At each stop, we moderated panel discussions with various craft beer industry professionals sought to better understand the respective local market.
As you can see in the video above, the San Diego Brew Talks meetup was held at The Lost Abbey and featured brewery co-founder Tomme Arthur, Stone Distributing’s director of Southern California sales, Chad Heath, and Tom Nickel, the owner of local institution O’Brien’s Pub. The three focused on a puzzle local to San Diego, indeed — building craft brands in one of the most mature craft beer markets in the country.
“We are somewhere north of 70 breweries in this county,” said Arthur. “The biggest issue I see now for the local market is the amount of new breweries bringing draft-only presence to the table which is changing a lot of the rules. There is a finite amount of places you can put beer on tap in this town, if you want to keep a tap handle or if you want to be relevant.”
That dynamic was further explored when the conversation shifted towards the role a brewery tasting room has in building a craft brand.
“You can open up without a brand and still be successful enough because the tasting room will support your business,” said Arthur. “But then you want to understand why can’t ‘I get distribution’ or ‘why can’t I get someone to realize that my brand has relevance.’ Your brand doesn’t have relevance; your tasting room has relevance.”
Arthur said he’s worried that some newer San Diego craft breweries are spending more time building their tasting room business instead of meaningful consumer brands.
“Every so often a blind squirrel finds a nut,” he said. “The ones that are successful these days [that are opening] have at least a vision towards what the brand is.”
Editor’s note: Also included below is video footage of the evening’s first discussion, which highlighted the challenges of opening a new craft brewery in San Diego. The panel featured Modern Times Beer founder Jacob McKean, Bagby Beer Company founder Jeff Bagby, and Shawn DeWitt, the co-owner of Coronado Brewing Company.