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Vista Embraces Craft Beer

With More In The Works, There Are 11 Breweries In Vista

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks to the growth of craft breweries in Vista and along the Hops Highway in North County.


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San Diego Beer Week draws to a close this weekend. The ten-day event is designed to showcase craft breweries including those in Vista where beer is booming.

In the time it takes me to say that San Diego County has 94 craft breweries, the number will have changed. Kevin Hopkins, vice president of the San Diego Brewers Guild says the tally will be at 100 by the end of the year.

"There’s over 40 that are in development, and it is explosive combined growth. We grow by double digits every year," he said.

Hopkins is also the chief branding officer at Mother Earth Brew Co. in Vista.

Last Saturday during Guild Fest, the kick off event of San Diego Beer Week, Hopkins said, "Vista has 11 functioning breweries, we have two more that are in development and if you look at the data it actually shows that per capita, Vista has the most commercial breweries in the United States."

Of course you have to take into account that Vista is by no means the largest city in the U.S. But you can’t blame Hopkins for bragging. Vista’s 11 successful breweries with more coming is something to be proud of.

"The biggest growth and the biggest saturation right now is North County," Bruce Glassman stated. He just published the revised "San Diego Brewery Guide," which needed 20 new entries this year. "I think nine or ten of them were on the 78 corridor which is now lovingly referred to as the Hops Highway, and so between San Marcos, Vista and Oceanside, we’ve seen about ten breweries open up just in the last 12 months."

Toolbox just opened in September in Vista. Head brewer Peter Perrecone said that as San Diego’s 91st craft brewery they had to devise a way to get attention.

"What we are trying to do is stand out, be different. I see beer moving toward this kind of sour and beer going vintage where you can start aging beer like wines," he said.

Perrecone stared out as a home brewer ten years ago. That’s not unusual according to Kevin Hopkins: "There are folks here today that absolutely started in their garages making beer and they converted it into a business and they grew and grew. We continue to give back. Many of the breweries own home brew shops where they sell the goods and ingredients and equipment to make your own beer, and they are providing the training and free workshops, and then when you make a beer you can have it tried by commercial brewers to give you their opinions."

Perrecone got much of his beer education from home brewers turned pro.

"I was always that one guy that wanted really honest feedback and I probably cornered every brewer in San Diego and asked them everything I could learn about brewing," Perrecone said.

That sense of community and camaraderie is what makes the craft beer industry unique in San Diego in Glassman's opinion.

"The brewers here all take the attitude that they don’t want anybody in town making bad beer so it’s in everybody’s best interest to help everybody else as much as possible to do great beer," Glassman said.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Mother Earth Brew Co.

The logo of Mother Earth Brew Co., one of the older and more established craft breweries in Vista.

Vista hopes to attract great beer by creating a business climate specifically friendly to craft brewing.

"They recognized early on that craft was something that could bring in not just a revenue base for the city but it brought exposure because Vista is talked about all over the country… Every time a medal is garnered at some competition, Vista is put back on the map," Hopkins said.

And people are willing to trek to North County just to try the craft beers along the Hops Highway.

"If you make a great product, people will come. They show time and time again that they are willing to go as far as they need to to get to that which they want," Hopkins stated.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Toolbox

The logo of Toolbox, the eleventh craft brewery to open in Vista.

Hopkins doesn’t think Vista or San Diego is anywhere near reaching a saturation point for craft beer. He said the region is blessed with a good market where there is growth and local breweries are not competing for shelf space. Amanda Elder, owner of Toolbox, appreciates that sense of collaboration over competition.

"I think most of the breweries in San Diego in general are very supportive. It’s a very tight brotherhood, trying to make it a sisterhood, but it’s a brotherhood. But they have been more than helpful, everybody’s been sharing hops, sharing grain, it’s a brotherhood," Elder said.

But it's also about passion.

"Craft brewing is a passion born business," Hopkins added. "And then you build a structure around that, the old adage, do what you love and then figure out how to get paid for it."

For the moment, that passion is paying off big time in Vista.

The Vista Brewers Guild has a list of its local craft breweries.


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