This Friday, San Diego Beer Week begins with the official kickoff event, the Guild Festival VIP Brewer Takeover, at the Port Pavilion at Broadway Pier from 6 – 9 p.m. This beer list was released this afternoon. Tickets are $75 for unlimited beer and food samples, plus the commemorative glass and live music. Day-of pricing will be $100 at the door. Day two of the Guild Festival is on Saturday, with both VIP ($55) and general admission ($40) tickets available. See all other SDBW events here.
How big can craft beer get in San Diego? That’s a question being talked about plenty these days, as the region is now home to more than 70 brew houses.
According to a study released earlier this year by National University System Institute for Policy Research, craft beer in San Diego generated $680.8 million in sales in 2011, the last year with complete statistics. With the continued growth of the industry, 2012 numbers undoubtedly are larger.
So where exactly is San Diego on the growth curve? Just how big is the market anyway, and what will brewers need to do to sustain the momentum?
As a follow-up to a recent West Coaster story about the potential of a craft beer bubble, we called on two industry insiders to get their insights – Vince Vasquez, a senior policy analyst with National University who conducted the independent study, and Brian Scott, president of the San Diego Brewers Guild (he also doubles as the equipment maintenance and packaging supervisor for Karl Strauss). Here’s what they had to say:
How big is the craft beer market in San Diego? And how much more room for growth is there?
Scott: We have turned a lot of people on to craft beer, but we still have a ways to go. Craft beer represents 10% volume in San Diego and there are markets like Portland where craft beer makes up more than 20% of beer sales—that’s where we are headed.
Vasquez: We’re certainly not in our infancy, but there is definitely more room to run in terms of industry potential. And even if a large brewery gets bought by another company or decides to relocate, I think all of the equipment and jobs would be distributed throughout the local industry –it seems to be that strong and collaborative of an industry. And as a think tank, we don’t see that in every industry we look at.
What advantages does craft beer have that other industries don’t?
Vasquez: The one thing that helps the craft beer industry is that not one size fits all. And it seems the newer guys are more fleet-footed and unconventional. Not everybody wants to be Karl Strauss or Ballast Point. For some it’s about simply having a presence in a neighborhood with 10 employees and a voice in the community.
Scott: Craft beer sales are experiencing double-digit sales growth, and currently represent 10.2% of all beer sales by dollars. There is a lot of room to grow, and San Diegans have shown a passion for supporting quality, local products. As our San Diego breweries continue to put out quality beer, we believe there is still plenty of market share to grow into.
What are local brewers doing to help build San Diego craft beer as a brand?
Scott: We have put a lot of work into building awareness for our region under the San Diego Brewers Guild umbrella. The Guild was established to promote San Diego craft beer within San Diego, as well as beyond. We believe that by pooling our resources to promote our industry, we can grow our awareness and become known as the Napa for craft beer. The hard work, quality beers and awards won by our talented brewers have helped make San Diego a thriving beer scene that we are anxious to promote.
Vasquez: Look at how Napa came together as a community to create a wine destination. That’s something that San Diego certainly could emulate. Can someone from Topeka, Kansas, clearly articulate what makes San Diego craft beer unique? They probably can about Napa wine. It’s all about highlighting an industry in one region, and that’s the power of marketing and branding.
What obstacles could impede the growth of craft beer?
Vasquez: Having the bigger breweries saying that what they are making is craft when it’s not. That’s a real serious threat to this industry. From my perspective as a consumer, you are seeing a blending of what craft beer really is. Posers are coming in and they are getting away with it. Only the beer geeks and the industry guys are the ones calling them out on it, but what about your typical consumer? If you see Budweiser’s idea of a craft beer next to a Ballast Point Sculpin, will there be some who will be fooled? You need a mechanism (such as certification) that allows for those who are making real craft beer to be identified as such.
Scott: I foresee a couple obstacles. There is definitely the issue of the macros – Bud, Miller, Coors – trying to blur the line on what is a craft beer. But the craft beer consumer is savvy. Craft beer stands for more than quality. Craft stands for local craftsmanship, pride, craft stands for community involvement, it stands for local economic development, it stands for more jobs, and most craft brewers stand for sustainability. Craft beer consumers want to support all of that in addition to knowing who is brewing their beer. The craft beer consumer appreciates the hand-crafted effort to put out the best beer possible made from the finest ingredients, not short cuts just to gain volume and dollar advantages. The other obstacle is natural market supply and demand. Craft breweries use the best malts and hops and as the number of breweries grow, the demand for these ingredients may outweigh the supply. Plus, the speed of retail adoption is lagging the growth of new breweries. There is a real need for retail education and the loosening of the Big 3 on the big box retailers to allow more craft on the shelf. It’s tough to get more craft sku’s on the grocery shelf when a macro is setting the schematic. Retailers are savvy too though and they are coming around. They see the consumer demand and you will definitely notice a difference today than 5 years ago. We just need it to transition quicker.
How important is craft beer tourism to the sustainability of the San Diego market?
Scott: Tourism is huge in San Diego. Our economic impact as an industry is starting to gain recognition, and as we continue to win more medals and put out top-notch beers, we can see tourism growing even more.
Vasquez: The largest craft brewing event in the region is San Diego Beer Week. It brings more than 20,000 participants to the county. Our study found that the 2011 Beer Week generated 3,612 hotel room nights and $469,307 in additional hotel revenue. (In 2012, the event brought in an estimated $780,000 in hotel revenue).
In light of San Diego Beer Week funding cuts from the Tourism Marketing District, are there any collaborative marketing efforts among breweries?
Scott: We are working with our Guild members to rally around San Diego Beer Week to promote our craft to the city and beyond. In particular, we are working with the breweries to really promote the official kick-off event, the Guild Festival, because this is our major source of revenue for the coming year. The Guild is working diligently to help provide member breweries with the promotional tools they need to generate awareness and buzz for San Diego Beer Week, the Festival, and their own businesses.
So what’s next for craft beer in San Diego?
Vasquez: There has to be some strategic planning on an industry-wide level to really decide where craft beer wants to go from here. It’s going to be challenging.
Scott: We have doubled the number of breweries in San Diego in the past four years. That is great. The growth is very rapid, but beer sales and tasting room visits have shown that consumers support this number of breweries and local commerce. As a guild, we want to advocate smart growth with a continued focus on quality and continue to live up to the world-class reputation San Diego has created.
Unlike last year, 2013′s festival will be a two-day event.
Tickets for the VIP Brewer Takeover happening Friday, November 1 at the Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier are $75 – $78.62 with service fee – and include unlimited beer samples plus bites from local, craft beer-friendly restaurants from 6 – 9 p.m. Rock Bottom La Jolla Brewmaster and former Guild President Marty Mendiola, speaking after an SDBG executive board meeting last night, said that “we are working to get brewers to bring rare/extra delicious beers to the Friday night session to be a bit more special.”
Support the Guild with $104.49, and you’ll have a ticket to Friday’s big night as well as Premier Access to Saturday’s fest at the same location. This pass grants attendees entry one hour earlier than general admission purchasers, plus a commemorative tasting glass and 20 three-ounce samples, which is five more than GA.
Food will be available for purchase from local, craft-beer friendly restaurants and food trucks.
Premier Access tickets for Saturday 1 – 5 p.m. are $57.92.
General Admission tickets for Saturday 2 – 5 p.m. are $42.39.
Designated driver tickets for Friday are $50 – remember, food’s included – and $25 for Saturday. Early purchase is not required.
Local music will be featured throughout both days.
Mendiola also added that the Guild is again working with Chef Celebration and Dr. Bill Sysak to develop the Torrey Pines Beer Garden event on November 10, which closes out Beer Week and sells out quickly every year.
Residents of San Diego are no stranger to a beautiful day. It’s easy for us to forget that at this moment people around the U.S. are layering and buttoning up for the frigid days ahead, while we brace ourselves for the onslaught of slightly brisker air than we’d care for. However, there’s something about wandering into the embrace of the Beer Garden, San Diego Beer Week’s (SDBW) swan song at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, that makes a bright November afternoon all the more exquisite.
After a 10 day frenzy of tap takeovers and Keep the Glass affairs, this event not only serves as SDBW’s closing ceremonies, but a counterpoint to the prior week’s debauchery. It’s a chance to truly luxuriate in the local brew scene with artfully crafted pairings of food and beer. It’s basically like a day spa for beer snobs, but with a lot less Enya and sandalwood candles.
The “garden” is actually semicircle of serving stations that are held on the 0.2% of sod that Torrey Pines has not allocated to golfing purposes. It allows the event to serve up haute cuisine and breathtaking panoramic ocean views in equal measure. It’s the kind of combination that makes you quietly pity everyone that isn’t presently you.
This year’s event inspired 11 chefs from restaurants as varied as Burlap and the Carnitas Snack Shack to perform their culinary magic. Each two or three bite course was paired with two different beers, demonstrating a clear understanding of the minimum food to beer ratio to excite a SDBW crowd.
It’s safe to say the Beer Garden is slightly more posh than most SDBW events. You needn’t don your monocle to attend, but it wouldn’t hurt. However, there’s a dark underbelly to the affair that must be exposed. While fine quaffs and delicate edibles certainly foster an air of sophistication and civility, the fact remains that finding a level surface upon which to enjoy them could be a cutthroat affair. Table real estate is a shockingly precious commodity, one guarded with all the ferocity of post-apocalyptic motorcycle gangs hoarding fuel. I understand that square footage is a little scant without forcing patrons to weave through a hail of golf balls, but when table inhabitants resort to sending out hunting parties while the remainder secure camp, something needs to be reconsidered.
A venison medallion served on a chanterelle ragout with beer dumplings and a cumberland sauce by Chef Gunther Emathinger from Karl Strauss is stunning enough on its own to conjure salivation, but shoulder to shoulder with a Ballast Point Navigator Dopplebock elevates the whole affair to the transcendent. The subtle dark fruit notes in the malty dopplebock beautifully cut the succulence of the sauce while accentuating the venison’s earthier notes.
Most of the other pairings were similarly thoughtful and masterfully executed. Virtually the only criticism I ever heard was that a current course didn’t match the potency of a previous one, which is not to say they weren’t just as greedily consumed. Other standouts included a molasses-chile glazed pork belly from Chef Hanis Cavin from Carnitas Snack Shack with Rock Bottom La Jolla‘s Moonlight Porter as well as a hazelnut, salted caramel & milk chocolate mousse by Tony Martin from Stone World Bistro paired with Coronado‘s Blue Bridge Coffee Stout.
If the revelry at my table was any indicator, the event was a rousing success. One tribemate, Ruby Lynn Carr (a Beer Garden Veteran and fellow high society drunkard), summarized my final impression by commenting “I am thrilled to be enjoying some of the best local craft beers while overlooking the ocean on a gorgeous November day.”
So long, SDBW 2012, and thanks for all the venison medallions served on a chanterelle ragout. Oh, and the beer too.
U-T San Diego’s television station debuted this past summer, and to celebrate San Diego Beer Week a few familiar faces have gone on air this week.