Council Brewing is closing, while Benchmark Brewing is on the brink

A one-two punch staggered San Diego beer this week, as Council Brewing announced its demise and Benchmark Brewing declared it is seeking a buyer.

“I think a lot of this is over-saturation,” said Curtis Chism, co-founder of Council. “It’s a dogfight out there.”

Founded in May 2014, the Kearny Mesa-based Council first made its reputation with its unique sour beers. When more rivals began experimenting with sours, Council focused on producing India Pale Ales on a larger scale.

This year started strong for the husband-and-wife team — Liz Chism is Council’s brewmaster — and they opened a tasting room in Santee.

“Then,” Curtis Chism said, “starting in May our tasting room sales in Kearny Mesa fell 25 percent, and in Santee 35 percent. We were losing about $20,000 a month.”

Santee will close Dec. 14, and Kearny Mesa on Dec. 15. Until then, sales of bottled and canned beers at both places will benefit the San Diego Food Bank. A farewell party is planned for 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Kearny Mesa tasting room, 7705 Convoy Court.

At Benchmark, co-owner Rachael Akin estimates that the brewery has less than a week to raise at least $60,000 to settle a dispute with the landlord of its brewery in the Grantville neighborhood.

If necessary, the brewery will sell. “We are open to all possibilities,” said Akin, who founded Benchmark five years ago with her husband, Matt. “We want to do whatever we can to make sure Benchmark moves into the future.”

In 2017, Benchmark hired Karl Strauss to distribute its beers. Despite an award-winning history — it has two Great American Beer Festival medals to its credit — the brewery lost ground in an increasingly crowded market.

“We made about 500 barrels of beer this year,” Akin said. “That’s less than we made the first year we were open.”

Benchmark recently switched distributors, hiring Chula Vista’s Brown Bag Beverage. It also opened a tasting room in Bay Park this summer.

Although there are almost 160 breweries in the county, this is a close-knit community. News of the two breweries’ travails shook up colleagues.

“This is really disheartening,” said Scot Blair, owner of Hamilton’s Tavern and South Park Brewing. “Those are two really great breweries.

“We’re over-saturated. This is no longer a rising tide that lifts all ships.”

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