As a new decade settles in, the past cannot and should not be ignored. The last 10 years of San Diego beer have been monumental. There has been an explosion of investment in time, money and experimentation in the brewing industry. New businesses, failed businesses, company sales and acquisitions. Hundreds of ribbons and medals bestowed. Miles of tap lines. Over 5 million barrels of beer. Nearly 7,000 jobs.
While the image of the beer industry in San Diego appears to be squeaky clean camaraderie, it’s not. I could give you a list of all the people who got punched in the face, but I won’t. Of course, as a member of any organization, it’s what you put into it that you get out, right? Maybe. It’s important to remember that although the “craft beer movement” was a push by everyone involved in the late aughts, everyone is, for all intent and purpose, a competitor. Not just in literal contests and competitions, but on the beer aisle shelves, draught lines, and even on our backs in the form of branding and merchandise.
Competition is good though. It separates great beer from boring or bad beer. It sets a standard and becomes a guide for quality. Competition drives improvement and solves imperfections. Consumers decide with their dollars who should stay in business.
Have any new styles really been invented in the last ten years? Not really. Levels of hoppiness have definitely ramped up, but they certainly weren’t invented. Palates just developed (and redeveloped) and were more accepting of pinier, resiny, juicier hop profiles. While some may be delighted by recent “milkshake” styles, I see “the emperor’s new beer” which would have been a mistake dumped down the drain years ago. To each their own on that one, I guess.
Drinking craft beer became more mainstream in the last decade, and everyone seemingly wanted to be a part of it. Hell, the word “craft” itself became mainstream. Denny’s started advertising “craft” pancakes much like anyone can loosely use the words “world famous” and “award winning” without it having any sort of worthy significance. Even slapping the word “independent” doesn’t mean much when you see AB-InBev brands like Elysian Brewing ironically printing “Corporate Beer Still Sucks” on their labels. Consumers have been challenged to choose sides and it takes a real rebel to not give a Schlitz either way.
Across the country, there has been a definite demand for better in the past 10 years. For more than beer, yet it still applies to beer. Accountability and inclusiveness. Demands for businesses to lead with a moral compass and shining a light on those who exhibit poor behavior. We’ve watched businesses close and decline in popularity for racism, misogyny and homophobia. Just like in politics, restaurants, and major corporations, people still show their allegiance to whatever they want, and we answer to our individual consciences. I’d like to think that over time, collectively, the general public will stop supporting breweries who objectify women, but it seems a hard habit to break and not important enough of an issue for others. I’d also like to think that especially in the “paper” trail of social media, one would realize when they shout about injustices in the beer community but then post promos or selfies with known abusers, bigots and misogynists that it reeks of hypocrisy and any credibility just turns to noise and justification. It’s quite disappointing.
Has “local” become more important in the last decade? To an extent. It’s definitely a buzzword, but local does not equate to quality. Local absolutely means supporting your neighbors and community, and of course that’s generally positive, but you can also re-read my soapbox up above for all the reasons you may not want to support all local. I’ve been thrilled to witness our local grocery stores and even our corner liquor stores begin to carry better beer in the past 10 years. That is definitely a positive achievement. While I still love to support specialty bottle shops and they absolutely still serve a purpose in existence, it’s great to have options at mainstream markets.
Another not-so-fun result of the past decade and the beer boom has been watching so many friends struggle with alcoholism and substance abuse. I find it difficult to ignore as I know in my own stream of social media and personal circles, there are multiple events every single day of the week I am invited to. Multiple festivals every weekend. More so, it’s incredibly easy to hide a problem and even easier to soak it in beer. In a time when Uber and Lyft are so incredibly accessible, when we assume people are using them, they aren’t using them necessarily. In a time when depression is on the rise and we are receiving so much information about everything wrong in the world, we push drinking every day of the week. For breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. I watch the tolerances of people change—one, three, five beers and they deem themselves still OK to drive, sometimes picking up their kids from school. There’s a definite problem in the service industry with staff drinking before, on their breaks and during work that would never fly in another industry. I think we can do better and I know how unpopular of an opinion even suggesting this is.
My hope for the next decade starts with consumers caring about, demanding even that, breweries properly brew classic styles—and do it well! Like, really nail a solid core lineup. Stop trying to be the master of all, and just brew what you like to drink. With the saturation of breweries in San Diego, we definitely reach a broader base of drinkers. If the beer isn’t good though, we are miseducating consumers. Sorry, Chad, but that West Coast IPA you love from Red Rocket Brewing isn’t supposed to be sour.
I’d love to see a resurgence of education. What makes a beer great? How are they supposed to taste? Less additives to make it taste like something else. Less hype and more delivery. We don’t need wizards, sorcery and crowdsourcing to sell beer. Good beer should sell good beer.
I’d love to see accountability in the community for speaking out when behavior is poor. No more looking the other way to not make waves. Set the bar and demand better. Nobody is perfect—allow people to redeem themselves and move on.
Are IPAs going to drift from popularity? Absolutely not. Our San Diego weather pairs perfectly with a crisp, clean IPA. Are we going to see San Diego beer drinkers expand their palates? Without a doubt. How many IPAs can you drink before you actually stop tasting the subtle differences from one to another? That’s where sours, Belgians and ambers come into play. I think we are going to see the popularity of these styles cycle back through. IPAs will definitely remain king though.
It is not lost on me that my take on the last ten years appears to contain a lot of negativity, but the reality is San Diego achieved a lot and has so much to be proud of. It is not too much to ask for even better and to steer the ship towards continued success. Cheers to 2020 and the next decade of San Diego beer!