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Monday, Feb 6, 2023

Local Beer Summit Tackles Ideas to Improve ‘Hops Highway’

Craft beer is now a significant economic generator in North County, but more can be done to put the region’s “Hops Highway” — the nickname for Highway 78 — on par with the impact now seen in places like the city of San Diego’s 30th Street “Craft Beer Corridor.”

Crucial steps include simplifying what is now a hodgepodge of various zoning and other rules in North County communities, stipulating where venues like microbreweries and tasting rooms can set up shop, researchers and business leaders said during a recent craft beer industry summit in Vista.

North County brewing had an overall economic impact of $272.3 million in 2013, including supporting 1,700 jobs at breweries and other beer-related businesses, according to a new report by the National University System Institute for Policy Research in San Diego.

Those figures account for about one-third of the countywide impact of craft beer, reported earlier this year by National University. North County is home to 30 of the county’s nearly 90 craft beer breweries, policy research institute President Erik Bruvold said, and one way that it can up its game is to raise the number of places where beer is tasted, showcased and served with meals, as well as produced.

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“The impact in North County right now is skewed toward production over consumption,” said Bruvold, in an interview prior to the Aug. 6 North County Craft Brew Symposium, presented by San Diego North Economic Development Council.

Bruvold presented findings of National

University’s latest “North County Craft Brew Report,” which was underwritten in part by the economic development group.

North County Opportunity

North County is home to Escondido-

based Stone Brewing Co., the largest craft brewer in San Diego County and the 10th-largest by production volume in the U.S., along with several smaller but growing companies, including Carlsbad’s Pizza Port Brewing Co., Vista-based Mother Earth Brew Co. and The Lost Abbey Brewing Co. of San Marcos.

In addition to the direct impacts of brewing operations, the industry is an important driver of the region’s tourism, through brewery tours and large annual industry events, said Carl Morgan, CEO of the nonprofit North County economic development organization.

The beer industry in North County also supports four hops farms in the region, along with a small number of companies that design and manufacture brewing systems, researchers said.

Kicking up the impact, Bruvold said, will involve streamlining the ways in which North County communities approve tasting rooms, brew pubs and localized special events, especially those established in and near business parks.

Local cities such as Vista, San Diego and Escondido have taken steps to revise local regulations to ease the integration of such businesses and events into corporate office and industrial settings. Provided they can address concerns of neighboring businesses, Bruvold said, communities need to think about ways to better utilize office parks — some of them with plenty of space to fill — beyond a “9-to-5” context.

Brewers, Vista Cooperating

For instance, the city of Vista, which has 10 craft breweries in operation and three more set to open by year’s end, worked with local companies to establish the Vista Brewers Guild, which meets monthly to facilitate dialogue between the city and brewery owners.

The city of Vista has enacted ordinances allowing tasting rooms in industrial zones, also permitting food trucks in business parks as long as tasting rooms are open, said Kevin Ham, Vista’s economic development director.

Vista officials in 2012 approved entertainment permits for breweries, allowing live acoustic music in tasting rooms. Ham said the city has also worked with federal authorities to enable local brewers to ship overseas, and it has connected brewers with national chains like BevMo to get their products into retail stores.

If it can establish more places that serve locally made beer, that will help North County retain more of the beer dollars spent in the region, Bruvold said. It will also help North County emulate hubs like North Park’s 30th Street neighborhood, buzzing with brewpubs, microbreweries, restaurants and other venues serving locally made beer.

One positive indicator, Bruvold said, is that North County craft beer is sold at most of the highest-earning North County restaurants, though brewers may need to do more to get those products into establishments in the city of San Diego and other markets outside the county.


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