HBC unveils ‘Marriage Equality’ beer

Hillcrest brewery toasts to same-sex marriage legislation nationwide

Morgan M. Hurley | Uptown Assistant Editor

Two years ago, just before San Diego’s 38th annual Pride celebration, MO’s Universe launched its fourth property in the shadow of the new 60’ Pride flag: the Hillcrest Brewing Company (HBC) at the corner of University Avenue and Normal Street.

Touted as the first LGBT brewery in the world — a claim that no one has tried to dispute since — HBC has quickly become a gathering place for craft beer-loving locals both gay and straight, with its standard carry of eight brewed-on-site small batch beers along with a dozen other brands also on tap.

Earlier this year, HBC gained mainstream media attention when Interim Mayor Todd Gloria used its beer in a friendly bet with the mayor of Cincinnati during an NFL playoff game between the Chargers and the Bengals. Then just last month, HBC’s U-Hawle Hefe was the featured libation at Linda Perry’s star-studded event for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, “An Evening With Women.”

Pride 14 Marriage Equality Awareness Beer LabelLast year the brewery launched its first annual Pride beer, a drinkable, low-alcohol, limited-edition brew meant to commemorate pride season. Called Pride ’13, the inaugural beer was a Session IPA, also called an Extra Pale Ale.

“Session stands for ‘multiple in a session,’ so they’re not going to get you too drunk,” said HBC’s head brewmaster Austin Copeland, adding that standard practice for a session beer is 5 percent alcohol or less.

Austin Copeland, HBC’s head brewmaster, is excited about the launch of Pride ’14, a recipe he and his assistant James Fox came up with (Courtesy MO’s Universe)

“Pride ‘13 was designed so that people that come to visit San Diego for Pride and came to the brewery, weren’t bombarded with something dark or too hoppy,” said Eddie Reynoso, MO’s Universe marketing and public relations director. “We also want them to enjoy Pride and not get trashed.”

Management at MO’s Universe had long hoped to put this year’s limited-edition pride beer in the White House later this month, during their LGBT Pride celebration on June 28, just two days after the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to rescind Prop 8 on June 26. Unfortunately, the powers that be shifted the rules for sending products to the White House, but in this case, San Diego still wins.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of marriage equality in California, as well as the advances in marriage equality across the nation since that date last year, HBC just released Pride ‘14: Marriage Equality Belgian Session Ale.

Another limited edition product, Copeland said 27 kegs of the Belgian Session Ale have been produced so far, with 27 more on the way. They expect sales to last through the summer.

HBC Brewmaster Austin Copeland (Courtesy MO's Universe)

HBC Brewmaster Austin Copeland (Courtesy MO’s Universe)

“If it goes well we might have to brew a third,” Copeland said.

Copeland and his new assistant James Fox came up with the Pride ’14 recipe, a blend that is easily drinkable, but unique in its style.

“I wanted to do something that was nice and light and crisp that had a good finish that would be a perfect summer beer, but also something that was a little different,” he said.

“Our Pride ’14 beer is a great way to raise awareness around the country with people being more and more on board with marriage equality,” said Joey Arruda, co-owner and general manager of HBC. “The feedback has been awesome. People like it. They like the lightness and the flavor, the sweetness to it.”

Joey Arruda, co-owner and general manager of HBC (Courtesy MO’s Universe)

HBC co-owner and general manager Joey Arruda (Courtesy MO's Universe)

HBC co-owner and general manager Joey Arruda (Courtesy MO’s Universe)

Copeland said the beer has a low-hop profile, with all of its noble-style hops from a region of Germany near Belgium, and a “clean pilsner malt base.” He’s never seen a Belgian session, so this brew is truly unique.

On Thursday, June 26, HBC will have an official launch party for the beer, with staff dressed in wedding garb, Pride ’14 t-shirt giveaways while supplies last, and a complimentary toast to marriage equality.

Pride ’14 is currently only available at HBC and other MO’s Universe locations, but after the official launch, the beer will be available to other bars through distribution.

The beer’s label was designed to promote all the states where marriage equality has become legal, although according to Eddie Reynoso, MO’s Universe marketing and public relations director, state-wide bans on same-sex marriage are dropping so fast, they’ve had trouble keeping up.

Reynoso said a large amount of the proceeds from the sale of Pride ’14 will go to local and and other nonprofits that support the march for marriage equality. MO’s Universe will be matching up to $20 thousand in cash donations and offering in kind donations to local LGBT events.

Copeland, who first joined HBC as brewery assistant at the company’s launch in July of 2012, took over for former head brewmaster David White this past October. Prior to joining HBC, Copeland was a self-described “beer nerd” and is truly a home-brewer success story.

“I actually worked at the DA’s office,” he said of his former full-time career. “I traded law for brewing. It’s now long weeks, long days, and a lot of work, but I love every minute of it.”

Before stepping up to the top spot, Copeland was already putting his personal touches on the beer menu, personally creating recipes for U-Hawle Hefe, the Blond Ale, and the Double IPA Hopsucker.

The San Diego native has been a lifelong ally of the community and feels in many ways the opportunity to work at HBC was very serendipitous.

“I don’t want to say fate or the universe willed it or not, but my dad was gay and grew up in San Diego,” he said. “He owned a salon Downtown and he died of AIDS in the early ‘90s back during the crisis.

“One of the big things I’ve wanted to do once I became head brewer was to make Steve’s Imperial Red Ale — a Red Ribbon AIDS beer — for World AIDS Day.”

The brewery has lots of other things planned, mostly after Pride season has come and gone, but expect them to be getting much more interactive with their customers regarding tastings, infusions and experimenting.

“We are such a small brewery but we want to pull back on some of the stuff we have right now and then make certain things seasonal so we can bring in the Pride beers, the Austin’s AIDS beer in December, and other styles that are out there,” Arruda said, citing the Long and Stout as an example. The popular dark beer was recently put on hiatus until the fall since it is not traditionally a summer beer. That frees up their taps for other options but some have missed it.

“Its just about getting people used to the idea,” he said. “It keeps people interested.”

The Pride ’14 Launch Party will be Thursday, June 26 starting at 7 p.m. at Hillcrest Brewing Company, located at 1458 University Ave. For more information, visit


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