Brewbound.com’s “Brew Talks” tour kicked off at The Lost Abbey on Tuesday, July 23. According to the beer-focused website, this event series “provides beer industry professionals with an intimate opportunity to network and discuss the business of craft in beer-friendly locales.” The San Diego installment was well-attended by many local established brewers/brewery executives, including Pat McIlhenney of Alpine Beer Co, Jim Crute of Lightning Brewery, Marty Mendiola of Rock Bottom (La Jolla), Gina Marsaglia of Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey, as well as representatives from AleSmith, Karl Strauss, Aztec, Manzanita and a number of others from the now 70-plus brewing locations in the county.
The evening started out with a mixer in the tasting room and then moved to the bottling line area, where a small stage and chairs had been set up for two separate interview panel discussions, one following the other, both moderated by Chris Furnari, editor of Brewbound.com. The first set of panelists were Jacob McKean (Founder – Modern Times Beer), Jeff Bagby (Founder – Bagby Beer Company), and Shawn DeWitt (Co-Owner – Coronado Brewing Company).
This panel focused primarily on the challenges of starting a new brewery, and dealt with the vagaries of business plans, finding investors, and how to differentiate one’s brand in a growing and increasingly competitive environment. McKean noted that investors were far more interested in his potential ability to manage a business than anything else. DeWitt said that no matter how much money you think you are going to need to start a brewery, you will need more. Bagby reminded potential brewery/brewpub owners that at the end of the day, “no one cares but you.”
The second panel consisted of Tomme Arthur (Co-Founder – The Lost Abbey),
Chad Heath (Director of Southern California Sales – Stone Brewing Co.) and
Tom Nickel (Owner – O’Brien’s Pub). Their focus was primarily on San Diego’s maturing craft beer market and also the nascent and relatively untapped – pun intended – Los Angeles craft beer market.
All the panelists agreed that although we have seen rapid growth in the number of San Diego brewing establishments, there is still room in the market for new players to enter, with a caveat that they will need to both brew good beer and also be able to differentiate their brand in the marketplace. In regard to LA, Heath mentioned that LA is no longer “an afterthought” and that Stone Distributing has added numerous craft beer accounts in the LA area.
After the panel discussions were over most people lingered at the bar while discussing issues the panelists had raised. Some attendees were undoubtedly looking around the now well-established Port/Lost Abbey brewery thinking “I’m next.”
Brew Talks continues July 24 in Los Angeles, July 25 in Seattle, and July 27 in Portland. View the livestream 5:30 p.m. each day here.
Sheldon Kaplan is the director and producer of Suds County, USA, a feature-length documentary about the history of beer in San Diego