Lauren Duffy Lastowka
A little over three years ago, a curious logo began popping up around pubs and restaurants across town. It started on flyers, migrated to coasters, and eventually beamed down from posters and chalkboard art. Its design was stark and minimalist, it’s message clear: a golden pint of beer set in a plain black crest, surrounded by four bold, promising letters: SDBW.
As the months went by, the logo was joined by a website and a twitter feed, and those four letters began to pop up in every craft beer email newsletter around town. Plans were laid. The anticipation grew. If you were intrigued when the logo first appeared, by late October you were downright giddy. For the first time, SDBW—San Diego Beer Week—was actually happening.
Now, with the third SDBW just weeks away, the anticipation is just as strong, although admittedly less mysterious. We know what SDBW means by now: rare beer releases, multi-course beer pairing dinners and creative, cross-industry collaborations. Knowing what past years have entailed, many craft beer fans are more excited than ever.
SDBW this year spans Nov. 4–13, a strategic ten-day stretch that, as always, includes two weekends and takes quite a bit of liberty with the definition of “week.” The two biggest events are planned for each of the weekends, both sponsored by the San Diego Brewers’ Guild and, if last year was any indication, both worth attending.
The Brewers’ Guild festival on Saturday, Nov. 5, is the official kick off for Beer Week. It takes place on the outdoor grounds of Liberty Station, which last year proved wonderfully spacious despite a sold-out crowd. This is one of San Diego’s most well-represented beer festivals, with all 32 brewery members of the SD Brewers Guild pouring their flagship as well as specialty beers. Last year, food truck vendors such as Phil’s BBQ and Miho Gastrotruck were on hand to accompany the liquid libations, as were beer-friendly companies such as TapHunter, PubCakes, and Doggie Beer Bones. This year, the festival will also play host to the 94.9 KBZT Anniversary Bash, headlined by the Bloody Hollies and Matthew Sweet. (If “Girlfriend” just popped into your head reading that, just think about how good that drum solo will sound after a few beers.)
The festival goes from 1 to 5 p.m., with a well worth it VIP session starting at 11 a.m. Tickets are $35 or $55 for the VIP session, which includes a pre-festival food-and-beer pairing featuring Brewers’ Guild allied restaurants and pubs such as Live Wire and Hamilton’s.
If rocking your palate is more appealing than rocking your eardrums, you may want to nab tickets to the second official Brewers’ Guild’s event: The Beer Garden. Hosted by the Lodge at Torrey Pines, this Sunday afternoon event is the official close to beer week, and showcases San Diego’s most talented chefs, pulling out all the stops to pair dishes with local beers. The pairings are wildly creative and decadent, way beyond what you’ll find on an average night at a beer-friendly establishment. Here’s just one of the twelve beer-and-food pairings from last year: Stone World Bistro and Gardens’ roast California squab with walnut waffle, duck liver mousse, fig compote and pomegranate gastrique paired with a rare barrel-aged imperial smoked brown from Coronado Brewing Company. If you have yet to experience the best San Diego chefs when they get their hands on beer, you best buy a ticket to this event.
The Beer Garden takes place on Nov. 13, from noon to 3 p.m. Tickets are $65, and like other beer week events, will likely sell out far in advance.
Aside from these two bookending celebrations, my favorite feature of San Diego Beer Week is the often-overwhelming diversity of the event schedule. Individual breweries, bars, restaurants, and organizations are invited to collaborate with each other, create their own events, and add their event listings to the general schedule. The result is an exciting and enormously wide range of festivities that caters to every taste, level of formality and budget. Last year there were over 400 events.
Take, for example, the very first night of beer week, Nov. 4. You can head over to the Regal Beagle for pint night with Coronado Brewing Company, where less than $20 will get you a Coronado pint glass to keep, a pint of Idiot IPA and a sausage made especially to pair with Coronado beers. It will be crowded, but likely low key, and the food and beer will both be excellent. Or, you could step it up a notch and head over to O’Briens, where you’ll undoubtedly stand in line among fellow beer geeks, but your patience will be rewarded with over 10 Alpine beers, including the coveted barrel-aged Token imperial porter and the rarely seen Exponential Hoppiness and Bad Boy double IPA. If you’re feeling a bit more refined, there are not one but three different beer-pairing dinners planned for this evening. It’s a tough choice between seven courses at Local Habit with Stone Brewing Co. and five courses at Mistral featuring Lost Abbey. I mean, who can choose between a bacon chocolate terrine made to pair with Stone’s collaboration Cherry Chocolate Stout or marinated beef short ribs slathered with a sauce made from Lost Abbey’s Judgment Day? And this is just the first day of beer week!
As you can see, strategy is everything. You will miss out on some exceptional experiences. You won’t be able to taste it all. But with a little advance planning and some heavy prioritization, you can craft a beer week schedule that will ensure your week is eye opening and palate-tantalizing, and not too crazy (unless you want it to be). To get started, head over to www.sdbw.org events to read through the schedule for each day, but keep in mind that events will continue to be added up until beer week itself. Be sure to make reservations or buy tickets for anything that looks like it could sell out, such as beer pairing dinners, the Brewers’ Guild Festival and the Beer Garden. And when SDBW rolls around, thank your lucky stars that you live in a city this fond of beer, and enjoy!