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Posts Tagged macrobeer

The Bell Marker debuting in former Beer Co. spot

Jan 11

In 2010, an entrepreneur from north of San Diego County delivered a brewpub concept to downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter. Dubbed The Beer Co., it was a spin-off operation that failed to generate much of a reputation among San Diego’s craft-beer enthusiasts. Not even a gold medal from the 2012 Great American Beer Festival for its barrel-aged strong ale, The Manhattan Project, measured so much as a ripple in local waters. Still, it soldiered on for more than half-a-decade before closing down. Now, the space that housed it is ready to birth a second brewery-restaurant brought to San Diego by nearby out-of-towners, The Bell Marker (602 East Broadway, Downtown).

That business will debut on January 22, complete with a veteran, native San Diegan brewer at the helm. That individual, Noah Regnery hails from vaunted locally-based business, Pizza Port, where he worked at the chain’s San Clemente brewpub from 2007 to 2011 and contributed to its award-winning reputation before departing to become head brewer at Hollister Brewing in Goleta, California, a post he held until 2014 when he departed the industry altogether. His return should be highly anticipated, but as with so many developments in the suddenly complicated local suds scene, it comes with some drama. The Bell Marker is the first location south of Los Angeles for LA-based Artisanal Brewers Collective, a company established by Golden Road Brewing co-founder Tony Yanow. That in itself is not all that significant, but the fact Yanow and Golden Road partner Meg Gill sold the business to macrobeer conglomerate AB InBev in September of 2015 muddies things a bit for fans of independent craft brewers as well as members of the local industry.

Since Golden Road’s sale, Yanow (a bar owner before and throughout his tenure with Golden Road) and his ABC partners have been busy gobbling up hospitality venues throughout LA. The Bell Marker is the first to possess a brewing component and Yanow’s original venues—Mohawk Bend and Tony’s Darts Away—were craft-centric venues which were ahead of their time. Figuratively, this is not unfamiliar territory for this seemingly insatiable entrepreneur, even if it is from a geographic standpoint. How it will be received from a local population which vehemently eschewed last year’s arrival of AB InBev’s 10 Barrel Brewing brewpub in the East Village remains to be seen.

The Bell Marker houses a copper-clad, 15-barrel brewhouse that will be utilized to produce American, English, German, and Belgian beers. The opening-day line-up will include a cream ale, hefeweizen, brown ale, pale ale and IPA augmented by guest beers selected to fill in any stylistic gaps. There will also be a full cocktail program to appeal to non-beer fans. The 8,000-square-foot venue can seat 212 at a time and will be open seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

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Trade organizations seek to communicate brewery independence

Jun 27

This month, the two craft-brewing industry trade organizations of the greatest importance to local breweries—national entity, the Brewers Association, and the San Diego Brewers Guild—have unveiled initiatives seeking to assist consumers in identifying products from authentically independent brewing companies. It started with the latter introducing decals that can be placed on the exterior of member organizations (all of which meet the SDBG’s independence standards). That was followed this week by the BA rolling out a seal of independence that qualifying breweries can feature on their beer-packaging at retail.

Both organizations share the same motivation. With macro-beer producers’ long-standing practice of creating faux craft brands, and the more recent phenomenon of those conglomerates purchasing craft breweries, in part or in whole, and using misleading and often times false information via advertising campaigns and product labeling to disguise their non-craft products, it has become essential for authentically independent operations to help educate consumers that they are, indeed, the real thing, as opposed to the likes of AB InBev-, MillerCoors– and Constellation Brands-owned interests.

In the words of the Brewers Association: When it comes to the origins of food and beverages, there is increasing public interest in transparency. Beer lovers are no exception. As Big Beer acquires former craft brands, beer drinkers have become increasingly confused about which brewers remain independent. They want to know who makes their beer. With the launch of [the BA’s independence] seal, the BA is making it easy to identify which beer is made by independent craft brewers.

The BA’s seal features an upturned beer bottle (signifying the manner in which craft brewers have turned the industry upside-down over the past several decades) and the words “Brewers Association Certified Independent Craft”. To be able to use the seal, companies must meet the BA’s criteria, which includes: annual production of six million barrels or less and being less than 25% owned or controlled by an alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer. In addition to bottles, cans, six-pack holders, case-boxes and other packaging, the seal can also be used at places of business and on marketing materials.

In San Diego County, the SDBG’s decals read “Proud Member San Diego Brewers Guild” and note the current calendar year. In addition to the decals, the SDBG is also creating flags and tap-handle danglers for use at tasting rooms and on-premise accounts. These are key components of the organization’s Conscious Consumer Campaign.

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A Quick How-To on Supporting Local Breweries

May 16

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.

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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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Stone Brewmaster Mitch Steele moving on

Jun 14
Mitch giving a tour of Stone's hop storage, circa 2011

Mitch giving a tour of Stone’s hop storage, circa 2011

Mitch Steele, Stone Brewing’s brewmaster of 10 years, will be leaving his post at the end of the month to pursue a new opportunity. The specifics of that new venture have yet to be officially dispersed, but despite a lack of details, this is news that will be widely reported today. And it should be. Steele is one of the brewing industry’s blue-chip members. Not only has he overseen brewing operations at one of the country’s fastest-growing brewing companies — even during high-profile expansions to the East Coast and Europe — he literally wrote the book on India pale ales: IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale AleHis loss will be palpable for Stone, but not just because of his brewing prowess and professional skills, which led to numerous industry awards.

Having worked with Steele for three years, I can tell you that he brought another x-factor to Stone. In addition to being a consummate professional, he is also a good person with a big heart who not only loves beer and the art of brewing, but tirelessly supports the sharing of information for the purpose of educating and inspiring others about beer, brewing and his craftsperson industry. Though Stone has often been described as brash, polarizing or downright bastardly, such characterization has never been applied to Steele. He is one of the most respected and positively received public-facing employees the company has ever had, and it will no doubt be very sad for his colleagues to see him go, but in speaking with a number of them in preparation for this article, their happiness for him is both real and unanimous. Count me among those sending best wishes for his next venture, for which he was sought out by industry professionals recognizing the talent and intangibles he brings to the brew-deck.

Steele entered the brewing industry in 1988, four years after graduating from UC Davis with a degree in Fermentation Science. His first job was manning a 14-barrel system at the San Andreas Brewing Company. In 1992, he started work at Anheuser-Busch, managing brewhouse and fermenting operations in three different breweries while developing new beers as part of the company’s Specialty Brewing Group. An employee of Big Beer seemed an unlikely candidate for induction at Stone, which has railed against macro-entities since its 1996 founding, but Steele won over owners Greg Koch and Steve Wagner and proceeded to take San Diego County’s largest brewery from annual production of 48,000 barrels to more than 325,000 in 2015.

Steele’s last day at Stone will be June 30. As is customary, the brewery has produced a video (embedded below) to communicate this development with its fans via social-media. In it, Steele shares stories from the past decade, praises key members of his brewing staff and struggles with emotions throughout. Such emotion is understandable. It’s the end of an era, both for Steele and for Stone. Rather than fill the brewmaster position, Stone will employ an “innovation team” headed by chief operating officer Pat Tiernan and key individuals from the company’s brewing team. That group will develop new beers with concepts and recipes approved by Koch and Wagner.

This is not uncharted territory for San Diego’s brewing scene. Last September, Green Flash Brewing Company—probably the San Diego company closest to Stone in its make-up with its hoppy beer portfolio, status as one of the country’s 50 largest craft breweries, multiple local locations and Virginia expansion project—abruptly lost its brewmaster when 11-year veteran Chuck Silva resigned in similar fashion. His mission was to return to his San Luis Obispo County roots and open his own brewery. That project, Silva Brewing, is well underway with plans to open later this year in Paso Robles. When that happened, Green Flash did not crumble, and neither will Stone. It will just be…different.

Brandon Hernández previously worked for Stone Brewing as its Senior Communications Specialist from 2012 to 2015.

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