The definition of craft beer is under scrutiny, and no beer discussion nowadays is without debate or drama—especially when it comes to big beer. The industry standard reads that craft is "small, independent and traditional," but if we aren't even sure what craft is, how small is "small?"
Small can actually be pretty big. Three San Diego breweries—Stone Brewing, Ballast Point and Green Flash—each found a place on the 2015 Brewers Association's list of of the top 50 American breweries by output. (Not just craft breweries—all U.S.-based breweries.) With beer behemoths like MillerCoors only a few slots away, perhaps redefining our conceptions of "big" beer isn't outlandish.
Stone Brewing, for instance, came in at number 15 on the list—the highest of any San Diego craft brewery. Stone has been synonymous with San Diego craft beer for 20 years, and yet I can't be the only one who rarely opts for a pint of Stone IPA when faced with a bevy of taps to choose from. Why?
It's not the quality. It's because it's always available. Stone has the capability to ensure its beer is omnipresent around town. And in today's world of FOMO (almost laughably next-level in the beer community) when everyone rushes to be the first to check in on Untappd for that new release, it's easy to skip the big guys, even if they're local. Why drink Green Flash's West Coast IPA when there are 15 other locals IPAs I've never had before on the same list?
What we need to remember is that without the pioneers such as Stone, Ballast Point (number 17) or Green Flash (number 49), the promising up-and-comers of today wouldn't exist. Perhaps it's time to return to the roots of what put San Diego on the craft beer map before it was cool. Just remember...
Local isn't always good.
I've had beer from a respected local craft brewery that was so laced with the off-flavor dimethyl sulfide it was completely undrinkable. Don't blindly follow the cult of local. Pledge allegiance to quality.
Big isn't always bad.
To put Stone's self-made, staunchly anti-macro approach under the same "big" banner as the twin Satans of the industry is preposterous.
Support the little guys...
Every new brewery that opens in San Diego drives the quality bar higher and our collective reputation forward. Embrace them and keep the independent spirit alive.
...but don't forget where we started.
Craft beer consumers often get sidetracked with the newest hard-to-get release, but when you seize an opportunity to rediscover the foundation of the San Diego beer scene, you might be surprised at what has stood the test of time.
Continue the conversation of what craft is, was, and should be.
Is Saint Archer still a craft brewery? How does the Green Flash/Alpine partnership fit into the craft beer merger rankings? Only you can find your comfort level in the murky areas of where your beer comes from, who makes it and the overall quality. As long as we continue to debate these issues we'll all be able to shape the future of craft together.