Employment in San Diego County's brewing industry has jumped 40 percent over the past two years, as the number of breweries and brewpubs more than doubled, according to a report released by the National University System's Institute for Policy Research.
Because many of the new breweries are start-ups that have not started selling their wares, total revenues rose by a more modest 15 percent, growing from $680.9 million in 2011 to $781.5 million in 2013.
But the economic impact of the beer sales has been bolstered by the growth of support companies – including equipment makers, ingredient suppliers and even a handful of tiny hop farms around rural such rural sites as Julian, Ramona and Valley Center.
Those support companies generated a total of $56.6 million in sales in 2013.
"As craft brewing has taken hold in San Diego, a craft-brewing cluster has begun to emerge," said Vince Vasquez, who authored the report.
The numbers come as Karl Strauss Brewery – which launched the first local craft brewery in 1989 – prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a blowout "Changing of the Barrels" celebration at its new tasting room and beer garden in Pacific Beach on Saturday.
“We had a vision to bring craft beer to adventurous and free spirited San Diegans, but our biggest fear was always, ‘Will they come?’" said Matt Rattner, the company's president and co-founder. "When we saw the line around the block on opening day, we knew we were onto something.
Even after Karl Strauss pioneered the way, however, only one or two new breweries or brewpubs were in the county created each year until 2010, when the number suddenly began to take off, partly because local workers laid off during the recession saw the industry as a way of becoming entrepreneurs.
Over the past two years, the total number of brewpubs has more than doubled from 40 to 82, with 17 new outlets created in 2012 and 33 created last year.
That has helped push employment from an average of 1,630 workers in 2011 to 2,279 by the end of 2013.
But most of the job growth did not come from the startups but instead came from the larger, more established breweries, including Karl Strauss, Stone Brewing, Ballast Point and Port Brewing, which have been opened new outlets and production centers or expanded existing pubs to include full-service restaurants as well.
The local expansion moves have created new business for suppliers. The study says that biggest supplier is Premier Stainless Systems in Escondido, which designs and manufacturers brewery systems, tanks and keg washers.
The company’s client list includes more than 16 local breweries, and dozens more worldwide.
Last year, Premier generated more than $45 million in annual sales, with projects that included equipping Stone Brewing's new Liberty Station location, as well as Ballast Point’s new Tasting Room & Kitchen in Little Italy.