Thursday, January 6, 2011

Too Many Brewers In San Diego?

San Diego Beer Blog has more information on the Travis Smith / La Jolla Brew House saga.  When I read that it was a conflict of interest that lead to Smith's departure, then saw that it was a breach of contract, I figured that the split wasn't amicable.   La Jolla Brew House gained instant credibility last fall with the hiring of Smith, which has now been damaged.  Who replaces Smith will be closely watched now that La Jolla Brew House has put itself on San Diego's beer map, because it wasn't there before, and it could easily slip back into obscurity.  Smith's plan to start a new brewery, Societe Brewing Company, and the number of breweries already in San Diego sparked more comments on blogs than his departure from La Jolla Brew House.

The theme that ran through the comments on Peter Rowe's Blog and on BeerAdvocate was that the San Diego beer market is overdone, it has too many brewers and as the fad of craft brew wanes, brewers will face the inevitable shakeout.  Therefore, there is not enough room in San Diego for another brewer like Societe.   I don't buy this argument for a second.   I don't see a glut of beer, brewers or reason for concern, and won't until local beers occupy all the taps at most all local restaurants and bars.  Karl Strauss' beers,  Stone Brewing's beers and Ballast Point's beers, in particular with its Yellow Tale Pale Ale, can be found at a wide range of restaurants.  But in many cases these three brewers will be the only local beers carried.  I don't see that many other local brewers, including the well-respected The Lost Abbey, Alesmith or Green Flash,  in local restaurants, and I am always popping into restaurants to see what's available on tap.  Far too many restaurants will carry one or two San Diego beers, and then rely on the marco distributors, big European beers or out-of-town "craft" beers (Sam Adams or New Belgium) to complete their beer offerings.  I will believe that the market is saturated when the majority of beers in San Diego restaurants are local.

Of course the brewers that make marginal beer or that have poor operations will have a tough go, but this shouldn't be confused with a lack of market potential.  I don't count out the possibilities of mergers or acquisitions, as all the brewers are local and privately owned, and personal situations change even in expanding markets.  If somehow the San Diego market does reach its full craft beer potential, San Diego brewers only have to look north for significant growth opportunities.  Despite the best efforts of The Bruery and a few others, Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernadino counties don't have the beer culture of San Diego.  The greater Los Angeles market is an enormous beer desert and could provide near unlimited distribution potential for San Diego's small brewers for years and years.

I've never heard complaints about too many wineries in Napa, Sonoma, Anderson Valley and Mendocino.  The same mentality should be applied to San Diego's brewers.  The more brewers the better.   Competition between brewers means more beer, and hopefully better beer.  Travis and Societe, welcome to San Diego, bring on the beer!


dontsaybeersnob said...

Not too sure if this is going to see the light of day, as it seems a fairly old post. To the point, I don't see the issue as being too many brewers in San Diego, but rather, too many similar, middle-of-the-road beers. Really, how many IPAs and IIPAs can we drink? Why don't more brewers put some focus on good ol' Scottish Reds and good American Brown ales? Just sayin'.

Beer Rover said...

Thanks for the comment. I agree with the flood of IPAs, IIPAs, and too many don't get past the "Meh" stage. The two new IPAs from Society Brewing I have had are very good, and apparently I have not had the best, Dandy. We need more beer styles. Pizza Port always has a mix, incluiding an excellent brown ale and a Scotch ale. It also brews an abundance of dark beers. Cheers1

Retry4z said...

Great post.

In Russia there's a saying "You either have vodka or you don't, there is no such thing as too much vodka."

Similarly, for San Diego, this translates into: there is no such thing as too much craft beer.

I agree with the Alesmith founder, who says that beer can be just as complex as wine, and nobody ever complained about the countless wine brands.

With over 40 breweries and counting, let's make San Diego the beer capital of America!

My favorite IPA is Alesmith by the way, but I also love the belgians.