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Columns Craft Beer in North County

A superbloom of craft breweries in North County

Sixty of San Diego’s 158 breweries and 46 satellite tasting rooms are in The Coast News’ coverage area.

The newest is Guadalupe Brewing’s tasting room in downtown Vista, which just opened on April 20. (You can see the full list of breweries and tasting rooms at my blog, CraftBeerInSanDiego.com.)

Thirteen additional breweries and tasting rooms are in planning for North County, too. Chances seem good that about 10 of them will open before the end of 2019, bringing the total to 70.

That might seem like a lot of craft beer locations, but it is equivalent to one location for about every 11,700 inhabitants in The Coast News coverage area. (By the end of 2019, it will be closer to one for every 9,700 residents.)

That per capita rate doesn’t take into account all the visitors to the region who also help us drink our beer.

Consider Stone Brewing — the largest brewery in San Diego County and the ninth largest craft brewery in the country, according to the Brewers Association’s most recent ranking of breweries based on volume of production in 2018.

Stone draws a huge number of beer tourists from around the globe to its World Bistro and Gardens at its Escondido headquarters.

Other old favorites of beer aficionados, such as Lost Abbey (in San Marcos) and Pizza Port (founded in Solana Beach and now with five locations, three of which are in North County), have been joined by newer ventures that are also drawing a lot of attention, such as Burgeon (Carlsbad), Bagby (Oceanside), and Wild Barrel (San Marcos).

Together, the concentration of high-quality craft breweries in San Diego fully justifies the moniker “The Capital of Craft.”

The reputation of San Diego breweries draws tourists from around the world. Beer vacations — or “beer-cations” as they are sometimes known — help add to our local economy.

The craft beer industry had an economic value of over $1.1 billion to the San Diego region in 2017, according to a 2018 report authored by the Office of Business Research and Analysis at California State University, San Marcos.

The number of breweries and the total volume of beer produced has only increased since 2017, so the current value of craft beer to the region is undoubtedly higher now.

Differences in local policies have a significant impact on where breweries and tasting rooms are located.

While San Marcos has nine breweries, Encinitas has just three tasting rooms and no breweries.

Encinitas has 70% of the population of San Marcos but only 30% as many beer locations per capita.

Vista has 20 breweries and tasting rooms, or one for every 4,701 people, making it about four times more brewery-dense than Encinitas and more than seven times more brewery-dense than Escondido.

That means Escondido is missing out on economic benefits, not to mention making it harder for its residents and visitors to enjoy a very popular pastime.

Some people worry that the craft beer market is oversaturated.

It is true that there is more competition than before, but the rate of closures among breweries and tasting rooms in San Diego is still far lower than that for bars and restaurants.

Nationally, only 13.2% of the beer consumed is craft beer, with most of the rest still being “American adjunct light lager” produced by international conglomerates.

Given that fact, there is still plenty of room for craft breweries who make quality beer and have a smart plan for reaching new customers.

A recent report from the Brewers Association, a trade group that represents small independent brewers, shows that nationally craft beer sales grew by 4% by volume in 2018, despite the overall beer sector being down 1%.

Small and independent breweries now account for 13.2% of the volume of beer sold in the U.S. In dollar figures, however, since craft beer is normally sold at higher prices than mass-produced beer, these small independent breweries now own a 24.1% market share.

The number of craft breweries in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2018: 1,049 new craft breweries opened and 219 closed, bring the total to 7,346 on a net growth rate of 13.2%.

San Diego, a more mature craft beer market than most other parts of the country, experienced a more modest net growth rate of 2% in 2018: 22 breweries closed and 25 opened. However, there was a 40% increase in the number of satellite tasting rooms.

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