San Diego craft beer is paving the way for craft spirits, coffee, sake, and cider.
San Diego breweries expand out of state
Local beer companies have been colonizing Orange and Los Angeles counties for years, but 2016 was the year San Diego breweries officially expanded production into other states. Stone Brewing Co. kicked things off in July with a facility in Richmond, Virginia. Mother Earth Brewing Co. launched its Nampa, Idaho brewery in October, and Green Flash Brewing Co. followed in Virginia Beach a month later. Ironically, the first San Diego brewery to launch outside California did so outside the U.S. altogether — Stone grand opened its Berlin brewery to the public this summer, but began brewing there in late 2015.
Out of state breweries expand to San Diego
Apparently, the desire to bring beer into a new market goes both ways. Oregon brewery 10 Barrel Brewing inadvertently raised a big stink by announcing plans to open a brewpub in East Village, mostly due to the fact its been owned by craft beer's natural enemy, AB InBev — aka the world's largest beer conglomerate — since 2014. Better received was a San Diego branch of Denmark's Mikkeller Brewing — partly because it partnered with AleSmith's Peter Zien, partly because the company retains its craft beer street cred. The jury's still out on a branded local fundraising events space planned by Lagunitas Brewing Company. The Northern California business started a little closer to home, but it's 50 percent owned by multinational corporation Heineken, and building a massive brewery outside Los Angeles, so it's tough to view even a charitable San Diego presence as anything but a means of getting a foot in the door of the San Diego beer market.
Closures and Layoffs
Every year, pessimists like to declare the craft beer bubble is about to burst (again), and this year offered plenty to fuel the notion. Four local breweries shut down for good, while a fifth, Poway's Lightning Brewery, is reportedly for sale. However, Stone offered the most fodder when it laid off five percent of its work force in October, including some senior staff. Though bad news for the 60-plus employees caught off guard by the cuts, the layoffs had more to do with Stone opening two other production breweries than a loss of business, and the company credited the proliferation of smaller craft beer companies — not corporate beer — as the competition responsible for slowing its growth.
Karl Strauss gets its due
San Diego's oldest craft brewery isn't exactly an overnight success story — it will celebrate it's 28th year in business in January. But this year, for the first time, it earned the right to call itself the best mid-sized brewery in the country. Since craft breweries don't qualify for the large brewery competition — by design — this means Karl Strauss is the reigning large craft brewery of the year. Which, in San Diego parlance, is kind of a big deal.
The rise of other craft beverages
As it rapidly approaches a bullion dollar annual economic impact in San Diego, craft beer still dominates the local beverage industry. But as our palates have become more sensitive to craft brews, other beverage concerns are rising. San Diego specialty coffee has made amazing gains, with more than 40 local roaster in business, and Bird Rock Coffee Roasters credited with producing the year's number one coffee. But there's more. Craft spirit producers have taken advantage of more progressive state laws to gain visibility, while craft sake and even kombucha producers are just getting started. Next up: prepare for the northwest cider craze to hit San Diego in full force in 2017.