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The Big Brewery Boom

San Diego's thriving craft beer scene is making waves at home and abroad.
Ballast Point | Photo by Luis Garcia

By Bruce Glassman

It would be tempting to gauge the meteoric growth of San Diego’s craft beer industry simply by looking at the rise in breweries and brewpubs. In 2011, the count was 37; today, the number has exceeded 100. But the sheer quantity of breweries provides only part of the picture. In fact, the most dramatic and significant industry growth has come from the expansion of a handful of the county’s largest and best-established breweries.

Since 2013, San Diego’s largest producers—Stone Brewing Co., Ballast Point, Green Flash Brewing Company, AleSmith Brewing Company, Pizza Port, and Coronado Brewing Company—have taken a number of big, bold, and dramatic steps. After opening a brewpub in Little Italy in October 2013, Ballast Point jumped almost immediately into its largest project ever: a 100,000-square-foot facility in Miramar that will triple its production and has the capacity to produce 300,000 barrels per year (one barrel=31.5 gallons). Stone Brewing Co., the nation’s 10th-largest craft brewery (already producing nearly 300,000 barrels per year), more than doubled its San Diego footprint when it opened the Liberty Station location in May 2013 (and soon after, a new tasting facility near Petco Park). In the spring of 2013, Coronado Brewing Company opened a second facility (20,000 square feet) in Bay Park, and that summer Pizza Port opened its fifth and largest location (30,000 square feet) in Bressi Ranch in Carlsbad.

The economic impact of all this growth is huge. According to the National University System Institute for Policy Research (NUSIPR), San Diego job-and-industry-sales growth from 2011 to 2014 was nothing short of staggering—and much of the credit goes to big breweries.

“Brewing great beer and continuous growth are the only things we know.”

NUSIPR calculates that the local industry employs more than 6,200 people, a 122 percent increase since 2011. Annual industry sales (beer, food, merchandise) have also skyrocketed, from $681 million in 2011 to about $900 million today. Within a year, San Diego craft beer will be a billion-dollar industry (especially with breweries opening at the current rate of one per month).

So far, it looks like expansions in 2015 will keep pace. This month, Green Flash is opening a 12,000-square-foot facility in Poway called Cellar 3, which will focus exclusively on barrel-aged beers. Expected this summer, AleSmith will open a 105,000-square-foot brewery in Miramar that will have production capability exceeding 200,000 barrels per year.

Not surprisingly, some of these breweries are also looking to expand outside of San Diego. In 2014, Green Flash broke ground in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on a 9-acre site that will house a 55,000-square-foot brewery and double its production capacity. Also in 2014, Stone announced plans to build a brewery in Berlin, Germany, in addition to building a 200,000-square-foot production brewery in Richmond, Virginia. “At Stone, we’ve been growing at a rate of more than 40 percent year-over-year since 1996,” says CEO and co-founder Greg Koch. “Brewing great beer and continuous growth are the only things we know.”

The Big Brewery Boom

Ballast Point | Photo by Luis Garcia

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