Beer Prophets Foresee Thinning of the Herd in San Diego Brew Culture

But craft beer is here to stay

Craft brewers in San Diego are preparing for the worst.

“We’re in danger of being trendish,” said Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing Co., “which I don’t think is positive.”

Koch has helped lead the enormously successful and unapologetically experimental craft brewing movement in San Diego over the past two-plus decades.

Sitting in the middle of other influential brewers during Tuesday’s 6-Degrees Breakfast Speaker Series, he prophesized a breaking point in the booming craft brew culture. Koch’s beard has reached a Christ-like length and he wore a black turtleneck reminiscent of Steve Jobs.

The meeting of beer industry professionals from brewing companies such as Ballast Point and Karl Strauss was appropriately held at the Hall of Champions.

“The good [brewers] in it for the right reasons will stick around,” reassured Jack White Jr. of Ballast Point Brewing Company.

But the concern that a craft brew bubble is about to pop was heavy on the minds of the five panelists Tuesday morning. There are now more than 60 breweries scattered throughout San Diego County. Chris Cramer of Karl Strauss Brewing Company estimated that the industry in San Diego has the potential to triple in size.

San Diego’s growth will most definitely follow a nationwide trend as well, Cramer said. Growth of the craft brewing industry in 2011 was 15 percent by dollars compared to growth in 2010, according to the Brewers Association.

With so many breweries getting their start in San Diego, Koch and his cohorts agreed that newcomers to the industry may attempt lower standards or break the rules to get their beer distributed by ducking the regulations they obeyed in their early days.

White met that concern with some reassurance, though. He said veterans such as himself and the other panelists on stage have set up parameters to ensure San Diego’s craft brew spirit stays true. One example of these parameters is the San Diego Brewer’s Guild, which educates beginners and promotes awareness for locally brewed beer.

Another solution may well be the sheer presence of successful brewers like Koch, White, Cramer, Rick Chapman of the Coronado Brewing Company and Scott Stamp of the San Diego Brewing Company. The panelists and their peers set a business model for the San Diego community that has proved worldwide success – to disobey at this point is like trying to hide from God. 

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