the SDBG hopes to create collaboration beers on an annual basis and rotate the brewery at which they are produced each time. To get everyone involved during this inaugural brew, SDBG members were asked to submit suggested names for the beer, a short-list of which will be voted on by the membership this month.
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.
What started as a tiny single-suite nano-brewery producing insanely tiny batches of beers using stock-pots over Butane burners has evolved into a Hop Highway success story. Vista-based Mother Earth Brew Co. has gone on to take-over most of the business campus it calls home, while adding a spacious tasting-room in the heart of the city’s old-town area. And over the weekend, they opened the doors to the tasting-room at its second, large-scale production facility in Nampa, Idaho. Mother Earth vice president Kevin Hopkins stopped by en route to the Great American Beer Festival, where the company’s ESB (extra special bitter) medaled. It’s exciting times for the little brewery that could (and did), and the perfect time to get an update straight from source.
What has been the impact of the Nampa facility going online?
Nampa went into full-rate production in August and currently services five-and-a-half states—Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and the northern portion of California. Its initial impact has been the ability to launch full-state distribution in Washington and Oregon with many more states to come. Last weekend’s tasting-room opening had representation of staff from both of our breweries and a great line-up of beers for people to experience.
What is Mother Earth’s organizational structure like with multiple breweries in multiple states?
Head brewer Chris Baker permanently relocated to Idaho and oversees operations there. Lead brewer Jeff Hueneman took over Vista operations and works collaboratively with Chris on items that concern both facilities. Production-scheduling and overall operations are managed corporately from here in Vista by our CFO/COO and our logistics team. We also have “beer traffic coordinators” located at both breweries to provide continuity.
What are details of expansion efforts at the original Vista brewery?
Vista started out as a 2,200-square-foot brewery and has expanded to approximately 28,000 square feet of production-space producing over 30,000 barrels of beer each year. Part of our master-plan included infrastructure investment to take Vista out to 40,000 barrels with the addition of fermentation and brite tanks to reach that capacity. Infrastructure is in place and tanks are being added as needed. Our next “stand-up” will be new nitro vessels to accommodate and expand our extremely successful NITRO programs.
What new beers are on the horizon for Mother Earth?
Mother Earth has always had a pilot-program to bring new and expanded offerings to market. Boo Koo Mosaic IPA, Born Blonde and our World Beer Cup, Great American Beer Festival and San Diego International Beer Festival award-winning ESB are all examples of that. 2016 was our pilot-year for our quarterly rotating can program featuring classics such as Kismet Nelson IPA and Hop Diggity Double IPA. The rotating program now falls under the “Resinator Hop Series.” Look for these beers on shelves, draft and included in “Love Packs”, 12- and 24-can variety packs featuring fan favorites and seasonal or rotating beers. One of those beers will be our Sin Tax Imperial Peanut Butter Stout. We’re also adding a full-time barrel-aged draft offering—our super-popular Quit Stalin Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout.
As a former San Diego Brewers Guild president, what are your thoughts on the direction of that trade organization?
It was an honor to represent our local breweries. Now, as president emeritus, I have the pleasure of watching Jillian Davidson move us forward and working with an engaged board of directors that has nothing but the best interests of our industry and local beer brethren at heart. The board has been working very hard on future planning and 2017 is certain to hold some new initiatives, updates and an expansion of how we can best service our membership and the industry at-large. Working directly with the California Craft Brewers Association on important legislative and regulatory issues is chief amongst these, as well as continuing the focus on quality marketing, communications and events that bring education and awareness to the public and provide legitimacy to our members who work hard each and every day with passion and perseverance.
Former San Diego Brewers Guild president Mike Sardina (formerly of Kearny Mesa’s Societe Brewing Company) is headed to Vermont to take a job at cult-fave brewery Hill Farmstead Brewery. This left a sudden and significant vacancy to be expeditiously filled by the Guild. Fortunately, an able-bodied and passionate industry professional known for her seemingly unlimited energy and outgoing compatriotism in and beyond San Diego County has stepped up. Meet Jill Davidson, the western regional sales manager for Pizza Port and new president of the San Diego Brewers Guild.
How did you get into the industry and what led you to where you are today?
When I was 18, I walked into Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant in Newark, Delaware, and got a hostess job. I worked there all four years of college, became a server and went through their beer education. When I moved to San Diego in fall of 2006, there weren’t a whole lot of beer jobs around, so I did bartending and restaurant management. When Pizza Port Ocean Beach opened in 2010, I started there as bartender, and when the Bressi Ranch production brewery was built in 2013, I realized I wanted to get more serious about my position and recognize the growth potential. It was exciting to be part of the expansion of an old-school pioneer of San Diego craft-beer. I became a sales and brand ambassador and ran a brewery-tour program, which pretty much entailed me calling on accounts and being their only point-of-contact. It was pretty overwhelming but now we have a great sales team and I’m the regional manager.
What inspired you to get in line for the Guild presidency?
Mike called me and said there was a vice-president officer seat opening up on the Guild Board. He thought I would be great in that role and that we could do a lot of great things for the San Diego beer community.
How does the president role fit in with the rest of the components of the Guild?
The Board is really the Guild’s governing body and it is spearheaded by executive director Paige McWey Acers. She is a permanent fixture that keeps the fish afloat and steering in the right direction. The Board is then divided into committees that cover lots of different issues—planning, San Diego Beer Week, membership, bylaws. The work of the Guild is divided amongst members of the Board who in turn incorporate members at-large to be part of these committees. Officers change regularly, every year you get different personalities and different breweries represented—everybody has something different to bring to the table. As president, I’m more the face and voice of the Guild and its members. It’s definitely a team effort. We have a strong Board and it’s amazing to be surrounded with people who have so much experience and insight into what’s important.
What are some initiatives you are excited to introduce and work on?
Technically I’m in an interim position [until next year when I will start the term I would have served if Mike had stayed], so I’m mostly following up on his initiatives—development of committees so the Guild can be more efficient with time and energy in getting things accomplished. Also, our relationship with the San Diego Tourism and Marketing District, San Diego Tourism Authority, and San Diego Hotel and Motel Association; getting our seat at the table as an important part of local economy. Those are things that are very important to me, as well as establishing an Outreach Committee to be in contact with new breweries as they are developed. A lot of what the Guild does is legislative, so making sure those breweries-in-progress are in tune with ABC laws and being a resource for questions will be helpful.
What are some opportunities for success for local brewers that the Guild can help with?
Networking and resources are such a huge thing that [brewery business-owners and brewers] don’t realize they have. If they have a question about a beer-recipe, they can phone-a-friend. If they don’t have contact info, we’ll put people in touch. We’ll guide through what they need with legislative questions, and the stronger the Guild’s relationship gets with the aforementioned associations, the more our members will benefit. And of course there’s our maps [showing where every member-brewery is located throughout San Diego County]. There are 90,000 of those in circulation throughout the year. Then there’s San Diego Beer Week, which provides an international platform now. “San Diego-style” beer is a real thing now and, as San Diego beer grows, our members will grow with it.
What are some of the biggest problems currently plaguing San Diego brewers?
Quality is always a concern, especially with breweries growing and having different processes than when they were smaller operations. As we develop the “San Diego Beer” brand as a whole, quality is more important than ever. Each sip represents all of San Diego beer, not just the individual breweries. Luckily, there are a lot of resources to connect people in order to elevate the quality of everyone’s beer.
President, San Diego Brewers Guild
Each year, the San Diego Brewers Guild elevates a member of the local brewing industry to the role of president. Unlike the American presidency, candidate selection comes without muckraking, spouting of platitudes or child-like behavior. The Guild is all for one and one for all, with this year’s one-for-all being Mike Sardina. The assistant executive officer for Kearny Mesa’s Societe Brewing Company, Sardina volunteered for the position, serving first as vice president under last year’s leader, Kevin Hopkins (Mother Earth Brew Co.) to get a feel for the position before taking it on. A trip to the SDBG’s oval office resulted in the following presidential interview outlining some of Sardina’s initiatives for 2016.
What inspired you to throw your hat in the ring for Guild presidency?
Mike Sardina: Even before I transitioned into the industry, I was a fan of the beer community and the camaraderie among the brewers here in San Diego. Coming down here from San Francisco to visit and explore all-things-beer, it was clear that the Guild played a big role in making San Diego a magical place for beer. After I joined Societe, I started attending Guild meetings. At an early meeting, I saw (California Craft Brewers Association executive director) Tom McCormick present his legislative update and I knew then and there that I wanted to be as involved as possible with the Guild to help promote San Diego beer and the interests of local brewers. This led me to the Board of Directors and into the position of vice president in 2015.
What does being president of the Guild entail?
MS: There are many facets to the position, but it ultimately comes down to working as hard as possible at every opportunity to achieve the mission of the Guild, which was founded in 1997 in order to promote San Diego breweries, create an open line of communication between brewers and advocate for more modern beer laws. I am involved with fielding media inquiries, hosting folks from out of town and sharing my favorite San Diego breweries with beer tourists. I host the Guild’s general meetings and organize formal and informal meetings between brewers. I also work on legislative issues facing brewers at the local, state and national levels.
What are some initiatives you are excited to introduce and work on?
MS: I am excited to push harder this year to get more people involved and working collectively toward advancing the idea and the story of San Diego beer. Two specific areas of interest are establishing working committees within the Guild, one that focuses on technical brewing and quality, and another that focuses on beer tourism, hospitality and marketing the concept of “San Diego beer” at the national level. I fully believe that if we all focus on quality beer and technical brewing proficiency at each San Diego brewery, and if we all focus on promoting San Diego and the incredible beers being brewed here, we can help our county achieve the recognition that it deserves as being the best beer city in the world.
What are some opportunities for success for local brewers that the Guild can help with?
MS: Getting exposure for breweries, introducing beer drinkers to their beers and stories. The Guild publishes the San Diego Brewers map, an important resource and tool to help promote beer tourism and brewery visits in San Diego. Third is San Diego Beer Week. Get involved with the Guild during San Diego’s biggest annual celebration of beer. SDBW should be a highlight for beer brewed and poured locally, and the brewers and bars here are directly responsible for that.
What is a major problem facing local brewers?
MS: First and foremost is beer quality. If you’re not brewing good beer, that is an issue, and you are doing a disservice to the entire community in San Diego. We can’t accept bad (or even mediocre) beer. If we want San Diego beer to be representative of the best beers in the world, then every brewery here needs to be brewing world-class beer. Fortunately, there are members of the Guild who are willing and able to help fix quality issues. Be open and honest about your beer and don’t be afraid to ask for help. One bad glass of San Diego beer reflects poorly on us all. Don’t cut corners.