San Diego's Craft Beer Economy, in Three Charts

Andrew Keatts, September 24, 2013

San Diego's craft beer brewers have long been praised countrywide, and each of the city's last two mayors has made a point to engage the industry.

Last week, the local industry's biggest player, Stone Brewing Co., co-hosted a summit along with the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce on how to leverage the industry's reputation to maximize its economic effect.

Former Mayor Jerry Sanders, now CEO of the Chamber, was there. So was Stone CEO Greg Koch.

Earlier this summer, when Voice of San Diego held an event discussing some of the policy limitations facing the industry, I put together a fact sheet on the size and scope of the sector.

One criticism I heard was that it didn't provide much context. So San Diego's beer industry has a $299.5 million economic impact. How does that compare to other industries?

Here's a chart that helps frame that number.

It uses a few recent economic impact reports to highlight three industries, two local heavyweight companies, a major yearly event and the regional economy as a whole. None of these markers are really comparable to one another – but together they help illustrate the scale of some of the region's biggest economic drivers.


There's some obvious overlap between these categories. An out-of-town Comic-Con visitor is also contributing to the tourism industry, for example.

But that's not actually the case for the beer industry's number.

The study earlier this year that pegged the size of the craft beer industry didn't include the effect of beer tourism. The study's author at the National University System Institute for Policy Research said it had to leave those numbers out due to practical constraints.

So whatever affect people visiting San Diego to check out its breweries and drink its beers has on the region, it's not included here. And that's the piece of the beer industry that last week's summit was specifically targeting.

One thing the study was able to demonstrate, however, was that the industry's growth is still going strong.

Here's some data the study presented on the number of new brewery licenses issued in San Diego County each year since 1993.


That growth is impressive, but it's not uncommon.

Basically, craft beer is booming everywhere – not just in San Diego. It's led many craft beer fans, columnists and skeptics to wonder whether the industry's in the midst of a bubble, or at least approaching a saturation point.

Koch argues San Diego businesses should do more to lock in the city's reputation as the nation's premier craft beer destination, a designation that could bring more beer lovers, and their money, to the area.

Here's a chart comparing what's happening with beer in San Diego to what's happening elsewhere.

The Brewers Association, a national industry group for craft brewers, each year ranks each state by people per brewery.

Here are the top 10 states in that metric. California, which actually ranks 20th, is also included, and so is San Diego County. The list uses 2010 Census data for its population count.

        Top States by Capita Per Brewery

Obviously, per-capita rankings skew the results toward less populated states like Montana, Alaska, Wyoming and Maine.

So San Diego's beer industry is relatively small compared to some of the other big players in the regional economy, even if it is growing extremely fast.

But the fast-paced growth is happening as part of a national trend. Koch and Sanders argued last week that San Diego needs to make a concerted effort to maintain its reputation for great beer, and the out-of-town dollars that come with it, or risk getting passed by other beer hotbeds.

This story first appeared in Voice of San Diego, and has been reprinted with permission. Andrew Keatts is an land use reporter with the nonprofit, investigative news source. Follow him on Twitter at @andy_keatts.