Big Beer's encroachment into the craft segment is a well-documented, much discussed issue and casual beer drinkers are tired of it. As big as the backlash may have been in response to last year's deals with Saint Archer and Ballast Point, there was an almost bigger backlash in the other direction. "Who cares?" was one common response, along with the cliché "just drink what you like."
A market this cynical and jaded is exactly what Anheuser-Busch was betting on when it filed a Civic San Diego neighborhood use permit request to renovate a building in East Village into a brewpub. Not under the Budweiser or Shock Top brands, of course. Instead, it plans to operate under the name of 10 Barrel Brewing Co., an Oregon brewery purchased by Anheuser-Busch in 2014.
Cynics may want to paint opposition to 10 Barrel as nothing more than anti-corporate beer snobbery, but there is more at stake. Anheuser-Busch plans on infiltrating the San Diego market under the cover of "craft" and planting its flag in the heart of America's Craft Beer Capital. It is not going to hang a huge Anheuser-Busch sign above its door. Its website proudly proclaims "craft beer brewed in Oregon" despite the brewery no longer meeting the definition of craft. By virtue of its geography and planned brewing operation, however, there would be nothing to stop 10 Barrel from claiming to also be "crafted in San Diego."
That, according to San Diego Brewer's Guild president emeritus Kevin Hopkins, is problematic.
"We don't want folks to spend time needlessly thinking they're supporting a local craft brand when they're not," he said.
The Brewer's Guild has not yet taken a public position, but Hopkins was clear that nothing is off the table.
"We'll look to make sure that we clarify our position," he said, "and, if necessary, contest their position."
The time may have come for both the Brewer's Guild and the city to work together to protect what makes San Diego beer "San Diego Beer."
"I think there should definitely be some conversations," Hopkins said. "That way the city as well as the craft community has a clearly defined expectation of what is 'San Diego Craft.'"
The 10 Barrel plan is a threat to the beer culture of San Diego. It may be the first, but if successful, it will not be the last to attempt to co-opt that culture. Parent company Anheuser-Busch consistently relies on sexism and stereotypes to sell its products, and has never demonstrated any concern for the neighborhoods where they are sold. Is welcoming a company like that really in the city's best interest?
Anyone interested can contact Civic San Diego and the Downtown Community Planning Council to voice their concerns. Big Beer is betting that jaded consumers no longer care about supporting local businesses, or in whose pockets their money ends up. It is up to us to prove them wrong. And while it will be difficult to stop them, we can at least send a strong message that not only do we not need them here, we do not want them.