American craft brewers are a famously congenial bunch. Even as they compete for your beer money, they help one another out, they step in to lend equipment and ingredients to one another, they trouble shoot for each other, and they happily enjoy one another’s beers. Occupying what is still a small corner of the U.S. beer market―about five percent by volume―what they have in common is far more important than what separates them.
Any given cohort coming through the ranks together―learning the craft, launching a new business, testing the economy―has strong connections based on having faced similar challenges at the same time. But there are also strong ties established between craft brewers who enter the field at different times, as one generation speaks to another.
We invited three young but well-established brewers to sit down with three up-and-coming craft brewers and listened in on the three conversations: over lunch, over pizza, and―implausibly― over morning coffee. Here are brief glimpses of where craft brewing is now, and suggestions as to where it might be headed.
Brewing is Business and Passion
Port Brewing Co./Lost Abbey
San Marcos, CA
Considering its propensity for setting trends, Southern California was surprisingly slow to embrace craft beer. Tomme Arthur was there at the beginning of the “overnight sensation,” beginning his brewing career with Pizza Port in Solana Beach in 1996.
“In the mid-nineties, it was a big turning point in San Diego,” he recalls, “because Ballast Point opened up, AleSmith opened up, Stone opened up, and we started to see in our environment, in San Diego, a real shift from lots of other people’s beer in our town to locally-produced beer in our town. And not only in town―in the case of Stone, when they started bottling their beer, and they became the first San Diego brewer to ship beer out of town, on a measurable basis.”
Fast forward to 2008. San Diego has a nationally-recognized beer culture, prominent enough to have hosted the annual conference of craft brewers twice in a four-year period. Craft brewing has a presence further north, in the greater Los Angeles area, where Patrick Rue is opening The Bruery. Like Port Brewing and the Lost Abbey in San Diego, where Arthur now brews, The Bruery focuses on the highest niche of the already high-end craft beer market. In the last six months, Rue’s bottled beer has found distribution in eight states.