It’s been a whirlwind couple of months in the beer industry. MillerCoors purchased a San Diego brewery, Saint Archer. Shortly thereafter, SABMiller, MillerCoors’ parent company, announced it had accepted a takeover bid from AB/Inbev. Beer lovers and investors will also soon be able to purchase stock in Ballast Point, a first for California craft beer. With San Diego Beer Week upon us, I caught up with San Diego Brewer’s Guild president Kevin Hopkins for his perspective on the ever-changing landscape.
Saint Archer was purchased by MillerCoors. What are your thoughts on San Diego Brewer’s Guild members being owned by multinationals?
Craft beer is born out of passion, but ultimately it’s a business. Saint Archer decided they were going to let themselves be absorbed by a larger entity. That’s a perfectly viable business model. We wish them well, but they no longer qualify for membership in our particular organization. They’re no longer going to be a member of the San Diego Brewer’s Guild.
Saint Archer is still brewed and packaged locally, and employs San Diego brewers. Is the Brewer’s Association’s definition of craft really still applicable in today’s market?
I believe so. One of their criteria is to be independently owned. That alone disqualifies Saint Archer.
Ballast Point recently filed plans to go public with the SEC. Should we expect more breweries to go this route for funding as opposed to selling-out to multinationals?
I think you’ll see more craft breweries looking for innovative ways to grow their businesses. If you look at my company [Mother Earth Brew Co.], we’re doing it out of state. Ballast Point, Stone, and Saint Archer took different methods. They’re just different paths to get as much product out there to a thirsty public.
The Justice Department announced a probe into AB/InBev in response to allegations it is buying up distributors to hurt craft brewers. Have you noticed this locally?
I don’t have any knowledge of anything specific but at the same time I think the three-tier [distribution] system shows that it does work. Ten years ago there were only a couple of distributers in the area. Now, [there’s] more than you can count on one hand. Brewers here in San Diego have a choice.
I often hear things from the beer community like “It’s just beer,” and “Drink what you like.” Do you think it is important for consumers to consider who is behind the beer they buy?
I think it’s important that the consumer has information available to them so they can make [that] choice. We certainly would like them choosing independent craft brew that is passion-born, but ultimately the consumers decide. They have to tell us what’s important to them. They have a choice.
What will be the state of San Diego craft beer during Beer Week 2016?
I think you’ll see the state of California eclipse 600 breweries and San Diego eclipse 125. You’ll find more choices in more places, and the San Diego scene will be more well-known, far and wide. You’ll see more attention on us through tourists and travel [with] leisure magazines writing pieces and travelogues. You’re going to see heightened awareness in the next year and beyond.