San Diego History Center kicks off ‘Year of Craft Beer’ with tastings, ‘Bottled & Kegged’ exhibition
By Monica Garske | SDUN Reporter
San Diego’s renowned craft-beer scene may have boomed in recent years, but the history behind that local craft-brew culture is just as rich as its resurgence.
To celebrate the past, present and future of San Diego’s beer culture, the San Diego History Center (SDHC) located at 1649 El Prado in Balboa Park has declared 2013 the “Year of Craft Beer.”
To that end, there are several beer-related happenings brewing at the museum, including the Taste of San Diego Craft Brews 2013 event on Saturday, Feb. 16 that features 11 San Diego brewers – including masters from Stone Brewing Co., Ballast Point and North Park’s Ritual Tavern – discussing and pouring their craft concoctions.
The tasting on Feb. 16 is in part to help launch SDHC’s main event: “Bottled & Kegged: San Diego’s Craft Brew Culture,” an exhibition dedicated entirely to the history and intricacies of the craft brewing culture, industry and process.
The exhibition officially opens April 5 and will run through Jan. 20, 2014.
Matthew Schiff, curator of “Bottled & Kegged,” said the interactive exhibition is designed to appeal to both craft beer aficionados and novices alike.
“We’re looking to capture all types of audiences by telling the interesting story of craft brewing in San Diego,” Schiff said. “Our goal is to create an educational experience while exploring the past and present history of craft brewing, and what the future may hold.”
Schiff said the display will cover five main categories pertaining to craft beer.
Visitors will learn the basics of what makes a craft beer, the history of craft brewing, steps of the brewing process, history of prohibition in San Diego, the role of Mexico in local craft culture and why San Diego has become a hotbed for craft beer.
This story will be told through a number of hands-on, interactive elements, Schiff said, including a 500-gallon brew house, a hops smelling and touching station, dozens of photographs and a carefully outlined brew history timeline.
“We’ll also have a beer glass matching game … where visitors can try matching different types of craft beer to different glasses. By playing the game, they’ll learn why certain beers are served in certain glasses,” he said. “That should be a lot of fun.”
While Schiff could not divulge every detail about the upcoming exhibition, he did reveal a few tidbits about San Diego’s craft brewing history that might surprise even the biggest beer lovers.
For one, Schiff said the very first brewer ever to make beer in San Diego was an Austrian named Conrad Doblier. His methods were comprised of everything craft brewing entails.
“The definition of a craft brewer is someone who’s small, independent and traditional in their method. That’s exactly what Mr. Doblier did; he brewed independently and in small batches,” Schiff said.
Another surprising fact is that after prohibition ended, San Diego was responsible for producing 25 percent of California’s beer supply until national conglomerates like Coors, Miller and Anheuser-Busch tapped into the market and edged out local brewers, Schiff said, adding that until then, the city’s proximity to the United States-Mexico border made bootlegging a viable option for local brewers.
In 1953, commercial brewing in San Diego seized entirely and stayed that way until the revival of homebrewing and craft brewing in 1987, Schiff said.
“Current craft history really only dates back to 1987 but if we look further into the past, we begin to understand the rise, fall and revival of it all,” he said.
Today, Schiff said, craft beer culture in San Diego is thriving and more robust than ever thanks to dozens of dedicated, passionate craft brewers.
“San Diego brewers have created one big craft beer family,” he said. “They work together to enrich the culture. They see one another as compatriots, rather than competitors.”
In addition to the displays in “Bottled & Kegged,” Schiff said the exhibition will also feature “History Happy Hours,” a monthly beer-tasting event highlighting a local brewer.
The tastings – which are slated to begin in June – will be included with admission into the exhibition, and will likely boast themes centered on different beer varietals. Schiff said they will be held on Fridays, as an end-of-the-week happy hour.
In the end, Schiff said he hopes visitors to “Bottled & Kegged” walk away from the exhibition with a true appreciation for craft beer and excitement about where the local craft boom is headed.
“Maybe it will spark interest in homebrewing for those who’ve always wanted to try it, or maybe it will spark new business ideas for craft beer lovers. Either way, we hope to show people the growing economic impact of the craft beer industry for San Diego and how local beer tourism is becoming a real entity,” he said.
Tickets for the Feb. 16 Taste of San Diego Craft Brews start at $45, and will benefit the educational programs at the museum. VIP ticket holders can attend a special pairings-workshop from 5 – 6 p.m. General admission begins at 6 p.m., and the event lasts until 9 p.m. For more information visit sandiegohistory.org/beer or call 619-232-6203.