After Civic San Diego voted last month to approve plans for an Anheuser-Busch-owned 10 Barrel brewpub in East Village, Cosimo Sorrentino sat angrily at Monkey Paw Brewing (805 16th Street), where he manages and brews. At the meeting of the Downtown Community Planning Council, 10 Barrel Brewing co-founder Garrett Wales mentioned plans to visit the brewpub, located one block from his proposed location. Sorrentino waited anxiously at his stool, stopping me when I got up to leave.
"You might want to stick around for this," he said.
As if on cue, the 10 Barrel entourage filtered in like aliens in their oxford shirts and business casual slacks.
Wales found his way to the dark corner of the bar where a brooding Sorrentino waited. Sorrentino bought his crew a round of beer, and it started. The "sellout" interloping brewery founder and the fiercely independent local began hashing out the biggest debate in local beer.
"I let him know I was going to get it all out that night," Sorrentino said. "He presented the opportunity to ask any question, and I respect him for that. And he answered every (one)."
At times their exchange became heated, drawing worried glances from several other patrons.
"He's answered these questions in many forms and from many people. Some of it was well rehearsed, but for a reason," Sorrentino said. "That being said, it gave me a lot of understanding of his viewpoint."
After a 30-minute back-and-forth, members of Wales' party began to interject into the conversation and Sorrentino backed off. They stayed for several rounds and left just before closing. Sorrentino said his conversation with Wales opened his eyes to another perspective.
"In a person-to-person way, I was comfortable shaking his hand when he left the bar," he said. "It didn't change my view in how I saw the company (or) how Iím going to vote with my dollar."
The inevitability of Big Beer in the craft marketplace is a foregone conclusion at this point. Sorrentino said he believed Wales' approach comes from somewhere genuine.
"I think he truly does appreciate beer. I think he believes he's still upholding the values that he started with," he said.
Over the next 10 days Sorrentino also met with another local brewer, Saint Archer Brewing Co. barrelmaster Greg Peters. MillerCoors acquired Saint Archer last year. Sorrentino said his talk with Wales had made him curious about the perspectives of other brewers, "just to see how they felt about the way the company was going."
Sorrentino is in charge of beer buying at Monkey Paw, and said he has stopped serving both Saint Archer and Ballast Point since they were sold.
Moving forward, Sorrentino is holding a forum for the San Diego beer community on Sunday, March 6, at Mission Brewery.
"Really this was a quest for me trying to figure out where the industry was (and) where I want to fit in," Sorrentino said. "I don't want to be a hypocrite in a year when I turn around and do something."
As for the term "craft," Sorrentino said he does not know what it means.
"So beer is a word, craft beer is another set of words that generally mean something," he said. "Indie beer, once again, further narrows it. Craft? The BA (Brewer's Association) continually changes the definition to protect the Boston Beer Company. There is no definition of craft. Defending that word? I'm done with that."