San Diego's independent beer wars started in earnest Memorial Day weekend, as local breweries and their supporters lit up social media and literally took to the skies to voice displeasure about the opening of a big-beer-owned brewpub on #sdbeer turf.
In the wake of these public relations skirmishes, the San Diego Brewers Guild has revealed an effort to make it easier for consumers to determine which breweries play for the craft beer home team.
10 Barrel Brewing has hosted a Beer Wars IPA contest annually since 2012. But the Oregon brand, now owned by Anheuser-Busch, faced a different sort of competition as it threw a block party to celebrate the opening of its East Village brewpub on May 27.
The brewpub's Yelp page became an early battleground, with one-star reviews posted days before the opening, recommending other San Diego-owned breweries to visit instead, and prompting Yelp to initiate an Active Cleanup Alert to filter out politically motivated reviews.
Amid a tide of anti-10 Barrel chatter fomenting in beercentric Facebook groups, a GoFundMe campaign raised nearly $5000 in donations from San Diego brewery founders, employees, and fans to hire an airplane to troll the 10 Barrel opening with an airplane banner reading, "10 Barrel is not craft beer!" and listing the web address: Fakecraftbeer.com.
That URL currently redirects to the locally produced web series, What's on Draft, and its video explaining local opposition to corporate-owned craft beer brands, and documenting a collaboration between downtown breweries Monkey Paw, Half Door, and Resident Brewing to produce a beer called 11 Barrel IPA, protesting 10 Barrel's arrival.
Drink Local: Why It Matters
In another video documenting the 11 Barrel beer — produced by local beer delivery service CraftHounds — Monkey Paw owner Scot Blair explains the community value of locally owned breweries includes generating "money that doesn't leave our city."
As if to emphasize that point, San Diego's chapter of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters union has been picketing the new business since it opened, to decry its hiring of Orange County-based contractors for its multimillion-dollar build-out.
For its part, 10 Barrel has rather gamely responded to many of these challenges. As news outlets covered the airplane banner campaign, its team produced an airplane banner graphic t-shirt reading, "Let's be friends." In a company Facebook photo, cofounder Garrett Wales points out how promotional graphics for the 11 Barrel IPA mimicked 10 Barrel branding, with the caption, "Can't wait to try the beer, friends! Font is a little off though. ;)"
In response to a user challenge in the ensuing comments thread, 10 Barrel San Diego head brewer Ben Shirley was photographed inside Monkey Paw, purchasing an 11 Barrel beer and t-shirt, with what was suggested to be a 10 Barrel company credit card.
Shirley, whose first day brewing on the San Diego brewpub's system took place June 1, says, "It has been interesting to see the amount of time and resources other breweries are putting into talking about 10 Barrel, but I’m just pumped to be able to actually brew some beer now."
Reached for comment about the back and forth, a spokesman for Anheuser-Busch stated, "We’re aware of the responses and incredibly supportive of our partners at 10 Barrel." He added, "They independently decide their actions," and, "We couldn’t agree with their sentiment and approach more."
Back on the San Diego front, local breweries continue to promote their own drink-local values to beer customers. The San Diego Brewers Guild has unveiled what it calls a Conscious Consumer Campaign. It will begin distributing Brewers Guild window decals, flags, and tap danglers to its members to make it clear to beer drinkers when they are drinking locally owned, locally produced beer.
Speaking on the need for such distinctions, Brewers Guild president Jill Davidson said, "With the growing number of mergers and acquisitions, it is becoming more challenging than ever to differentiate between independently owned craft brands and those that are owned by international megaconglomerates. The consumer deserves to have the information necessary to make the conscious choice of who they support with their hard-earned dollars," in order to "make the informed decision of where the dollars are going to ultimately end up."