San Diego brewery finds ways to stand out in crowded craft beer market

August 07, 2023
Brewery owner Sean Haggerty standing in front of the tasting room bar
Former Navy SEAL Sean Haggerty owns Protector Brewery.

Veteran-owned Protector Brewery is one of a small number of breweries nationwide that make certified organic beer

Some people might think there are better places to open a new brewery than San Diego, a city with well over 150 craft beer breweries, some of them among the top-rated in the country. But Sean Haggerty saw the city as the perfect place to open Protector Brewery.

“A lot of San Diego breweries have put this town on the map, and they set the bar really high for good-quality craft beer,” Haggerty said. “I thought that doing it here would make our company better because our beers would be competing with some of the best in the world.”

Protector distinguishes itself from other breweries by appealing to two distinct customer bases that don’t necessarily overlap, he said.

First, it is veteran-owned – Haggerty is a former Navy SEAL – and embraces its ties to the military community through its brand imagery and beer names such as its flagship hazy IPA, Warfighter.

A Protector beer being poured into a glass

Those ties have helped Protector find an audience among San Diego’s sizable active military and veteran population, Haggerty said, as well as strike deals to sell its beers in military bases in San Diego, with plans to expand into military bases in Colorado and Florida.

The second customer base Protector caters to is people who want U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic beer. Haggerty’s wife, Cory, helped drive that focus.

“We are the first and only USDA certified organic brewery in San Diego,” he said. “Everything that goes into our products is 100 percent natural and nothing is synthetic.”

For a brewing facility to be certified organic, it must follow a host of USDA regulations not only for the primary ingredients like malt, hops, water and yeast but also for the minerals used to treat the water, the CO2 used to carbonate the beer, the chemicals used to clean brewing equipment and kegs, and more.

“Every ingredient has to have its own USDA-certified organic certificate and it has to be up-to-date,” Haggerty said. “You also get audited by a third party to maintain your organic certification.”

While the regulations can increase production costs and limit the ingredients Protector can use, and therefore the types of beer it can brew, maintaining its organic certification makes the brewery unique.

“When consumers see the USDA-certified organic stamp on something on the shelf, they know exactly what they’re getting, a clean and environmentally sustainable product,” he said.

That certification has helped Protector get its beers into Whole Foods, Sprouts and other grocery stores that specialize in organic foods, Haggerty said.

“Most of our canned products go in those types of stores, but we’ll sell to anybody who buys great craft beer, including Costco, Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions and other small markets,” he said.

Brewery owner Sean Haggerty standing in front of the tasting room bar
Haggerty with some of the fermentation tanks he purchased using equipment financing from U.S. Bank.

Protector opened in 2017 and started small, making about 90 barrels of beer its first year. It has grown steadily and now makes twice that many barrels per month, Haggerty said. (A barrel is 31 gallons of beer.)

To help with that growth, Protector obtained equipment financing from U.S. Bank.

“We got to a point where we were able to brew 30,000 beers a month but our demand was for 45,000 a month,” Haggerty said. “That’s where U.S. Bank stepped in and approved us for financing.”

Haggerty used the funding to buy more tanks and other equipment to help Protector increase its brewing capacity and meet that growing demand.

“We started filling those tanks immediately and started pushing out beer to our retailers shortly after that,” he said. “We just got another increase in the loan to get some extra equipment to keep pushing to service demand.”

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