The craft brewery is quickly becoming a community staple like your library, grocery store and coffee shop

Josh Reyes, a tour guide at The Bruery in Placentia, pours glasses of beers for customers attending a tour of the brewery.
Josh Reyes, a tour guide at The Bruery in Placentia, pours glasses of beers for customers attending a tour of the brewery. JOSH MORGAN — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Angel City Brewery in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles, CA. on Thursday, August 10, 2017.
Angel City Brewery in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles, CA. on Thursday, August 10, 2017. DEAN MUSGROVE — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Admit it, pessimists: the craft beer movement has defied your gloomy predictions.

A year or two ago, even supporters of the dozens of neighborhood breweries that have popped up all over Southern California were predicting the movement had reached its apex. Surely we would see a die-off. There can’t be that many fans of double IPAs, Imperial stouts and sour beers.

But the growth continues. And many craft breweries that fail quickly re-open under new ownership and brew masters.

Nationally, the news is just as positive. A March, 2017 report from the Brewers Association estimates that craft beer now claims 12.3 percent of the overall market share by volume in the U.S. In 2016 there were more than 5,300 breweries in the country, and they produced 24.6 million barrels of brew, a 6 percent increase over 2015.

The revenue numbers look even rosier. In 2016, craft beer sales rose 10 percent to $23.5 billion, representing 21.9 percent market share.

According to Beverage Dynamics, a national magazine for beer retailers, consumers’ tastes and habits are evolving, and that helps keep the movement strong. Some recent trends: Beer fans crave new flavors and are increasingly willing to broaden their horizons; mega-brand loyalty is fading; bars and restaurants have greatly expanded their craft beer offerings; consumers are willing to pay more for beer, even if they’re consuming it at home; canned craft beer is becoming more popular.

A new normal is emerging in which every community has its own local brews — ironically, much like the beer industry was a century ago before Prohibition and repeal, consolidation, and modern methods of preservation and distribution changed everything. Like the slow food movement, craft beer taps into feelings of community pride and enlightened consumerism: supporting a local product, choosing freshness and authenticity over convenience and slick marketing, and cherishing a place where people gather to socialize, kick back and mingle with friends and neighbors.

• Map: The big beer map of Southern California

We’ve taken a deep dive into craft breweries throughout Southern California and made some surprising discoveries. They’re the perfect business to revitalize neighborhoods and give new life to old buildings. In many cases, they act as catalysts for community involvement. And they often draw in the performing arts, galleries and other things that improve a neighborhood’s quality of life.

Here’s a look at craft breweries region by region.

FINALLY, CRAFT BEER FLOWS FREELY IN O.C.

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Not long ago, if you lived in Orange County and wanted to dive deeply into the bubbling subculture of craft beer, you had to head north to L.A. or, better yet, south to San Diego, one of the nation’s best places for artisanal suds.

Not anymore. These days, Orange County is awash in an ocean of locally brewed beer.

• Read More: The top 10 breweries in Orange County

Over the last few years, the ranks of craft breweries have swollen from a handful to well over 30. And north Orange County, especially Anaheim, has established itself as a key part of the movement, although wherever you live in O.C. you’re probably no more than a short drive away from a tasty brew served in the place where it was born.

This is relatively new. For a long time it seemed Orange County might sit out the craft beer trend.

There were a few bright spots, such as The Bruery in Placentia, which quickly established a national reputation with beer nerds after it opened in 2008. And local brewpubs such as TAPS Fish House & Brewery and Newport Beach Brewing Company turned out respectable beer to go with their food.

But there was a huge bump on the road to craft-beer nirvana. O.C. beer makers operated under irksome local regulations that, they say, made it hard for a full-blown beer scene to take off.

The situation finally improved in 2014, when Orange County health officials relinquished oversight of beer-making operations to California’s public health department, the state agency that regulates breweries in Los Angeles and San Diego counties among other places. The switch eliminated upfront fees and restaurant-style inspections for local beer makers, sparking an upturn in local craft brewery openings.

Anaheim has become the unofficial headquarters of O.C.’s craft-beer movement thanks to its mayor, Tom Tait, who’s a big fan and, like any astute politician, saw an opportunity to make his town a beer haven. “I like what (the craft beer industry) does to a community. It brings people together, creates a social network and social infrastructure,” Tait told the Register in 2016.

Thanks to Tait’s efforts, the city has significantly reduced the need for a conditional use permit. And Tait was the one who lobbied county officials to have the state’s Department of Public Health oversee the vetting process for new craft breweries.

If you think the proof is in the prizes, then you’ll be happy to know that O.C.’s best brews are taking national awards. In 2016 alone, contest-winning beer came from The Bruery, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery in Brea, Riip Beer Co. in Huntington Beach, Noble Ale Works and Bottle Logic Brewing in Anaheim, TAPS Fish House & Brewery in Brea, Tustin Brewing Company, and Pizza Port and Artifex Brewing in San Clemente.

—Paul Hodgins

L.A. AND SOUTH BAY BREWERIES IMPROVE THE NEIGHBORHOOD

The quality and quantity of craft breweries in Los Angeles County is at an all-time high and their rise hasn’t just meant higher-quality beers — in many cases it has translated into improved neighborhoods.

“We have seen growth of 33 percent in the last year,” said Frances Guzman, executive director of the Los Angeles Brewers’ Guild. “We had 44 breweries (countywide) last year; we’re currently at 60.”

Kid-friendly and in most cases dog-friendly, too, breweries see themselves as community hubs that in some cases are redefining neighborhoods. Several breweries have pushed along revitalization efforts by reviving massive unused or underused spaces and bringing new residents and money into neighborhoods.

• Read more: The top 10 breweries in Los Angeles County

In San Pedro, the recently opened Brouwerij West transformed a cavernous 25,000-square foot World War II-era Navy warehouse at the Port of Los Angeles into a brewery and busy taproom where concerts and other events are frequently presented.

And in the rapidly transforming downtown Arts District there are now seven production breweries within walking distance, up from just one three years ago.

Angel City Brewing and Iron Triangle revamped large and empty industrial warehouses to create breweries and tap rooms, while nearby Arts District Brewing turned the former Crazy Gideon electronic shop into its busy headquarters.

Even the blue-collar burgs of Inglewood, Hawthorne and Carson now boast breweries, while the Antelope Valley has four; however, none have popped up in trendy areas such as Hollywood and Culver City.

“Not only do we have a lot of territory, but a lot of municipal and cultural hubs,” Guzman said. “There are a lot of untapped markets we have yet to expand into.

“I think growth will stay on a similar trajectory for the next couple of years.”

—Nick Green and Richard Guzman

BREWERIES STILL BUBBLING UP INLAND

Is there an end in sight to the brewery boom?

The (two-county) region went from having just a few breweries a decade ago to nearly 60 today — technically, 56, with three set to open in the near future.

“I really think that the Inland Empire is catching up,” said Melissa Fisher, who opened Escape Craft Brewery in Redlands with her husband Josh two-and-a-half years ago.

Among the hottest locales is Rancho Cucamonga, where Hamilton Family Brewery was the first operation in the city a little more than three years ago. Today, there are four more, with another, Solorio Brewing Co., scheduled to open by the end of the month and two more in the planning stages.

• Read More: The top 10 breweries in the Inland Empire.

While the pace has slowed slightly, new breweries are still appearing.

Among them are Rescue Brewing Co., which opened in Upland in June and Murrieta’s Inland Wharf Brewing Co., which started serving its cask-conditioned ales in February.

Southwest Riverside County has become a particular destination for beer lovers, with a few businesses sprouting up to offer tours of the area’s dozen-plus breweries around Temecula and Murrieta.

The city of Riverside realized the positive economic potential of the small brewery business and about five years ago adopted policies to encourage new breweries. As a result, Riverside has become another brewery hub and is now home to eight currently-operating breweries.

San Bernardino and Riverside Counties are also attracting outposts of breweries rooted elsewhere in Southern California. Bootlegger’s Brewery, which started in Fullerton, expanded to Redlands in January, and two San Diego-based breweries, Karl Strauss and Ballast Point, opened locations in Temecula.

Existing breweries are developing their operations as well.

In Riverside, Thompson Brewing Company, which debuted in 2013, is currently in the process of opening a two-story brewpub across the street from its old location.

The relocation didn’t leave a void, however. Thompson’s former home was sold and is now operating as Route 30 Brewing Company.

Corona’s Skyland Ale Works, which opened in late 2014, has already outgrown its original location and recently moved to a much larger spot across the industrial park.

As with Thompson’s, Skyland’s old operation has been sold and a new brewery will take shape in the coming months.

Escape in Redlands is expanding into a space next door, which will give them a larger patio and storage.

And as the breweries grow patrons are seeking an expanded selection on tap.

“It’s not all about your traditional straightforward beers,” Fisher said.

When people come in, they want to know what’s new and what’s different.

“The new craft drinker is very experimental,” she said.

—John Plessel and Vanessa Franko

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About the Authors

John Plessel

John Plessel is Systems Editor for the Sun Newspaper and also blogs for Dine 909 and Beer Goggles. Reach the author at jplessel@scng.com or follow John on Twitter: dine909.

Nick Green

Reporter covering Torrance, Lomita, Rolling Hills Estates, Palos Verdes Estates. Nick also covers soccer as a sports columnist. Reach the author at nick.green@dailybreeze.com or follow Nick on Twitter: @lasoccerblog @NickGreen007.

Richard Guzman

Richard Guzman covers Arts and Entertainment for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, where he writes about art, theater, music and food. He is a graduate of CSU Northridge with a degree in journalism. Richard grew up in Los Angeles and has written about food, pop culture and art in the area. He has two young children and in his spare time enjoys riding his motorcycle and hiking. Reach the author at riguzman@scng.com or follow Richard on Twitter: @Richword.