Owner; Monkey Paw Pub & Brewing, South Park Brewing Company & Hamilton’s Tavern
Last week, local bar and brewpub powerhouse Scot Blair (Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery, Hamilton’s Tavern, South Park Brewing Company) spoke out about AB-InBev’s impending East Village 10 Barrel Brewpub project. He shot from the hip, sharing vividly honest opinions, but he had more to say about the local brewing industry, the effect independent breweries’ selling to Big Beer have had on it and the future of the rapidly changing San Diego suds scene. The latter are particularly startling considering some of the stark scenarios he sees for his own interests. A swan song for one of San Diego’s most successful craft-beer entrepreneurs? Yes, it’s possible, and he’ll tell you why.
What do you make of Big Beer mocking craft beer publicly, most notably in its Super Bowl spots, while simultaneously buying up craft breweries?
Scot Blair: Big Beer’s market-share is still undeniably strong, but their pockets are deep and they now have to address the issue that better beer is what more of the consumers are expecting, so they are finding ways to “capture” the audience’s attention without putting the development cycles and dollars in. If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.
Your bars still purchase beers from acquired brands such as Ballast Point and Saint Archer. Why is it you haven’t shunned such companies altogether?
After acquisitions like these, you obviously have many good people who are still employed, earn a living and continue to support the local businesses in our community as they always have. Issues like the one we have in our industry are very complex, which is why I haven’t and wouldn’t just outright boycott these homegrown San Diego brands. Supporting Ballast Point and Saint Archer isn’t a bad thing, but if folks are supporting these guys 10 times over the local small guy, it adds up and hurts the little guy. So what we are talking about is being more discerning with mine and your spending. If you knew the $100 you spent went to a mega-business that already has a giant distribution footprint and that your $100 continues their ultimate goal of monopolizing the market by pushing the smaller, less-fortunate brands to the outer edges of consumer reach and, by doing that, it, in turn, puts those small businesses in jeopardy, would you still do so? I am hoping by taking an extra 10 seconds to figure out where your money goes, you would choose to change your spending habits to 25/75 or 50/50 to help continue to balance the playing field, because monopolies are never good for anything. In terms of AB-InBev and 10 Barrel, we aren’t talking a scenario like Ballast Point and Saint Archer or their purchases/change-of-ownership. What I’m talking about is non-San-Diego entities capitalizing on a wave of local entrepreneurialism when the parent company is the most mal-intended and largest threat to small, independent beer in America. 10 Barrel is just an AB-InBev shill and, to be frank, with over 115 breweries in San Diego, what is the demand or the benefit for this outfit to come into our community? Zero. It only benefits them and their continuing obfuscation—search and destroy. Wouldn’t this be a better fit in a non-saturated market that is in desperate need of potentially better beer and a brewpub? Of course. Put it this way—if I told you some folks are going to plant some new trees from Oregon that are infested with diseases and toxins that are OK in their part of the country, but in San Diego they will attack our natural habitat and create destruction and damage, would that be okay? Well, that’s what’s happening. They are bringing sand to the beach. And not just sand—infected sand that is hazardous to our previously pristine environment.
Do Saint Archer Brewery and Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits shoulder responsibility for helping open the door to Big Beer in San Diego by selling out?
SB: It’s hard to blame them for the climate of today. Let’s remember Ballast Point is San Diego grass-roots and Saint Archer was incepted right here. They decided, from a business standpoint, that selling, making profit and expanding was principally their biggest business goal. They have that right, even if it may boost the armada of the Death Star, but with AB-InBev and 10 Barrel, what we are talking about is the worst form of third-rate carpet-bagging being helped along with even more confusion by special-interest real-estate. Let’s face it, things have been heading in this direction for some time now. I have been warning about this crisis since 2011 and, in my not-so-humble opinion, a lot of naïve people said I was being petty. But now, a few years later, look at our climate. We are more confused, more diluted and pumping worse beers out the door and into the hands of consumers than ever before. We have pseudo-craft everywhere and consumers are content with that. WE ARE LOSING BECAUSE WE COULDN’T BE HAPPY GROWING SMALL! What we now have are consumers who aren’t seeking out smaller and better. They are right where Big Beer wants them, and that is to be content to head down to their local Chili’s and grab their “local craft beverage” and sally forth regardless of the flavor or quality or craftsmanship or where their dollars are going. I never wanted armies of misguided and unknowingly disenchanted pseudo-beer experts. I’ve worked altruistically so people would think for themselves, learn about and want better beer. Now, people settle for the t-shirt, the buzz-phrase or the shiny picture instead of doing the hard work and understanding where their important dollars are going and how much their decision effects the overall landscape of what we as brewers and small-business owners do today and what we will do tomorrow. The world is better with these small, independent businesses growing small one-block-at-a-time, but soon we will have to shut the doors because we can’t compete with the conglomerates who can afford the largest microphones and billboards to confuse the public and, without the support from a knowledgeable consumer-base, small business is dead in our arena.
What do you see for San Diego’s beer scene in future?
SB: To be honest, I see myself probably having to sell my businesses or fold-up shop. It’s becoming harder and harder to compete in this market with all of the deception. We are dealing with a content-with-complacency consumer-base that has slowly been drinking the Kool-Aid and now they don’t even realize they are being mind-controlled. Everything I have done is about a desire to better a community at all costs. Who would have thought that, in such a short time, it would not be enough in his local beer industry to have award-winning establishments that are built around one simple, no-frills philosophy—SERVE GREAT BEER? So this shows just how serious the issue is. Our market saturation is beyond critical-mass and the quality has already begun to suffer. We aren’t cutting into fat at this point, we are carving into lean muscle and a lot of local breweries won’t be able to sustain this, and I’m not sure I could fault the giant monsters doing what they do versus the consumer-base who allowed this to happen on their watch.
Click here for the first half of our Q&A with Scot Blair from last week.