What do all the best breweries in San Diego all have in common?
You’re probably thinking there’s an obvious answer… duh, great beer! I suppose it does depend on how you define “best” and whether that means highest sales revenue, tastiest brews, coolest atmosphere and location, best people… the list goes on. But this fact remains true: to survive in San Diego’s INSANELY saturated craft beer market…. just having great beer… it isn’t enough anymore.
It used to be pretty easy: perfect home brewing, move it to a larger scale, get a great, low-rent industrial location, make great beer. Done and done. Okay, so maybe that oversimplifies things a bit, but still.
There are currently 209 breweries and tasting rooms operating in San Diego County, more than ever before, but there are also more than ever closing. The end of this summer saw both Intergalactic Brewing and the original ChuckAlek tasting rooms closing , and in this market, you never know who might be next.
Don’t get me wrong, there are also a lot of people here; a lot of beer drinkers and tourists… and even though the craft beer community itself is more supportive than competitive, you can’t deny that there are a LOT of options, perhaps even too many for them to all survive and flourish. So what makes one brewery with great beer better, and therefore more successful, than the brewery that’s (usually) LITERALLY right next door?
Bottom-line: You HAVE to bring more to the table.
Here are some of the key elements that local breweries are excelling at, to set themselves apart from the crowd:
Marketing & Events: From daily specials (I mean, any time you can get a pint under $7, it’s a win), to seasonal deals and events, every good business needs a bit of marketing to draw in the crowds. Food pairings, trivia nights, family and pet friendly events, yoga, art, you name it, breweries are doing it.
One quick glance at the SD Beer calendar and you will see what I’m talking about. (Side note: You can also check out the app, which is awesome! More info on that coming soon!)
Here are some highlights from around town:
- Not just trivia (which everyone seems to have these days) but themed trivia; Savagewood Brewing Company in Scripps Ranch has had a few of these, including FRIENDS and Disney trivia nights!
- Family-friendly events like movie nights, and pet-friendly events like Ballast Point and Newtopia’s Barking Brigades (with drink deals and snacks of course)… are bringing the whole family together, plus, puppies and beer… very San Diego.
- Yoga. In the actual brewery. Hoppy Yoga is a great company that teaches classes in the mornings before the brewery opens. They hold classes at various locations and just won best yoga studio in the San Diego Magazine’s “Best of” poll.
- Painting/artsy classes: Breweries have done many different types of guided painting classes; Kilowatt Brewing has done personalized mug and hat paintings, just to name a couple.
- Special events: From food pairings and exclusive multi-course dinner parties to hosting charity events (Second Chance has these events regularly), to holiday (beer and otherwise) and themed special releases and anniversary parties, there is always something special going on in the community.
**SPECIAL NOTE: As we head into this year’s beer week, there are COUNTLESS events going on, this is the perfect moment for breweries to shine and throw all kinds of parties and events! Be sure to check some out!! More on this soon too!!**
Atmosphere: The aesthetic and the vibe a brewery or tasting room has, matters.
Things like interior art, décor, and even the lighting all affect the customer experience; it sets the tone for the kind of place it is, and therefore who goes there. Of course the location and convenience matters too. Being close to residential areas, other well-known breweries, and conveniently located are all helpful attributes. Finally food. Food is VERY important… in life, but also whilst drinking. Places that have a kitchen or reliable food trucks definitely have an advantage.
The People—In a similar vein to the atmosphere, it’s the people that really impact the experience. From the staff, to the patrons, to whether or not they have brewery tour buses stop there, it affects the vibe and who wants to spend time there, and for how long. And of course, customer service is a KEY part of that equation. That’s what brings people back anywhere.
It definitely does matter, let’s not pretend it doesn’t. High-quality beer is an absolute must in a successful San Diego brewery. Although the west coast is known to have focused heavily on the hoppy IPA in the past, the mark of a great brewery is appealing to everyone, not just hopheads. Having a vast selection is essential to success.
Which leads us to…
Specialty and Collaborative Brews-
R&D (research and development) beers are the pinnacle of craft brewing. Isn’t that the whole point of the craft movement? New ideas and collaborations on a small, specialized scale; that’s what creates a unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else and that will never be mass-marketed. Also, the San Diego craft scene is so collaborative that if a small brewery can mash-up with a big player, it could really get their name out there, and change things up for not only them, but the community at large.
Community involvement above all else
Because even if the beer is meh or mediocre (which is rarely the case here in San Diego), it’s the people that bring you back. The people that hang out there, the people that work there- it’s what I like to call “the Cheers effect”.
You want your neighborhood brewery to feel like home; you want it to be a comfortable place to grab a pint with friends after work, you want it to be more than a corporate money grab or yet another chain restaurant; that’s the whole point of “drink local,” it should be an experience you can’t get anywhere else.
And in San Diego, I feel like we’re lucky enough to claim that experience; across the city, across the county, even at our local bars.
#drinklocal my friends, and Happy SDBW 2018!