Craft beer is growing out of industrial parks and into urban neighborhoods.

There’s a pronounced trend of new, old, big and small breweries alike opening satellite tasting rooms in walkable commercial areas — Stone Brewery, Modern Times, Belching Beaver, Rip Current, Twisted Manzanita, Iron Fist, Border X and Lost Abbey have all done it or are in the process of doing it.

The tasting rooms help address one issue that could affect the industry’s continued growth: They allow the businesses to meet customers where they are, rather than relying on people coming to them.

“There are a certain number of people willing to drive anywhere, but there are more people looking to have that experience closer to home or work,” said Vince Vasquez, a policy analyst at the National University System Institute for Policy Research who wrote a report on breweries’ local economic impact.

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They also come with a nice profit margin — by selling their own product directly, breweries are effectively cutting out distributors and bars.

The proliferation of tasting rooms in the city’s core is thanks in part to a piece of language in the alcohol vendors’ license most breweries have that makes it easier to get approval for additional locations.

But the easier process of opening urban tasting rooms could eventually stoke neighborhood concerns.

At a recent panel on planning concerns facing the craft beer industry, Amanda Lee, a senior planner with the city’s code enforcement group, said the city needs to consider whether satellite tasting rooms, technically called “retail tasting stores,” should have additional restrictions about where they could be located, or whether the city should be able to impose additional conditions on their permit to operate.

The thought is that at some point, the relative ease to open such a facility will run into community opposition.

Joe LaCava, chair of the group that oversees community planning groups throughout the city, the Community Planners Committee, said nuisance-related complaints are still mostly isolated to liquor stores in certain neighborhoods.

“They’re fundamentally different animals right now, which is why they have different licenses in the first place,” he said. “How that plays out will be driven by breweries themselves, and how they run their businesses. The pushback we have seen on alcohol licenses has been for much different operators, whether there’s been too many licenses in an area, or there are off-site sale licenses granted where there are ethnic or cultural conflicts nearby.”

But the breweries could end up regulating their own behavior, essentially, because breaking any rules at the tasting room could endanger the brewing operation itself.

Most craft breweries have what’s called a “type 23” Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) license. It allows them to sell their product to other licensed alcohol sellers, or directly to customers.

It also allows those brewers to request duplicate licenses, said Candace Moon, an attorney who specializes in the craft beer industry. And the law says those duplicate licenses are to be issued “forthwith.”

“The biggest potential problem is that anything that happens as a result of a duplicate license affects the main license as well,” she wrote in an email. “Think of them as one license.  So if there are complaints or violations against the duplicate license, the main license suffers the penalties.”

That’s why breweries with satellite tasting rooms are likely to be on their best behavior, said Jacob McKean, who opened a tasting room in North Park with a duplicate license from his Modern Times brewery in Loma Portal.

“Any sane person would go above and beyond to make sure they’re not putting their brewing license at risk,” he said. “Even a truly terrible person, acting in purely naked self-interest, even that would suggest you wouldn’t want to risk your company over over-serving someone, or breaking opening and closing hours.”

He also said the relatively quick timeframe it takes to get the duplicate license isn’t really the primary incentive, though.

“Tasting rooms keep a lot of breweries in business,” he said. “The fact that the bureaucratic process is a little bit easier — and I do mean a little bit — isn’t alone going to make you do it. Saving a month on the licensing process doesn’t come close to making it worth it.”

Vasquez’s research showed in at least one instance, a brewer reported making $1 in profit on each beer sold through a bar or liquor store, but $5 per beer sold in their own tasting room.

“The ability to open a tasting store — or a second tasting store — can mean so much to their bottom line,” he said.

For LaCava, talk of instituting an additional level of planning or permitting on the duplicate beer sales licenses misses the point. There are plenty of laws and regulations on the books to deal with bad actors already, he said, and if there are problems, they can be solved by enforcing those existing restrictions.

“The enforcement of existing regulations is more effective than piling on new regulations,” he said. “We have a dilemma because when we pile on more regulations, that’s paid for by the applicant (the brewery, bar, liquor store, etc.). But when we do enforcement, in this case by code enforcement or the police department, that comes from our general fund. We are still struggling to pay for all kinds of services, and so even if people agree, it’s hard to find the money for it.”

McKean agreed.

“It’s far too hard to open an alcohol-selling business, and far too easy to misbehave once you’re open,” he said.

    This article relates to: Beer Policy, Business, News, Share

    Written by Andrew Keatts

    I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at or 619.325.0529.

    Robert Hall
    Robert Hall subscriber

    One potential problem is when a bar causes problems, there aren't any effective, cost-efficient ways to rein them in.  If a bar (tasting room, restaurant, hookah lounge...same thing) overserves customers, for instance, there is no threat to their license. 

    Don't take my word for it.  Go to the ABC website, and review the news releases about license suspensions and revocations.  You'll find that licenses are never (as in, not ever) suspended or revoked for overservice.  I've reviewed hundreds of press releases and have yet to find a single such action against any alcohol outlet. 



    And the regulations...print 'em up and put it in a big stack and what do you have?

    A paper tiger.  And the licensees know it. 

    Robert Hall
    Robert Hall subscriber

    Any low-life who wants to open a bar can simply declare himself a brewer. (There is one such operation already in PB.) The state laws that limit the number of alcohol licenses do no apply to a "brewery" can get a license in an area where a "restaurant" or "bar" cannot.

    The good news is the the overwhelming majority of new brewers really are good operators. But the same statement applies to bars and restaurants in PB, North Park, and Hillcrest. Yet every year, more and more of our police resources are committed to those areas in order to keep a lid on crime committed by drunks. The current regulator state is an abject failure.


    @omarpassons Interesting. Have there been any "bad actors" whose behavior threatens the spread of tasting rooms?


    @peterroweut I am not aware of any, and we have 3 dupes near me. Bar owners may have thoughts, tho


    @omarpassons I'm wondering about neighborhood watch type groups. They can be prickly -- and often for reason.


    @peterroweut Not a peep in my neck of the woods about dupes. And I am connected to most neighborhood watch folks here

    John Anderson
    John Anderson subscriber

    Like this - different angle on the craft beer story.  Would like to see some commentary from bars near these tasting rooms and some of the conflict resulting.  Have seen a few mentions of this and wonder if it will grow as more tasting rooms open, pitting retail vs. manufacturers now in retail.

    Omar Passons
    Omar Passons subscribermember

    This piece lays out the issues fairly well.  I imagine a second part featuring some of the folks who are less than thrilled with duplicate Type 23s will be soon to follow. I went to Amplified in PB a couple months ago and it kind of highlights the difference between operators who focus on craft beer and those who don't.  The brewer told me that they'd never had a police call for drunken antics or fighting or other typical negative behaviors that some associate with some bars.  I've never seen such behavior at Tiger!Tiger! or Station Tavern or Toronado, either.  Doesn't mean it doesn't happen, of course, but absent some proof that this more straight forward standard is causing a problem I say adding to the costs and uncertainty isn't worth it.  To Jacob's point, though, while ease may not be a driver, the 6 months to a year, with appeal rights, and attorney costs and so forth associated with Neighborhood Use Permits just might be a barrier to entry.


    @andy_keatts Proud to finally be quoted as an expert on the behavior of terrible people. Also, we prefer "SportLoma" or "MidSport"