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By Ian Pike | WDSD Reporter
SAN DIEGO – After attending the Craft Brewers Conference at Mission Valley's Town and Country Hotel, I am pleased to report that craft brewing is alive and thriving, and only likely to grow in the coming years.
The event oscillates between East and West coasts to accommodate guests and vendors from across the country and is the primary trade show for the craft brewing industry. Exhibitors represent all aspects of the supply chain, from cleaning supplies to the finest hops and yeast. The conference has a reputation as offering a great time to attendees, not least because free beer flows at stations around the exhibit hall. Brewers and beer industry types tend to be a pretty jovial crowd.
Above all, the conference demonstrated that craft brewing has undergone exponential growth in recent years. The proliferation of suppliers and products seems boundless, and includes German companies able to build "turnkey" breweries, specialty merchandise suppliers, glassware wholesalers, keg refurbishing companies and even insurance brokers who specialize in insuring craft brewers. The various manufacturers uniformly agree that the industry's growth has been staggering.
Henry Cornell of M. Cornell Importers, a glassware company that has supplied brewers for more than 50 years, affirmed the explosion in the number of craft brewers in the past 10 years. He said it has been good for his business as well as for the industry in general, and added that it's been amazing to watch a formerly sleepy "niche" industry soar skywards.
The multifaceted supply chain includes custom merchandise designed by from companies like Hopman Design. This firm's Chris Reisetter claims to have clients who send weekly orders for t-shirts, buttons, stickers, and any other kind of merchandise a brewery might wish to sell or give away. Eric Hamlin of Kotis Design pointed out that companies are sharpening their focus strongly on branding.
"In the eighties," he said, "you had companies like Sierra Nevada with these really detailed logos that maybe changed color for different beers. Now, breweries are thinking of logos before they even brew up a single beer in order to have a marketing edge before they get too invested."
The general consensus on the showroom floor was that small brewers are growing fast, some of them at up to 30 percent annually, while the big brewers like InBev are losing one and two percent market shares. For those of us who live in San Diego, which arguably has become Craft Beer City USA, that's as good as a promise that the Double IPAs we love so much will keep showing up in taprooms across the county, and that still more new and exciting brews are on the horizon.