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The Battle for the Soul of San Diego Indie Beer

At the end of 2015 big beer made a barrage of acquisitions in an effort to expand its portfolio of “craft” Brewers. The moves were significant, and showed that corporate beer is not planning to sit back and let its share of the market be reduced any longer.

On the local front San Diego felt the sting of losing two of its own local breweries as Saint Archer was purchased by Miller/Coors, and more devastatingly, Ballast Point selling for 1 Billion dollars to Constellation Brands i.e. Corona. 

Now with the news that 10 Barrel Brewing, a property of InBev that masquerades as still being a local, independent brewery based out of Bend, Oregon, will be opening a location in downtown San Diego’s East Village neighborhood it has become clear that big beer is no longer content to simply buy the competition. They want to bury it. 

10 Barrel sold to InBev in November of 2014. Since then big beer has made a concerted effort to aquire at least one indie Brewer in every major market of the western United States. They purchased Elysian in Seattle, Golden Road in Los Angeles, Saint Archer and Ballast Point here in San Diego, Four Peaks in Phoenix and Breckenridge Brewing in Colorado. 

By placing a brewpub in San Diego, InBev has shown that it will continue to rely on deception and outright lies to attempt to create a ruse to confuse and trick customers. It is shameful. This is an effort to severely damage the indie beer culture of San Diego and we cannot sit back and take it.

One of the many rewarding aspects of loving the local, independent beer scene of San Diego is the knowledge that your money is staying in San Diego and supporting small business. Your money is helping your neighbors, and not lineing the pockets of rich people who do not give a damn about the community of San Diego. They see our city as dollars signs. They know their product does not stand a chance when lined up against the world class beers brewed by many of our local, indie Brewers. Deception is the new strategy.

Recently on a trip to Portland, Oregon I spent a Saturday night hopping from brewpub to brewpub in the downtown area. After a few hours I stumbled upon the 10 Barrel location; it was packed. I was shocked. Portlanders are known for their being savvy when it comes to supporting local business over corporate greed. It opened my eyes to a few truths that I still wrestle with but two of those truths are that not only are InBev’s deceptions working, they are working very well even in a indie beer town like Portland.

The most dangerous weapon we possess in the revolution against big beer is a knowledgable consumer. It is now more important than ever that we, as consumers, take the time to learn who owns who and where our hard earned money is going. Big beer is betting that we are too lazy to bother with seeking out the truth. It is time to teach how wrong they are. 

One of the most interesting details of the proposed location for the corporate beer sell out is the proposed location; just a block away from local favorite and Great American Beer Festival gold medal winning Monkey Paw Brewing and Pub. While I do not know their reactions to the news, I do know this: Monkey Paw Owner Scot Blair and Head Brewer Cosimo Sorrentino are two of the best the San Diego independent beer community could hope to have on the front lines for this battle. These are two people that I will always have the backs of and the San Diego indie beer community will be right there with me. 

InBev just brought a knife to a gunfight.

Cheers and remember to keep your money local,

Tom


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The only Culture we need is Beer Culture.

The writing of this particular blog post has taken on several different iterations since first beginning to craft it. Initially I had planned to write a simple recap of where and what I drank while adventuring around the indie beer scene in Portland, Oregon. I decided that was boring, no matter how many different ways I tried to write it. The next attempt was to try to cover my trip and make a comparison between the beer cultures of Portland and San Diego. I wrote it, it came out pretty good. Then two questions occurred to me; first, does four days in Portland really qualify me to speak at length on the differences and similarities in the beer culture of Portland compared to San Diego? Secondly, is it really that important to write about the differences in the drinking cultures of these two fantastic cities? No, it doesn’t. Just like every list ever written that ranks the best indie beer cities or tries to tell you what the best IPA’s in the world are, it is all subjective and usually has some sort of bias on the part of the writer. That is why I am going to put this right out on front street:

San Diego is the best city for indie beer.

That is my opinion and I stand by it 100%. However my brother in Los Angeles might disagree. My friend Bobby in Portland may see it differently, just as my cousin Corrine in Denver, my father in Baltimore and my buddy Chris in San Francisco all probably believe their city is the best. Here is the best part though: they are all right. Yes, for every person who drinks and supports independent beer, the town they live in should be the best and they should be proud of it.

Trying to compare drinking cultures in different cities is a lot like comparing apples to a bunch of other apples. Each one has its own unique flavor, but they are still apples in the end. It is important to remember, each and every city can and should stand on its own without having to deal with comparisons to other places.

Independent beer often has the ability to showcase some of the best qualities of the culture in which it was brewed. Here in San Diego it is very easy to find beers that are bright, shiny and clear in their color, reflective of a typical warm summer day and the sun reflecting off the ocean. In Portland many of the beers are little darker in color, like the woods of the forests around them and the general pioneering history and embracing the natural world around them. With each city having its own distinct flavor and sense of style, it presents endless options for the indie beer drinker who likes to explore.

It is simply a great time to be a beer lover in America. Never before in the nations history have we had more breweries in production than we do right now, and that number is only increasing. A person can board a flight and travel from one end of the country to the other, east to west, north to south, come out of the airport and be in the general vicinity of a local brewery. Its exciting to to explore the beers of a new city and immerse yourself into the culture of that town or city and learn what beer means to them. It is also exciting to know that, if for one reason or another, the beers of that city or town do not sit on your palette just right, the odds of finding a Stone IPA (or your own local favorite) are dramatically high as well, so you can support your hometown brewery and maybe turn on a few people who have not yet had the chance to see what your town is all about.

San Diego is a city that is still developing its beer culture. Yes, there are handful of breweries in town that have been brewing great beer for over 20 years, but it wasn’t until 2007-2008 that craft beer/independent beer began to skyrocket in its popularity, not only here but across the country. However, we are on the right track. Not only are we the proud home of some of the best breweries in the country, we are also home to some of the best beer bars in the country. Couple that with the continued growth of the farm to table food revolution and more top notch independent restaurants that serve local, independent brewery tap handles, San Diego is a destination not only for locals but for beer lovers across the globe. If the rate of growth in the independent beer market continues to expand, it will mean a much deeper permeation of beer into the fabric of what makes San Diego so great. The saturation point still seems to be far off, when too many breweries exist, but as long as the beer stays high in quality, it is only a matter of time before the sign reads “Welcome to San Diego, America’s Finest City, and Independent Beer Capital of the World.”

Won’t that be a great thing?

Cheers,

Tom20130523-124543.jpg


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San Diego Beer Week is upon us!

The popular saying around San Diego is that in reality, every week is beer week. Sure, living in the craft beer mecca that San Diego has become can seem that way with the sheer number of breweries and a seemingly endless barrage of events happening throughout the year, but the fact remains that this week is special and should be held above all other events in town. This is the March Madness of the craft beer world.

The list of events is staggering, from tap takeovers to special barrel releases and insanely fun and delicious food & beer pairing dinners, it is impossible not to find an event of six to satisfy your beer drinking desires. Head over to the SD Beer Week website for the full calendar of events and have a truly great time. 

This past weekend, myself and my broadcast partner/ good friend Cody of ThreeBZine fame, were lucky enough to have the privilege to record our latest podcast episode live from the SD Brewer’s Guild Beer Festival, the annual kick-off event for Beer week. The conversations we had with some of San Diego’s elite brewing talents are both entertaining and insightful. If you’d like to hear what was said, please follow the link to ThreeBZine where you can listen or download from iTunes or your other favorite podcasting app. Thanks for listening and have a happy SD Beer Week!!IMG_2473 copy


Cheers,

Tom

 


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Lagunitas goes Dutch while Saint Archer sells to MillerCoors.

Times are certainly changing in the world of Craft Beer.

It has been a week full of major news as two breweries have made headlines, one with a dramatic merger and another with an out-right sale.

Unless you have been living inside of green glass bottle, you probably heard the news that broke first thing this past Tuesday morning, Lagunitas, 3rd largest craft beer brewer in the U.S., has sold a 50% share to global Dutch brewing mega-conglomerate Heineken. The second news story, officially confirmed yesterday, but whispered around San Diego for several months, was the majority sale of Saint Archer Brewing to corporate beer poster boys MillerCoors.

In both cases it is fair to say that these craft beer breweries sold out. It is also fair to say that these two breweries can no longer be considered ‘craft beer breweries’.

Whether or not this news dissuades a person from drinking the beers of Lagunitas or Saint Archer is an entirely subjective matter. Hard-core craft beer geeks will move on while the masses, who for the most part do not care who owns a brewery, will simply drink on in a state of blissful ignorance.

Personally, I’m happy for Lagunitas and Saint Archer. Or more to the point, I’m happy for the employees. Undoubtably this can only be good news for the employees of each business because hopefully they will see some of the millions now being pumped into their breweries. Make no mistake, these are two businesses that employ a lot of wonderful and talented people, the contributions they have made to craft beer cannot and should not be forgotten or overlooked. If they choose to stay onboard when the new ownership takes over, or in the case of Lagunitas; joins the board, then I wish them nothing but the best. If any of them decide to leave and seek opportunity at another craft brewer or perhaps even start their own brewery, that will be even better news and I sincerely hope to try those beers very soon, craft beer will welcome you back with open arms. 

In the case of Lagunitas, they made the decision to partner with Heineken in order to become a global brand and put their beers in the hands of more people around the world. As a business, you cannot fault them for that. Tony Magee, founder of Lagunitas, was looking for a way to grow his business on a global scale. This was the way he thought was best to do it. 

With Saint Archer, sources have told me multiple times that this was the plan from day one. It was part of the business model that helped lure the financial backing of big time X-Game athletes and others, the promise of owning a brewery for a big pay day down the road. Mission Accomplished. Like many others in San Diego, I have often questioned the intentions of Saint Archer, but now they are all rich and I’m not.

In both cases, it was stressed that nothing would change about the beers and that the people in charge of things were staying in charge. It was a lot of information to try and reassure craft beer drinkers that the product would not change, even if the people collecting all the money did.

Where things get interesting is with the potential ramifications of each move. For Saint Archer it will be a challenge for them to try and still call themselves craft beer in a market like San Diego. The knowledgeable craft beer geeks will stop drinking it and they certainly will not go to the tasting room. How the average beer drinker reacts will be far more interesting, will they even care that MillerCoors owns them? It will also be interesting to see how MillerCoors handles what can only be an impending nationwide rollout of Saint Archer beers. Will you one day walk into a bar in Philadelphia and find Saint Archer White nestled between handles of Blue Moon and ShockTop? 

This move is also alarming to other San Diego craft brewers because now they have MillerCoors in their backyard, something that almost everyone had hoped to avoid. Will MillerCoors attempt to interfere with the micro and nano breweries in San Diego with proposing wild new legislation like they have in Florida? Only time will tell.

For Lagunitas, they have a far more precarious situation in front of them. Tony Magee has been very outspoken when it comes to craft brewers selling out to ABInBev and MillerCoors in the past. After announcing the sale, or partnership, with Heineken, Tony found himself in the position of having to defend his actions with very long blog post where he attempts to show how this deal is actually a good thing for the American Craft Beer industry. What this says to me is that Tony still wants to sit at the table with the cool kids despite the fact that the he now belongs in the lounge with all the lame grown-ups.

Don’t get me wrong, if the day comes when I can find a bottle of Lagunitas IPA in bar down the back ally of a random third world country and it tastes just as good as the one made in Petaluma, that is a good thing. But do not act like you didn’t sell out to make that happen, just own it and everything will be cool. 

Ultimately, I hope this works out for the people involved at Lagunitas and Heineken. I also hope that MillerCoors doesn’t have a negative effect here in San Diego, because that has to be a top priority now for the brewers of this region, to protect the quality and integrity of what San Diego beer has become known for around the world. Make sure that Saint Archer is an isolated case, and we can mitigate them to a small part of the brewing culture here in this county. 

Also, if anyone wants to start a petition for Saint Archer to relocate to Milwaukee, I would be ok with that. Or at the very least they can relocate to Carson with the Chargers.

Cheers,

Tom


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The Realities of Expansion; A Look at the Firestone Walker & Duvel Partnership

The big news coming out of the craft beer industry this past week was the reported acquisition of California craft beer heroes Firestone Walker by Belgian beer giant, Duval.

Turns out these first reports were a bit erroneous. David Walker spent a fair amount of time attempting to clear the air about the deal between the two companies and to break it down to its simplest form, the two have entered into a partnership agreement that will allow Firestone Walker to increase their brewing capabilities and begin to cast a wider net in national distribution.

It sounds simple enough. But it poses an interesting dilemma for the surging craft beer industry, how do you handle expansion?

Time for a disclaimer; I am not an economist, financial planner or marketing wizard. That means I certainly do not know the best answer, however, what is most interesting is there doesn’t appear to be one answer. Many breweries seem to be finding new and unique ways the expand the appeal of their brands and entice new customers to try their luscious libations.

Here in San Diego we are all bearing witness to the exponential growth of the industry. Not only are more new breweries continuing to open, we are also seeing a surge in established local craft beer breweries opening satellite tasting rooms around the county. Mike Hess Brewing recently announced plans for a third tasting room to soon open in Ocean Beach. Culture Brewing, out of Solana Beach, also has a second location in Ocean Beach. North County brewers Belching Beaver and Rip Current have opened satellite tasting rooms in North Park while local legends Ballast Point is on number four, Stone Brewing is at five and Karl Strauss has eight brewpubs in Southern California.

Every successful business wants to make money and get bigger. Make no mistake, the people who start breweries may have gotten into the industry for the love of beer, but once you put your livelihood and the livelihood of your entire family on the line, you need that business to be success, nobody is making craft beer with the intention of simply breaking even. So what are the ways we have seen craft brewers grow their business and their brands over the past few years?

Sierra Nevada opened a second brewing facility in Mills River, North Carolina. Lagunitas also opened a second location in Chicago, Illinois and have announced a third brewing location for Azusa, California. Green Flash has broken ground in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Stone has done the same in Richmond, Virginia and I continue to hear rumors swirling about that Ballast Point will soon announce plans to open a brewery in Austin, Texas.

This method of expansion is obviously not applicable to smaller craft brewers. This is what the giants of the craft beer are able to do by being so well established and having developed a loyal following across the country. For these companies, it is all about long term planning. Not only will these location cut down on the expenses associated with transporting beer across the country, it also addresses what could be a serious issue in the future here in California; water. These other states have access to large reservoirs of water that will help make expansion even more feasible in the future.

Then there is the method that caused a huge stir in the craft beer community in San Diego with some effects still being felt, the time when Alpine Beer Company sold to Green Flash Brewing. It was something we had not seen yet, a craft brewer buying another craft brewer. In this instance, Alpine was not necessarily looking to expand, but the demand for their beer was so high and the deal allowed them to not only expand their tasting room and still brew their own beers at their East County San Diego location, but it got all their employees health insurance and other benefits they could not provided before the acquisition. Now, Green Flash can brew up larger batches of Alpine Beer for the masses here in California and pretty soon nationwide.

Another method of expansion is one I am loathe to even address so we will make it short and sweet and never bring it up again. You can sell your brewery to Inbev or SABMiller or one of the other giant conglomerates from around the world. But we all know that is a terrible idea…I’m looking at you 10 Barrel and Elysian.

Initially, the above method is what most feared for Firestone Walker.

This is not Duvel’s first foray into a partnership with a craft beer brewer. Over the past several years they have acquired Cooperstown, New York brewery Ommegang and most recently Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing. Duvel, a family owned and operated company, has stayed relatively hands-off with both, allowing them to continue doing what they do best. Now both breweries have access to more resources and help distribute their beers on a far larger scale, as we are seeing first hand with Boulevard who has recently made their way into the San Diego market.

In several interviews David Walker has elaborated that this is more of a case of Duvel investing in Firestone Walker to aid with their expansion plans. If that is one hundred percent accurate I cannot say with any certainty at this point. Since both companies are independently owned, the financial terms or the deal were not made public. You can read what Mr. Walker told TheFullPint.com and BrewPublic.com right here.

It also should be noted that Duvel is not without faults of their own, especially in their home country of Belgium where it is a contentious fact that Duvel is known for forcing bars into contracts that must be honored even in the event that new owners take over. This became a very public issue for the owners of Moeder Lambic which fought and won a battle with Duvel in order to help ensure that tap handles would be available to smaller breweries that they wanted to support.

While I cannot claim that what Firestone Walker did is what I would have done, it is most certainly the option they considered to be the best for them and the people who work for them. The fact is that Firestone Walker is the 16th largest craft brewer in the country, but a whopping 80% of the beer they sell stays in California. While math was never my strong suit, I know that only leaves 20% for 49 other states. If they want their beer in the hands of more consumers, and since we already established that making money is the whole point of a business, this is clearly what they felt was the best option for their brewery. The most important issue for me is the status of genius Head Brewer Matt Brynildson, as long as he is happy, and all indications are that he is, and he stays at the helm of the ship, odds are very high that I will continue to enjoy the beers of Firestone Walker for years to come, and with any luck I will be able to do it in any state in the country and possibly any country in the world.

Cheers,

Tom


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The Stunning Conclusion: Part 2 of Pizza Port, The Burning of Rome and Eukaryst on The ThreeBZine Podcast!

When last we left our heroes, their lives were in mortal danger at the hands of The Joker as his plan to release his deadly joker toxin into Gotham’s water supply nears success…

Oh wait…wrong podcast.

The only danger Cody, Dustin and myself were in was having too much and fun and drinking too much incredible craft beer. Head over to ThreeBZine or Itunes to check out the final installment of epic time hanging out at Pizza Port Bressi Ranch with Pizza Port OB Head Brewer Nacho Cervantes, and the guys from The Burning of Rome and Eukaryst. Also, check out this sweet video that Pizza Port made for our show!

Cheers!

Tom


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Pizza Port, The Burning of Rome & Eukaryst; A Trilogy of Awesome!

Pizza Port has long been one of my favorite destinations in San Diego County. Whether it is the original location in Solana Beach or Carlsbad, or my personal favorite, Ocean Beach, you can always rely on a fantastic array of lovingly crafted beers and ridiculously tasty pizza and other assorted delights. It is a place where I’m happy to go solo, because I’ll always find someone to chat with, but I’m always eager to take a group of friends with me, especially if they have never been to one before. The employees of Pizza Port are a delight. They are nice, friendly and laid back. It help give the restaurants the right feel for a pizza place that is steps away from the beach. Simply put; It’s impossible to not have a great time at any one of their locations.

Pizza Port is also home to a lot of creative people, and I’m not only talking about Ocean Beach’s head brewer Ignacio “Nacho” Cervantes, who is continually whipping up some of the best craft beer in San Diego but it is home to his assistant brewer Gino Fontana, bass player in the local metal band Eukaryst and Joe Aguilar, long-time beertender and guitar player for local legends and kings of “death-pop”, The Burning of Rome.

If the names of those bands sounds familiar but you are not plugged into the local music scene, much like me, it’s possible you know those names from the two fantastic beers which are named for each band. The Burning of Rome IPA is a sensational beer that will measure high on any IPA geek’s stat sheet, and is a personal favorite of mine. Then there is Eukaryst Sinister Imperial Stout, it is simply a monster of a beer infused with darkness, it’s like drinking straight from the abyss where Cthulu resides, and loving every second of it. 

This past Monday, the ThreeBZine podcast crew, consisting of Cody, Dustin and myself were invited to join Joe, Gino and Nacho for a lively discussion about the beers and the bands and how it all come to be at the large production facility and restaurant in Bressi Ranch. We were excited, and we had very moderate expectations of how the session would go. We thought we would sit in a small room private room adjacent to the restaurant to record. Instead we were treated to a huge round table loaded with pitchers of The Burning of Rome IPA and growlers of Eukaryst Sinister Imperial Stout, including the barrel aged version and six-packs of Ponto, Swami’s and Chronic Ale directly in the center of the main production brew house. Not only that but they even filmed the podcast and are putting together a video that I will be sharing with the world very soon. It was a humbling and exhilarating experience all at the same time, and easily one of the best and most exciting things I’ve had a chance to be a part of. The hospitality and generosity of Pizza Port and its crew is second to none. These people work hard and they take amazing care of their guests. Cody, Dustin and myself all agreed it is an experience that will be hard to beat.2015-06-08 18.55.49

The conversation was long and epic! We go deep into the worlds of music and craft beer and how the two intersect. Head over to ThreeBZine to listen to part one of this amazing podcast or download from itunes and please let me know what you think.

If you’d like to get familiar with the bands, here is a link to a great video and song by The Burning of Rome and here is a link to an video by Eukaryst filmed in Pizza Port OB that also shows their beer being brewed.

If you’d like to check out Pizza Port here is the link to their site with all the locations listed, and please call me so we can go together. I’m always up for more great pizza and craft beers.

Cheers,

Tom

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