VISTA — It is no secret North County is a hub for craft breweries.
Their popularity has exploded over the past decade as San Diego County has become one of the premier destinations for beer connoisseurs and brewers.
Sitting along State Route 78, known as the Hops Highway, Vista was recently ranked sixth in the country for most craft breweries per capita, according to an analysis from C + R Research. The firm analyzed data from more than 500 cities.
“Since 2007, the number of breweries and brewpubs across the country has seen an average yearly growth of 15.9%,” said Matt Zajechowski, a spokesman for C + R. “Within the last four years, the average growth has been 20.5%. One interesting note is that the greatest year-over-year growth happened in 2013-2014 when the number of breweries grew by 29%, which was the highest YoY increase within the 2007–2018 timeframe.”
Vista’s journey into craft breweries started years ago and were approached with a different angle, said Kevin Ham, the city’s director of economic development.
Instead of focusing on the alcohol aspect, Ham said he and city staff looked at breweries as manufacturers, another area of industry important to the city’s economy and tax base. In the early 2000s, he and others in the city began building relationships with Green Flash and Backstreet breweries, where Ham would help them navigate the city application and permitting process.
The city looks at the main brewery as the manufacturing site, with the ability to dedicate a small tasting room. Other businesses, such as Dr. Bronner’s soap, are allowed to sell some product from their manufacturing facility, so the city figured a brewery should be able to do the same.
“We started to understand that industry,” he said. “They understood the customer service we provided. We saw them as a manufacturer with an ancillary component that was a tasting room. We started working with them and put in place some structures (so) that as we worked with them we weren’t permitting a bar.”
From there, others, such as Belching Beaver, approached the city and soon enough, the Vista Brewers Guild was formed to address issues and ideas from the brewers and whether they were permissible by the city.
As a result, the city of 101,987 residents as of Jan. 1, boasts 19 breweries with another four expected to open later this year. Of the 19, five have additional permits for tasting rooms at their main facilities.
The newest breweries include Eppig, Dogleg and West Brewing, Ham said.
“We wanted to work with them as a whole,” he said of the guild. “For the first five to seven years, we met every month because issues were coming up.”
Vista has 10 breweries per 50,000 residents with Indian Joe Brewing as the most popular brewery based on internet search volume, according to C + R. Portland, Maine, ranked first with 18, followed by Asheville, North Carolina (17), Bend, Oregon (16), Boulder, Colorado (14) and Kalamazoo, Michigan (10).
The only other California city to crack the top 25 is Santa Cruz, coming in at 14th with seven breweries per 50,000 residents.
Above: Vista ranks sixth in the United States for most craft breweries per capita. Of the city’s 19 craft breweries, Indian Joe Brewing is the most popular, based on internet search volume. Another four breweries are expected to open later this year in Vista. Photo by Steve Puterski