Today is the third anniversary of the launch of this blog!
And what a three years it has been. When I started my brewery quest in 2016, there were 140 breweries and tasting rooms on the West Coaster list. I thought I might be able to get to every brewery in a year. But then they just kept opening up at a crazy pace.
Now, there are 216 breweries and tasting rooms in San Diego County. Eleven of those are contract breweries or breweries with no tasting rooms, so there are 205 “visitable” locations. As of last week, I have finally been to every brewery you can drink at! (I have three more satellite tasting rooms to get to, but I’ve been to their breweries.)
I just published my 240th review. That includes places that I visited but which have since closed down, a handful of re-visits, a meadery, a cidery and a few other odd cases.
For a while, I was hitting three breweries or tasting rooms each week. I think the most I ever did was six in a week. That was exhausting. In the last year or so, I’ve been doing reviews at a slower pace, sometimes not even one per week. As the list of remaining spots got shorter, some were new so I put off visiting until they got into their grove; some were inconvenient to get to so it took special arranging. There were also, I must admit, ebbs and flows to my level of interest. After a couple of years, it did start to feel like a bit of a grind. But I’m happy I got it done.
Of course, another place is opening on Monday, so this is most assuredly a temporary milestone.
Part of being able to complete my quest to visit every brewery was knowing what all the breweries were. I quickly realized that the San Diego Brewers Guild map, while cool in itself and very helpful, does not include a large number of locations—namely the breweries that aren’t craft or which don’t choose to join the Guild. At one point when I did the math, 17% of breweries in the county were not members. As of September, about 11% of craft breweries are not Guild members. That’s 17 of 157 breweries, though that does include four of the contract breweries that don’t have their own tasting rooms. Even so, using the Guild map means you would miss 13 breweries.
Similarly, West Coaster magazine, for a long time the best place to look for the complete listing, ceased being a useful guide. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) kept current. About a year ago I sent them about 50 corrections (mostly additions and deletions) and most of those changes still haven’t been made. There is a weird coincidence of counterbalancing errors in their list at the moment: they list 154 breweries, which looks similar to my (correct!) figure of 156 craft breweries, but the West Coaster list includes the five non-craft breweries, still lists several places that have closed, and doesn’t list several places that are now open. Their list of locations in planning is almost completely wrong. Their list of tasting rooms includes 29 spots (one of which has changed names, one of which recently became a brewery), but in fact there are 55. I don’t mean to denigrate West Coaster. I mean to brag! Keeping this list is hard, tedious work.
All of which is why I started keeping my own list. I rely on many different beer news outlets (especially West Coaster) plus social media. I can say with complete confidence that mine is the best, most complete and most accurate list of San Diego breweries and tasting rooms. Keeping it that way costs me a dozen hours a month, though. I publish a monthly summary of the stats, and that has been the thing I now get the most positive feedback on.
Neighborhood Beer Tours
About a year and a half into my blog, I first started publishing items that were not just reviews of locations. My tours of beer neighborhoods, designed for beer tourists but good for anyone wanting to get to know the beer in an area of the county, have been popular. I am going to make it a priority to finish all the neighborhood beer tours before the end of 2019. Even more popular have been my roundups of openings and closings of breweries. Along the way I’ve also thrown in a few other commentaries and write-ups of visits to beer festivals.
Coast News: Craft Beer in North County
I was flattered when Coast News recruited me to write a beer column for them. That started in May 2016, originally twice a month, but since June it has been weekly. They don’t pay much, but having a print distribution of 112k plus a solid online readership has been kind of cool. It hasn’t increased traffic to my blog much, disappointingly.
Speaking of 112k weekly print distribution and other readership, my official blog stats after three years are 34.4k unique monthly visitors and 76.4k pageviews. Slightly more than half of that has been in 2019, when the blog has been averaging 3850 pageviews per month. That is a gratifying number, especially compared to the first month of the blog that had just 424 pageviews.
Although I’ve recently fallen a bit out of the habit, I’ve copied most of my reviews to Yelp, where I get way more readers. Roughly 10k people per month read my Yelp reviews, and my photos on Yelp get close to a quarter million views every three months.
I get decent engagement rates from my almost-daily Instagram posts from my 1100 followers. I’d like that number to be larger, and increasing it will be a goal for 2020.
If you add all that up, my beer writing and photography is getting somewhere between 1.1 and 5.8 MILLION views per year (depending on what proportion of Coast News subscribers actually read the beer column). Heck, yeah. That’s way less than a lot of beer influencers. But even without Coast News I’m still getting over a million views per year, which is frankly an unbelievable number. I’m both shocked and reinvigorated.
Now that I’ve been to every brewery in San Diego County, what will this blog be about? What will I do? Is it over?
It is not over. I’ll keep going. My rate of posts will likely be three or four per month in 2020 (including the monthly summary of openings and closings) partly because I’ll be writing weekly for Coast News. I’ll do more re-visits. I’ll review new breweries and tasting rooms that open up: there are about 40 in the pipeline that I am aware of. I have plans for a major overhaul of the organization of the website, to make it easier to find content. That will foreground the neighborhood tours. I also have plans for a series on “best ____ in San Diego”: stouts, sours, browns, WCIPAs, etc. I got a new camera recently, so I’ll also be working on my beertography. I find myself wanting to post way more photos than is reasonable on one account, so I might start a second one. I think I have kind of killed my Twitter account by feeling obligated to like and retweet so much political content. We are in a national crisis, and beer is inherently political, so I don’t feel bad about it, but I do think it has limited my follower count and diminished my engagement from beer peeps. That could turn around once Trump is impeached and the 2020 election is over and we can all return to real life.