In 1997, fifteen craft breweries came together to prop up San Diego's budding craft beer scene - and thus, the San Diego Brewers Guild was born. Today, 25 years later, seven of those breweries are still in operation. The guild continues to promote our members and educate beer fans worldwide on the positive benefits of the San Diego craft beer industry. June 10th marks our 25th Anniversary, and we want to highlight and thank our original members who have been with us since the beginning. They have served as pillars in our community, and their stories continue to inspire new brewers and craft beer fans today. Original members of the Guild include:
AleSmith Brewing Co.
AleSmith Brewing Co. was founded in 1995 by Skip Virgilio (now Brewmaster at Gravity Heights Brewery & Beer Garden) and Ted Newcomb, opening its doors in Mira Mesa, where Mikkeler Brewing now stands. At the time, Skip was brewing professionally at the PB Brewhouse, and he met Ted in a San Diego Homebrew Club - QUAFF.
That love for homebrewing and craft beer continued with Peter Zien, renowned homebrewer and Grand Master Judge when he took ownership of AleSmith in 2002. Peter brought one of his homebrew recipes to AleSmith, which had won a few awards in his amateur career. With AleSmith, Old Ale went on to win multiple medals at both the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup.
When asked about the most significant changes he had seen in the industry in the past 25 years, Peter pointed out the explosive growth of the brewing industry. "A Guild meeting in the early days had a handful of attendees, recent meetings top 100+ in attendance!"
Peter attributes the success and longevity of AleSmith to their commitment to quality, which resonates with knowledgeable beer drinkers. Integrity and modesty contribute to a company culture that creates a high-caliber team and workforce. One of his most memorable moments was getting ready to head home after a 12-hour shift. Noticing some patrons pulling up to the locked door of the tasting room, Peter decided to go back and open up the tasting room for a private tour and tasting. People still come up to him and tell him that it was one of the best brewery experiences they've ever had.
"My earliest memories of the Guild Meetings circa 2000 were fun meetings where we shared growlers of our beers and war stories. There would be a few topics to the meeting, a beer festival here, and beer and food dinner pairing there, but pretty much more drinking beer than deciding anything important. A recent Guild Meeting that I attended still had the shared beer and fun, but we also had presentations by vendors, legal updates to important law changes, and many issue discussions. I've also heard that out-of-state Brewers Guilds have been to our meetings after hearing about all of the good things happening in the San Diego brewing scene. A testament that we're doing great things here in San Diego!"
Coronado Brewing Co.
It was the Summer of 96' when brothers Rick and Ron Chapman first opened the door to Coronado Brewing Company in the beach town of Coronado, CA. Coronado was their hometown, and they wanted to create a beer brand that best represented where they had grown up.
They would wake up swinging every morning, doing their best to remain on their toes and ahead of the game, keeping up with trends while creating new ones. This drive has become a staple in their company culture and has helped them remain one of San Diego's most relevant breweries 25 years later.
When asked about which beer has been the most memorable to brew at Coronado, Rick shares that Orange Avenue Wit has had a lasting impact on the brewery and with craft beer fans. Orange Avenue Wit is a Belgian witbier that pays tribute to the orange trees that once lined Coronado’s main street.
Since the beginning, Rick and Coronado Brewing have been an integral part of the Guild. When asked about his thoughts on the Guild and how it has changed over the years, he stated: "It's grown from a passionate ragtag group in the beginning to an organized, buttoned-up guild. I'm stoked and honored to still be involved, and look forward to the next 25 years. The passion and involvement that continues with new BODs, and brewing members, inspires me and our team here at Coronado Brewing Co."
Karl Strauss Brewing Co.
Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner, both freshly out of school, founded the brewery in 1989. With help from Chris's cousin, Karl M. Strauss, one of the most decorated Master Brewers of all time and the brewery's namesake, they opened their doors in downtown San Diego.
In the 80s, the public wasn't familiar with craft beer, and people questioned the beer's drinkability. Fast forward to today, and San Diego is now known for its incredible craft beer scene! This shift in perception of craft beer came from educating the public and brewing quality beer. As a close-knit brewing community, it was determined early on that a Guild was needed to educate, support, and help grow the industry.
Personal success for Karl Strauss Brewing Co. starts with quality control, a core value of the company that Karl Strauss (the man) pushed for from day one. They have brewed over 130 unique beers in the past 25 years and each beer is brewed to the highest standards.
The quality and variety of beer come from their Small Batch program - consistently kicking out noteworthy brews. Aurora Hoppyalis IPA is currently ranked top 3 IPAs globally, and their Red Trolley is one of the most award-winning beers of all time.
Karl Strauss takes pride in their ability to consistently be recognized through beer competitions such as World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival. As Karl Strauss has grown in size, the San Diego Brewers Guild has grown alongside them in both scope and scale.
"It was 1987, and I had my first taste of Anchor Steam. I suddenly realized that beer could be far beyond the stuff of the television commercials. Eventually, Steve Wagner and I met at a class called "A Sensory Evaluation of Beer." We recognized each other from the rehearsal studio facility I owned in L.A. He was in a band and would come in to rehearse. We began brewing casually together. We both knew we wanted to be a bigger part of the brewing industry, but most importantly, we thought what we were creating was really something special. Steve went on to take his first brewing job at Pyramid in Kalama, WA, where he gained a ton of experience as a brewer. When we started Stone, he assumed the role of Head Brewer."
And so began Stone Brewing, founded in 1996 by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner in San Marcos in the same building for what is now home to The Lost Abbey.
San Diego stands today as the Capital of Craft because of its willingness to push boundaries. Pizza Port and Blind Pig (near Temecula) brewed two of the first West Coast Style IPAs. Inspired by these, Stone developed their own West Coast Style IPA, Stone IPA, which has become one of the world's most popular and well-known craft beers.
When asked about how the Guild has evolved over the years, Greg said, “I think the SDBG has done a fantastic job in fulfilling its mission to communicate to the public that there are phenomenal choices for them in San Diego County. I was the initial conceptualizer and the first President of the SDBG, and I think I did an ‘OK’ job at kicking things off for the first couple of years…however subsequent leadership has helped bring it to a whole new level.”
Stone’s longevity comes from sticking to their guns, and being true and honest with themselves. Original Stone beers were considered too hoppy for the time, but rather than assume no one would like their beer, they found the few who did and let the beer do the talking from there. Instead of catering to the public, they poured their energy in creating beer they knew they loved, and they continued to explore new recipes following that philosophy.
San Diego Brewing Company
San Diego Brewing Company opened in 1989 under Callahan's Pub and Brewery in Mira Mesa. After moving to Grantville in 1993, they changed the name to San Diego Brewing Company.
SDBC came about from two individuals in the restaurant business, Lee Doxtader and Scott Stamp, who would dedicate spare time to homebrewing. At the time, they hocked everything they had to get their business going. While opening a brewery in a strip mall was not their first choice of location, San Diego Brewing Company has proved to be San Diego's staple and local favorite.
According to SDBC, the willingness of San Diegans to try new things, along with a beer scene that breeds creativity, has allowed San Diego to become the Capital of Craft. This desire to explore and take risks by consumers and brewers alike has led to some of the world's most successful and well-known craft breweries here in San Diego.
The industry has done a lot to educate and inform consumers of changing trends, tastes, and practices, and the San Diego Brewers Guild has become a trustworthy resource and voice for local brewers.
Looking back at a memorable beer they have brewed, San Diego Brewing Company singles out their San Diego IPA, which was one of the first IPAs in San Diego, and is still a flagship beer for them today. It took some convincing to get people to try it, but it became an instant hit once they did.
Ballast Point Brewing Company
Long before San Diego's beer scene became a formidable player on the world stage, Ballast Point Brewing Co. opened its doors to its homebrew supply shop in 1992. Ballast Point Home Brew Mart set out to provide education, resources, and supplies to homebrewers and was pivotal in spearheading the homebrewing movement here in San Diego.
As an original member of the Guild, Ballast Point has seen first-hand how the industry has changed and grown over the years. The community continues to grow with new and innovative breweries, many of which started as homebrewers buying supplies from Ballast Point. While many of these individuals become passionate home brewers as a hobby, some have gone on to open successful breweries throughout the years. Alongside the San Diego Brewers Guild, Ballast Point has helped and enabled this growth by sharing their knowledge and supporting local brewers.
"Putting "San Diego" on our labels meant something, then and now. There was no shortage of inspiration or quality or talent, but we needed promotion. As one of the seven founding brewery members of the Guild and its origin story, we're humbled by its stewardship 25 years later, and look forward to continuing to brew and supply alongside the next generation of San Diego brewers."
This sentiment harkens back to when they first started operations and how, despite being a small operation, Ballast Point had big aspirations for their place in the San Diego beer scene. Homebrewing was their passion, and they wanted to share that with as many people as possible.
Now, 25 years later, they are one of the world's most successful and well-known craft breweries.
Pizza Port Brewing Co.
Pizza Port Brewing Co. is an award-winning brewery with a rich history extending to 1987. Gina and Vince Marsaglia, two siblings in their early 20's, purchased a struggling pizza business in Solana Beach. After experimenting with homebrewing in the restaurant's storage space, they decided to add a brewing operation to the business.
In 1992, Gina and Vince began offering their first selection of hand-crafted beers, and Pizza Port Brewing Co. as we know it today was born. Their craft beer was a big hit, and Gina jokes that they kept opening new locations because they kept running out of beer.
Success for Pizza Port Brewing Co. has always been about family, friends, and community. It's about making work not feel like work, and when you're doing what you love, it doesn't feel like work at all.
Swami's was the first IPA Pizza Port released and has left a lasting impact on San Diego as a whole. While the original recipe had a more malty taste, today it is a crisper, hoppier beer that still maintains its original character.
We asked Gina to share their initial impressions of Guild when they first came together 25 years ago: "Being an original board member, it was more of a meet and greet as breweries started opening to share beers and talk business. The Guild has grown to be a solid resource for the industry in a much more organized fashion to help all of us survive some of the obstacles in order to thrive.”
We'd like to give a big thanks to all of the San Diegans who have supported us and the local craft beer industry over the past 25 years. This is a close-knit community built on a mutual love of good beer, friendly competition, and a desire to push the envelope to create new trends and redefine old favorites. Cheers!