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A chat with a local craft-beer legend

By Cody Thompson | Suds in the City

If you describe yourself to friends and family as a craft-beer fan, there is no question you have found yourself discussing the “Best Beer Cities” in America. Many cities can be represented during these inevitable conversations — Denver, Portland and Seattle all come to mind. But being a beer fan in San Diego, it only makes sense to stand up and fight for that championship belt of beer to be wrapped around the waist of our county.

That being said, while our city boasts 100-plus breweries, most of which could be considered “world class,” it should come as no surprise that Big Beer has set its sights on our community. Which has brought to life an entirely new conversation: What is local and as a beer drinker, what does that mean to you?

Some of the greatest minds in San Diego craft beer have weighed in with their thoughts on these exact subjects. Brewery owners, brewers and even media all have an opinion on what matters most to them within our great beer community. One of those great minds is Mike Hess of Mike Hess Brewing Company, who has worked incredibly hard to make his mark in our city.

Mike Hess pours one of his craft beers. (Photo by Christopher Verdick at verdickmoja.com)

Mike Hess pours one of his craft beers. (Photo by Christopher Verdick at verdickmoja.com)

Mike Hess Brewing Company — with locations in North Park, Miramar, and now Ocean Beach — has grown into one of the highest respected and beloved breweries in San Diego.

“I find that there is almost no pressure from large corporate breweries to local or independently owned breweries. Big Beer isn’t going after every local craft-beer establishment. It has to make sense for their portfolio, which in a lot of cases, it doesn’t,” Hess said when asked about resisting pressure from Big Beer.

“Smaller breweries face opposition when it comes to distribution, shelf space and handles in local restaurants. When it comes to corporate breweries, we have to deal with pressure to sell meaningful volume while still competing with Big Beer’s resources, brand awareness and manpower.”

With the recent acquisitions of some of our local breweries by large companies as well as the news of a possible brewery owned by AB InBev (Budweiser) opening in the heart of our East Village community, the idea of educating beer drinkers on what it means to be “craft” and “local” has become more important than ever.

Hess talked about these buyouts and the possibility of Big Beer moving into our community.

“San Diego has exploded into the mecca of craft beer. It has been an exciting time for brewers, and I am interested to see where it will go. The market is extremely competitive, and just like other industries, companies will grow, and corporations will develop. Our focus at Mike Hess Brewing has always been to educate our guests and consumers on what we do to set our standards above our competition,” he said.

“Big Beer is going to come to San Diego if they think it’s a good fit for their overall strategy, and we as craft brewers shouldn’t try to stop them, but we can all do a better job at educating the consumer about the difference between the local craft community and Big Beer posing as craft.”

Regardless of the vast number of locally owned and operated breweries in San Diego, our beer community shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. It seems as though at any given moment a new brewery is diving into the planning stage with hopes of becoming the next fan favorite.

Hess contends the more the merrier but wants new business owners to be aware of the hard work and dedication it takes to stand among the already established breweries that have made San Diego the craft-beer mecca it is today.

“Our beer community is very accepting and supportive of new brewery operations opening up. I personally support all local businesses as they result in new jobs, improve our economy and create sustainability for our neighborhoods,” Hess said. “With this being said, I think that people opening up breweries need to be realistic on their expectations and that they are doing it for the right reasons. There is a common misconception that owning and operating a brewery is easy when in reality, it is a really hard business.”

With buyouts and new conversations heating up in our city, Mike Hess Brewing continues to move forward the best way they know how. As their tagline says: “Great Beer, No Exceptions.”

The future holds a lot of exciting opportunities for fans of Mike Hess Brewing including expansion into new markets. Distribution to other beer-centric markets will include the Bay Area, starting later this month in Contra Costa County, the hometown of Mike and Greg Hess.

Mike Hess Brewing is also gearing up for its second season with the San Diego Padres, serving locally made craft beer to baseball fans at Petco Park. Hess is also excited about the release of new beers including Grapefruit Solis IPA, a traditional San Diego IPA combined with a well-rounded flavor brought out by grapefruit zest and real juice.

When asked how local beer fans can continue to support locally made beer, Hess smiled and said, “Visit one of our three amazing tasting rooms located in Miramar, North Park and Ocean Beach.”

Drink local!

—Contact Cody Thompson at cody@threebzine.com.

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