April 14 2015 05:25 PM

Cheers to the growing economic impact of San Diego’s craft beer industry

Photo by Jeff Corrigan

Odds are you drink craft beer for taste, and, OK, maybe for the alcohol-induced after-effect. Go ahead and keep sipping. And remind everyone at the bar that doing so helps boost the local economy.

San Diego's craft brewing industry is bubbling over. It's economic value to the region has doubled in the last three years, to nearly $600 million at the end of 2014, according to the National University System Institute for Policy Research.

That's $100 million more than the economic impact of the 2015 Super Bowl on the state of Arizona, according to findings from NUSIPR senior policy editor Vince Vasquez.

Here are some more toasty numbers from Vasquez's research:

· San Diego breweries directly created 3,752 jobs in 2014, and created/sustained 6,203 jobs last year. That's a 122-percent increase since 2011.

· At the end of 2014, there were 97 breweries and brew pubs in San Diego County. (To date, there are more than 100.) That's a 165-percent surge from 2011.

· Total annual industry sales (2014) are now at $847 million, which represents a $90 million increase over the previous year.

The numbers are big, but only partially reflect a financial ecosystem ripe with opportunities for an emerging group of entrepreneurs. 

Back in 2009, Melani and Jeff "Flash" Gordon, a pair of self-proclaimed "beer and whisky geeks," started exploring how to find their favorite drinks on tap here in San Diego. Six years later, their Taphunter platform addresses this issue in 40 different markets, and also illustrates the notion that craft brew is a fertile market for new ideas and service providers.

Candace Moon is an attorney who specializes in the industry. The passion to bring new beers into the world isn't necessarily coupled with the desire to contend with the complexities of running a business. Moon's work includes business law, like preventing clients from running afoul of California's complex Alcoholic Beverage Control licensing or employment regulations. 

Much of the unique value she provides comes from being mindful of the pitfalls endemic to a fast-growing industry.

"Trademarks are the biggest issue," she says. "People are starting to step on each other's toes."

Craft beer has likewise brewed an entire splinter economy of specialty goods. This can be as straightforward as reselling growlers, as is done by locally founded Craft Company, or specialty products. Rudy Pollorena, Jr. created Craft Beerd to sell clothing, art prints and glassware. His typography-forward stylings can be found on brew pubs' walls and on their customers' backs.

"Craft Beerd was brewed from the very culture I set out to build quality craft beer products for.... It's what keeps my creative juices flowing," Pollorena says.

PubCakes and North Park Nuttery are culinary enterprises of kindred spirit. Both brought craft-brew-infused comestibles to market, with helpful nudges from Kickstarter campaigns. The community has spoken and it demands to both drink and eat beer.

When Misty Birchall began merging her mutual loves of beer and baking, she regarded it as little more than "a weird hobby." Now, six years later, her product line has expanded to craft-brew confections as varied as chocolate sauce made with AleSmith Speedway Stout and caramel corn made with Sriracha and Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. She sells PubCakes-branded beer cake mix, too. All are available at Bottlecraft, and various boutiques around town.

North Park Nuttery's products are built with immediacy in mind. The glazed nuts are targeted at brewery tasting rooms for mid-session snacking, often with flavors built off that location's native beers. Beer pairings are literally baked into the product. Nine local breweries offer these snacks, which are also available at a variety of pubs and retail locations.

David Crane thought it possible to focus on the canine population. 

"I started out home brewing back in 1996, and have always been trying to re-use my spent brewing grain in the most eco-friendly way possible," Crane says. "I decided to start Doggie Beer Bones, since I was already baking the treats for friends' and my family's dogs."

The grain in Doggie Beer Bones, upcycled from local breweries, is assembled with peanut butter, eggs and barley flour, then baked twice in bone-shaped silicone molds to eliminate as much moisture as possible. The resulting biscuits are sold in stand-up pouches everywhere, from tasting rooms to amazon.com.

Craft brewing may have gone to the dogs, but in this case, it's one more example of creative expansion within a growing economic niche.

Write to ianc@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com, or follow @iancheesman on Twitter or read his blog, iancheesman.wordpress.com.