Amid all of our stories about expansion and growth in the craft brewing industry, we’d be crazy to gloss over the importance of the local craft brewing scene. At Craft Brewing Business (CBB), we try to provide a snapshot of these regional issues, opportunities and concerns in our ongoing “Better know a craft beer guild” series.
Today, we kick off our series of craft beer guild Q&As from California. First up, let’s give a warm CBB welcome to Brian Stechschulte, executive director for the San Francisco Brewers Guild, who was kind enough to share his insight into the San Francisco craft beer scene and how his guild fits into the larger picture of the gigantic and growing California craft brewing world.
CBB: What are the state and local business issues that are going to impact craft brewers the most in 2013-2014?
Brian Stechschulte: For prospective and existing members of the San Francisco Brewers Guild, one of the biggest issues they’re confronting right now is the slowdown at the SF Department of Building Inspection. The permitting process is taking a very long time due to the intense amount of construction taking place in the city. These delays drive up the cost of opening or expanding a brewery. Finding a suitable space to open a brewery is also an ongoing issue. The real estate market is tight and the city is quite small compared to most major cities in America.
CBB: What specific legislation are you keeping an eye on right now?
Stechschulte: There isn’t any specific legislation that we’re watching closely at the moment. We’re fortunate to have the California Craft Brewers Association working on our behalf in Sacramento, which monitors legislative activity in the state and presents our interests with one singular voice. I’m sure the board of directors has a full agenda.
At the local level in San Francisco, we’re always looking to develop a better relationship with the mayor and board of supervisors. Breweries represent a sizeable amount of manufacturing. Letting them know that we’re growing and making a positive contribution to the economic life of the city is important.
CBB: Can you describe the craft brewing scene there in San Francisco and how it compares/contrasts with the rest of California?
Stechschulte: The brewing scene in San Francisco is thriving at the moment. Our membership has doubled in the last two years and it seems like I hear about a new brewery in planning every month. What makes San Francisco unique in California is our dense urban environment. There are brewpubs and breweries in a lot of neighborhoods, which are easy to access without driving, via bike, walking and public transit. There are also a bunch of great restaurants and bars to visit in between. This close proximity also makes for a tight knit brewing community.
CBB: About how many brewers out there now? Is it possible the region is starting to approach a saturation point?
Stechschulte: At the moment we have 16 members of the guild, and we’ll be adding at least two more breweries to the group in the next six months. Most of our members are brewpubs and each one supports a different neighborhood. There’s plenty of room to grow in my opinion.“The best way for a brewer to get involved with the political side of the industry is to simply invite local politicians to their brewery. It allows politicians to learn about their business, contributions to the community, and brewers can share their thoughts about important local or national issues.” — Brian Stechschulte
CBB: What are the unique opportunities there? Unique challenges?
Stechschulte: San Francisco’s global reputation as a tech hub and popular travel destination presents a huge opportunity to breweries. The city was visited by 12.6 million tourists in 2012. Many of those people are eager to explore local food, beer and wine. Residents are equally excited about supporting these communities and they tend to be very knowledgable.
Of course, being such a popular place to visit and live makes San Francisco one of the most expensive places to do business. Almost every aspect of running a business is more expensive than your average city, but the cost of entry, if attained, yields many benefits.
CBB: Any rivalry there with the California guild? Why the need for a separate, hyper-local guild?
Stechschulte: Nope. The brewing community out here is pretty friendly, but unfortunately we don’t work very closely with other guilds in the state at the moment. I’m hoping that changes in the future. California covers a lot of territory so each guild tends to concentrate on its own regional challenges and events. Back in the medieval period, when guilds were developed, they were all hyper local, so I really see the San Francisco Brewers Guild as a natural extension of that tradition. It makes for a strong community of friendship and information exchange. Having a local guild also makes it easier for companies and organizations who want to support local beer at their events. All they have to do is contact us and we’ll take care of all the logistics.
CBB: What other services and information do you provide to your members?
Stechschulte: The guilds primary services to members are promotional in nature. Our website contains pages for all of our members, features a map of their locations, and a list of their events. We also use social media and email to advertise those events and share other activities, which reaches thousands of people. Outside of the internet, we publish a pamphlet that lists all of our members and their locations, which gets distributed at local events and to hotel concierges. Of course, we also get invited to participate at events by other nonprofits and companies, and we throw our own beer festivals, like Brews on the Bay and SF Beer Week. They promote our members and the wider craft beer culture throughout the Bay Area. Finally, we also communicate to each other through a Google Group that allows members to ask technical questions and request help about any issue.
CBB: What is the best way for a brewer to get involved in the political side of brewing?
Stechschulte: The best way for a brewer to get involved with the political side of the industry is to simply invite local politicians to their brewery. It allows politicians to learn about their business, contributions to the community, and brewers can share their thoughts about important local or national issues. If a brewer doesn’t own a brewery yet, then I would encourage them to get involved with the Support Your Local Brewery initiative on CraftBeer.com, which is run by the Brewers Association. The program is also great for beer fans, who want to be more informed about political issues that affect the industry in their backyard.