Raise a Glass to Hops Culture: San Diego Beer Museum on Tap

Raise a Glass to Hops Culture: San Diego Beer Museum on Tap

Organizers Narrow Site Selection to Three Downtown Commercial Spaces

BY LOU HIRSH (via CoStar Group)

A Museum of Beer could open next year in downtown San Diego's East Village. Illustration: Museum of Beer

A Museum of Beer could open next year in downtown San Diego’s East Village. Illustration: Museum of Beer

Organizers in San Diego, the nation’s biggest single hub for craft beer production, are scouting commercial spaces in downtown’s East Village for something that could give brewing aficionados even more to drink in: the Museum of Beer.

A “tap handle wall of fame,” murals made from bottle caps, displays of vintage beer-label art, and live brew-themed games and podcasts are among the extra touches planned for the new museum that is designed to showcase the science and history of beer-making. The museum plans call for a working nano-brewery, pizza restaurant, beer garden, event space, and numerous displays and exhibits, all within a region that already draws thousands of visiting and local craft beer fans who take extensive bus tours to sample the wares of local brewers.

Bruce Glassman, who goes by the title Curator of Craft and oversees exhibits for the museum, said organizers are in talks for a lease with owners of three undisclosed sites in downtown’s burgeoning East Village neighborhood, where a final selection is expected in about a month. The chosen location will likely be a repurposed former industrial or retail building. Those types of older properties have seen continual renovation in recent years as newer apartment and commercial projects have sprouted nearby in the city’s urban core.

“We needed to find a well-priced area where there would a lot of available things like warehouses that you could build out, and East Village has a good supply of that kind of space,” said Glassman, noting the coming museum is expected to span between 12,000 and 15,000 square feet. Set to open by summer 2020, the for-profit museum has an initial annual operating budget of about $2 million.

Glassman, a longtime local journalist who is also the beer writer for San Diego Magazine, is part of a larger San Diego beer museum organizing team that includes Chief Executive Anthony Ridenhour, who previously led venues including San Diego Model Railroad Museum; and Director of Development Michael Kociela, who heads San Diego-based event producer Westward Entertainment and previously founded the National Blues Museum in St. Louis, Missouri.

The team has so far raised funds for the project through sources including the Indiegogo crowd-funding site, with other investments from friends and family. A portion of museum proceeds are planned to go toward ongoing beer-production training and education programs already being conducted by San Diego Brewers Guild and local universities. The ticket price hasn’t been finalized but is likely to be around $28.50.

In the past decade, San Diego County has become the nation’s largest concentrated hub for craft beer brewers, with more than 100 mostly small companies operating licensed brewing facilities at 148 locations at the end of 2017, according to California State University San Marcos. A university study pegged the local regional economic impact of craft brewers at $1.1 billion annually, including dollars generated through sales, production and related local spending by the industry.

Vying for the dollars of those visiting beer aficionados — organizers anticipate initial annual crowds around 100,000 — the new brew-centric venue will be competing against numerous other popular museums in and near downtown. Several of those are located at the city’s popular and historic Balboa Park, where a different team of San Diego-based organizers is planning another cultural venue geared to a major local economic icon: Comic-Con.

Currently in planning at Balboa Park, southeast of downtown, is a new museum paying year-round tribute to comic books and other pop culture elements, now celebrated each summer at the global mega-convention known as Comic-Con International.

The Museum of Beer may have regional, if not national, reach as well.

As of January of this year, the local brew news publication West Coaster noted that the number of local licensed breweries had risen to 158, including production facilities, brewpubs and tasting rooms. Despite a nationwide slowdown in craft beer sales growth, the number of new brewing sites remains on the rise locally.

“You had a situation where there were three or four local brewers that closed last year, but the numbers are heading back up,” said Glassman.

California is the nation’s largest state for craft breweries – 980 now operate statewide, according to the California Craft Brewers Association. But there are numerous other U.S. regions where underutilized older retail and industrial buildings have been converted into craft beer venues , generating significant new social and economic activity where it never previously existed.

Cal State San Marcos reported that craft beer retail sales nationally reached $26 billion in 2017 — up 8 percent from the prior year — with the craft category reaching 23 percent of overall U.S. beer sales. Commercial brokers nationwide have reported heightened demand for beer-related industrial and retail space, in multiple states including Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.

The Museum of Beer is expected to include a nano-brewery, on-site restaurant, event space and beer garden, with exhibits spotlighting the history and science of beer-making. Illustration: Museum of Beer