VISTA — This past June marked a milestone in American craft breweries — the most in operation since 1873, according to the Brewers Association.
California has the most breweries among them, producing close to 3 million barrels of craft beer a year.
During a time of brewery booms, North County is witnessing a boom of its own, with Vista surpassing Portland, Ore., for the amount of breweries per capita, according to head of Vista Brewers Guild Melody Campbell.
The city is home to 10 breweries, with two set to open by the end of the summer and one by the end of the year.
“It’s really great that it’s getting to the point where each neighborhood now is developing its own identity as part of the (craft beer) community,” said Jill Davidson, sales and brand ambassador for Pizza Port Brewing, which operates a cannery on the outskirts of Vista in Bressi Ranch.
She pointed out that the San Diego craft beer industry has long had roots in North County, including Stone Brewing Co. and Pizza Port Brewing, but the amount of breweries is changing dramatically.
Vista officials made it easier for the small businesses to get started and they worked closely with brewers to find out their needs and what ordinances weren’t working.
“They were really gracious and they welcomed us with open arms,” said Daniel Love, CEO of Mother Earth Brew Co.
It all started when the CEO of Stone, Greg Koch, was looking to change locations from their San Marcos brewery. While he didn’t eventually choose Vista, Stone’s move opened the eyes of city officials to the possibilities.
“In working with them we realized it was really kind of a bio-tech company in what they did,” said Kevin Ham, economic development director with Vista.
Ham worked closely with Love and other brewers to make Vista the brewing hub that it is today.
“You want to create spaces and places where people want to live and work. The breweries have really added to that environment,” said Ham.
The city worked with brewers to start the guild, which meets monthly to discuss issues.
“The reason we created the guild is so we could have a positive relationship with the city and they could get to know us as creating a destination for the city of Vista, which is essentially what we have done,” said Campbell.
She said that the guild helped in the beginning, since city officials weren’t sure what to expect with tasting rooms, which she clarifies, are different from bars.
The city changed ordinances so that the breweries could have retail spaces in industrial zones, which opened the door for tasting rooms.
The tasting rooms have changed the face of downtown Vista according to Love. “It wasn’t a safe area to be in,” Love said. “You didn’t feel safe to be here with your kids. We took a risk and it’s changed downtown.”
He estimates that hundreds of people come to Vista on Fridays and Saturdays for the breweries.
Ham believes the tasting rooms are not only beneficial for the tourism, but also for existing businesses.
They give companies another place to socialize after work, where employees can discuss work over a cold one. The higher price point means people are less likely to over-imbibe and it brings in customers with higher disposable income, said Ham.
The breweries are located in industrial zones, so there are no restaurants for the tasting rooms to compete with.
However, there is also a lack of food available for tipsy patrons.
After the guild voiced their concerns with the city, officials changed ordinances to allow food trucks in business parks to serve food longer than 30 minutes. They’re now allowed to operate as long as the tasting rooms are open.
The large amount of craft beer makers brings more awareness to the industry, said Davidson, and that helps the beer community grow as a whole.
“There’s never going to be a shortage of great beer to drink and there’s never going to be a shortage of people who want to drink great beer.”