San Diego Breweries Desperately Need Design

Enjoying a beer at Rip Current. Photo by Miguel Reyes

Enjoying a beer at Rip Current. Photo by Miguel Reyes

A good beer is a good beer. I know what a good beer tastes like because I like it. I don’t need to pretend these hops and that yeast are a better combination for this Brown Ale. Nope, a good beer just feels right on my palette. I have a good understanding of the process of making beer, how can I not? This is San Diego, arguably the mecca of craft beer. But unlike bearded beer connoisseurs sniffing their own hoppy farts at the discussion table at any local brewery, I don't take my beer too serious. I respect people who do, people who are experts at their craft, people who have paid their dues and put in the work. People who have passion and have dedicated their lives at honing and evolving their recipes. Thank you, you are what makes San Diego a delicious boozy experience. I am not talking about them. I am talking about the guy who fixes motorcycles but thinks he can brew a better batch of IPA than Mike Hess. I am talking about theguy who claims his career is cross-fit but he is also a brew master at night at his mom’s garage. Or the local barfly who lives in North Park and despises every beer he drinks as “over rated” but claims his buddy’s pilsner is gonna be the next big thing. You know who you are.

In many ways beer is like design or comedy, or music, or art, or anything creative for that matter. Everyone has an opinion about it, and everyone has a preference.Some people like stouts others brown ales, although I do not understand San Diego’s obsession with IPA’s, regardless of taste everyone can agree that most breweries are not known for good design. That is not a bad thing, they should be known for good beer not for looking pretty. But as much as I hate to admit it, San Diego needs to step up the architecture of breweries in order to succeed. 

Stone brewery was a huge success because there was nothing like it around at the time. I used to live in North County and I remember going to Stone when the tasting room was in their warehouse in San Marcos. Some chairs, a bar, some barrels laid out to serve as tables, they were handy to lean on once you had a few arrogant bastards. The main clientele consisted of thirsty blue collar workers getting off work. But fortunately, or unfortunately depending how big of a micro brewery purist you claim to be, Stone Brewery was bound to grow. They had decent beer and they understood the concept of experience. They threw some money at the design of their new facility, called it a bistro, put some shitty fusion interpretation of tacos on their menu and boom! Now it is packed with soccer moms and house wives sucking down bottles of wine at noon. Who the fuck orders wine at a brewery? Any how, I’m not a Stone hater, I love what they did with the garden, I was a customer for many years before I moved out of North County. But to be fair I got over the Stone hype fast, I went to Stone to drink their guest beers, they always had good non-stone beer on tap. 

Patio Benches at Modern Times. Photo by Miguel Reyes.

Patio Benches at Modern Times. Photo by Miguel Reyes.

The point is that they focused on the experience of the customer. The beer is the main attraction but the experience and comfort of space kept people drinking longer. For example, even though they have great beer most of the time, you wouldn't catch me dead drinking at Toronado for longer than an hour in the middle of summer, sweating balls like it’s the sauna at 24 hour fitness. The cross ventilation at that place is terrible. Or Modern Times in North park, for a pretentious hipster beer their tasting room design is mediocre at best. If you are gonna repeat the ceiling lamp shades from the thousand other bars that do it at least do it right.Oh yea and their beers suck. Maybe they are not trying too hard, and that’s their whole stick, even so, at least clean the benches on your patio, I know hipsters are dirty but come on! 

Not everything is terrible of course, some breweries understand this and spend money hiring architects. Recently North Park Beer Co. opened its doors to what looks like the inside of my grandma’s closet. I might not like the design but that’s just personal opinion, the point is they are doing something about the experience. And quite successful too. That place is always packed. Ale Smith and Ballast Point, love it or hate it, are more examples of effort to enhance the user’s experience. We might not even like their designs and prefer to catch a buzz in an empty warehouse but the effort is a sign that they care. Or maybe I’m just a fool and they are just trying to make tons of money. Regardless of opinions San Diego breweries need to start focusing on design if they want to continue to grow as the great tourist destination for beer, good design doesnt have to be expensive, it just has to be good.