The last time I tried to predict the future of San Diego beer, I failed to foresee that a global pandemic would throw the entire world into a tailspin from which we are only beginning to fully emerge. (Still, I was pretty on-the-nose about the South Bay beer scene exploding.) So this time, I decided to take a look back at this year’s good, bad, and prescient happenings and asked a few beer insiders what 2023 meant for San Diego’s craft beer industry.
Here’s what they had to say.
What’s a word you’d use to describe the San Diego craft beer scene and industry in 2023?
“I feel that everyone was still getting over the pandemic, so this [was] a year of recovery.” –Esthela Davila, Board of Directors member, San Diego Brewers Guild
“San Diego can’t be the greatest beer city forever, can it? Time will tell, but we can surely try. Every business and household feels the struggles of the economy right now, but all we’ve seen this year is continued motivation to succeed and support our communities of beer lovers throughout San Diego.” –Erik Fowler, Executive Director, San Diego Brewers Guild
“This wave of the digital age continues to advance, and craft breweries everywhere are faced with fresh opportunities to develop the way we brew and to strengthen the relationship with our customers. Over the last year in San Diego, I’ve seen shifts in trends that tell us a lot about what our customers want to drink, what they care about, and how they want to interact with our brand.”
“It’s exciting to evolve and grow both with our community and our beer, learn from and share ideas with brewery collaborators, experiment with hyper-creative products from our hop growers, and interact with our audience in totally new ways.” –Mackenzie Kline, Marketing Director for Burgeon Beer Company
What do you predict the San Diego craft beer scene and industry will be like in 2024?
“[There are currently] over 150 breweries in San Diego. [With] the changing market dynamic, there will likely be a shift in the number of breweries.” –Chad Heath, Chief Operating Officer, Beer Division for Karl Strauss Brewing Company
“The way craft beer has changed and shifted has all breweries really looking at how they can try and get out of the pandemic hole and gain the high ground.” –Davila
“New products, business models, and ways of engaging with beer drinkers are all things we’ll see more of in 2024.” –Fowler
“I’m carrying this concept over to 2024 because it feels like technology is becoming more sophisticated with each passing second, and craft breweries will continue to go along for the ride in the new year.”
“How do we re-imagine our operating practices to reduce our carbon footprint and respond to the urgent climate crisis? How do we reach a wider audience by opening new channels or expanding existing ones? How do we push the boundaries of our craft even further? New methods and tools are at our fingertips, and I’m here for it!” –Kline
What openings, closures, accomplishments, events, or people are significant to note in 2023?
“Anyone that opened this year really comes to mind—GOAL Brewing, Fall’s second location, Thr3e Punk Ales’ second location—but none more so than Joann Cornejo and Eddie Trejo, the owners of Machete Beer House, opening their second spot, La Nacional, on Third Avenue in Chula Vista. They have always been about great beer and drinks. Now, with adding food to the mix, I see nothing but great things for this place!” –Davila
“Kristina and Tyson Blake purchasing San Diego Brewing Company is pretty sweet in my book. Two of my favorite people in the business [leading] such a legacy brewery for San Diego will only help push our industry in a positive direction.” –Fowler
“[I have to note] Paige McWey Acers for passionately and expertly acting as the executive director for the SDBG for 10 years. [I have] deep admiration, empathy, and respect for the founders and staff of breweries that had to make difficult but necessary decisions in 2023, [and I offer] encouragement and friendship to new and upcoming breweries.” –Kline
Any other thoughts you’d like to offer about the San Diego craft beer scene as we look back on 2023 and toward 2024?
“One of the things we used to say at New Belgium is that hope is not a plan. We also know that you can’t have a plan without hope. It is time for execution, excellence, and really listening to the voice of the customer.” –Jen Briggs, acting CXO for Karl Strauss Brewing Company
“San Diego Beer Week is back, and I can’t wait to see what it will look like in 2024. We in the craft beer community really want to see everyone succeed, so I see nothing but amazing things for #SDbeer in 2024.” –Davila
“There has been a generally negative outlook on the brewing industry in San Diego throughout 2023. While not completely unjust, I think it’s important to not see it in a vacuum. The industry has matured and, although some of our favorite breweries may have changed or closed, it’s presented opportunities for new breweries to welcome to the neighborhood. The same skepticism doesn’t seem to be applied to restaurants and other businesses, but, at the moment, there are a lot of parallels between the struggles of the beer industry and most other industries made up of small, independent businesses.” –Fowler
“Providing breweries bring their A-game to the table in 2024, I feel it will be a good year. You can’t be a hobbyist and be successful in craft beer anymore. You have to run it like a thriving business where you invest the time and effort to make your brand well-represented.” –Heath