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Notorious Burgers in Carlsbad is taking a stand against the big beer companies by serving only independently owned brews. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Craft brewers try to fight back against big brewer moves

CARLSBAD — The war between big and craft brewers is in full force.

Monster companies such as AB InBev (Anheuser-Busch), Coors and Corona have made concerted efforts to regain their market share after the boom of craft brewers have made a dent in the industry.

But for one Carlsbad restaurant, the ongoing practices from the big companies have left a sour taste. Notorious Burgers (6955 El Camino Real), is refusing to sell beer distributed by any major supplier, such as AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer, which has a 25 percent global share.

“It’s just my opinion of kind of what Anheuser-Busch (InBev) is trying to do and place them in craft beer is a wolf in sheep’s clothing type of thing,” said Notorious Burgers owner Brian Gruber.

Although Gruber supports big business, he does not recognize the tactics used by AB InBev in absorbing craft brewers while advertising against them.

So, he and his wife and co-owner, Julie Gruber, opted to only support local craft brewers on their taps.

Notorious Burgers has developed strategic partnerships to support several local brewers, including Alpine Beer Company, Mother Earth, Rip Current, Societe and Bagby Beer.

Gruber said the hypocrisy from AB InBev brewers is part of why he will only support local brewers on his 24-tap system. The beer monster has the cash to buy out the smaller breweries, yet will slam the craft industry in its advertising.

“There are big conglomerates … I’m not trying to bash big business, but it’s just the fact that AB InBev is actively marketing against craft beer,” Gruber said. “At the same time, they are buying Elysian, 10 Barrell and Golden Road, which are all respectable craft beer brewers. Little do they know the dollar they are spending on that six pack is going into Budweiser’s pocket.”

AB InBev, meanwhile, recently announced its plan to open a brewpub in downtown San Diego.

The move, according to Vince Vasquez of the National University System Institute for Policy Research (and columnist for The Coast News), is a shot across the bow of craft brewers.

“It’s a changing market place and I think it will continue with more acquisitions,” he said. “There is a lot of anxiety with the local industry.”

Vasquez, though, said the craft brewers largest contribution come from its economic impact to San Diego County. With more than 120 local breweries, thousands of direct and indirect job, while those businesses pumped in more than $600 million in 2014 to the cities and counties.

Vasquez said the money generated by local brewers is more of a benefit since much of the money generated from big corporations filters to somewhere other than the region.

“The more those profits can be re-circulated back into the local economy, the more of meaningful economic difference that these craft brewers are making over that those that aren’t craft,” he added.

Despite the largest brewer in the world setting up shop 30 minutes away, Gruber said the craft beer community is strong enough to punch back.

“The big guys are doing this because they feel craft beer is taking market share,” he added. “It’s all fair in business. But you don’t have to go bashing, throwing money around and confusing people. I don’t hate big business. I am proud that Saint Archer sold. But let’s do it the right way.”

Jeff Bagby of Bagby Beer Company in Oceanside said the merry-go-round effect confuses consumers and is on of the most pressing issues in the fight for the beer market.

Bagby, who has been in business for about two years, said the marketing tricks pulled by the big beer companies is nothing new.

“It’s all about education, right?” he said. “There’s always going to be confusion. There’s a lot of changing and new breweries coming on.”


Trevor April 7, 2016 at 11:11 am

I for one am glad that restaurants like Notorious are turning into not just locavore hot spots but locabev as well. We have an abundance of fantastic craft beer in the area and the diverse landscape is largely unexplored outside of tasting rooms and grocery stores. It has positive environmental effects (reduction in mass shipping), cultural effects (sense of community), and business effects for the San Diego Region. Let’s accelerate this trend.

Jim Ritchhart April 7, 2016 at 6:45 am

Your comment states that Jeff Bagby has been in business for ‘about 2 years’; this may be true for Bagby Beer Company, but Jeff was head brewer at Pizza Port for about 10 years before that…so is a true SoCal veteran of craft beer…..

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