San Diego is one of America’s craft beer capitals. Today, the southern California city (second largest in the state) is home to more than 60 breweries. Stone Brewing Co., Green Flash Brewing Co., Pizza Port Brewing Co., Lightning Brewery, Ballast Point Brewing Co. and AleSmith Brewing Co. are just a fistful of the excellent craft beer houses you can visit in the San Diego area.
The city has a rich history in localized brewing, and that has a lot to do with the strong, supportive web of like-minded brewers that all seem to know and support each other around town.
“All of this wealth of interconnected brewers has spawned what I think is one of the most compatriotic brewing environments in the United States,” explained Matthew Schiff, marketing director and curator at the San Diego History Center. “For example, [CEO and founder] Jack White from Ballast Point and [co-founder] Gina Marsaglia from Pizza Point both moonlighted as waiters and tour guides at Karl Strauss Brewing in the beginning. AleSmith was started by homebrewer Skip Virgilio who sold it to Peter Zien, who was a former QUAFF president [Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity, a homebrewers society based in San Diego]. Pizza Port purchased Stone’s first keg. One of the main ideas that is going to be present in this exhibit is how all these pioneer craft brewers were all interconnected in some way.”
Schiff is discussing (what we consider) the coolest new museum exhibit in America: Bottled & Kegged: San Diego’s Craft Brew Culture. Staring in April, The San Diego History Center, located in the heart of Balboa Park, will explore the ebb and flow of beer production in the San Diego region over the years and answer the question: Why is San Diego becoming such a nationally renowned region for craft beer production and innovation?
Beginning with the region’s earliest inhabitants to the present day, the exhibit highlights events and individuals who built a brewing industry where once there was none, kept an industry alive during prohibition and managed to bring back what, at one time, was one of the region’s most robust enterprises.
“The exhibit’s going to cover a number of learning outcomes,” explained Schiff. “They are in order: What is a craft beer? What is a craft brewer? Explain the brewing process. We talk about San Diego’s brewing history. Then we look at the proximity of Mexico during prohibition, and then ask how did San Diego become one of the leading regions in craft beer?”
The exhibit features many hands-on interactive elements that help explain the brewing process, how San Diego County brewers achieve such expansive flavor profiles and the science behind matching beers with food. Bottled & Kegged has components that speaks to audiences of all ages and will educate even the most avid craft beer lover.
The artifacts are super cool too, as a number of breweries in town have lent items. An art piece that takes every growler, bottle or glass from every brewery in San Diego County was made specifically for the exhibit. The exhibit will feature artifacts from Aztec Brewing Co., which in post prohibition years was San Diego’s largest brewery. Aztec brewery was famous for many things, one of which was its famous Rathskeller, a German word for a bar or restaurant located in the basement of a building.
“This was the region’s first real brewpub, and it was located in the brewery,” Schiff said. “Basically, it was a beer hall and the walls were decorated with ornate murals, woodcarvings and paintings depicting the Spanish conquest over the Aztecs. The artwork is highly valued, and it was made by Jose Moya del Pino. He has a number of famous paintings at UC Berkeley and the Biltmore Hotel. We have a couple of those items — a table, some of the paintings, some ceramic pieces and some chairs. So we’re sort of recreating the Rathskeller.”
The exhibit will even have a famous original brewhouse from Ballast Point — a 15-barrel system used to make Sculpin India Pale Ale. “I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Sculpin,” Schiff said, “but it’s widely regarded as one of the best pale ales on the planet, and that beer was born in these tanks.”
Perhaps the coolest idea is the Friday History Happy Hours, which will be starting May 27. At these over 21 events, visitors will actually be able to drink delicious craft beer while exploring the exhibit (for a mere price of $25 for nonmembers).
“You’ll get at least two tastings, a ticket to the museum, a tour of the exhibit and a talk with guest brewers,” Schiff said. “We’re going to try to make those talks varietal instead of brewery focused, so we’ll have nano night, our Belgium night or a sours night, stuff like that. It’s an important distinction to say it’s an all-ages exhibition, though we will do over 21 events, and there’s a number of spin off public and education events which can be found on our website on our public programs events calendar.”
The CBB crew hopes to make it out before the exhibit ends in January 2014. For more information, visit the San Diego History Center’s website.