The San Diego History Center (1649 El Prado, #3, Balboa Park) is trading in tuna cans for beer bottles. They’ve transformed the space that recently housed an exhibit paying homage to San Diego’s tuna fishing roots into the home of an exhibit telling the tale of the history of craft brewing in our county. Having collaborated with the exhibit’s curator, sat in on planning meetings, and watched the hard work brewing company personnel have put into unearthing and donating sudsy artifacts, I was certain this was going to be something special. And the SDHC did not disappoint.
Yesterday afternoon, I toured the site, camera in hand, to see how things were shaping up on the eve of the debut of *Bottled & Kegged: San Diego’s Craft Brew Culture*. The individuals involved have poured their heart and soul into the project to tell the story of our region’s thriving brewing industry’s past, present, and future in a way that’s tasteful, yet as fun as it should be. This is beer we’re talking about after all!
Whether you're a fan of the elder statesmen like Karl Strauss Brewing Company or Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits; are high on rookies like Societe or Rough Draft; prefer your beers from nanobrewies the likes of Indian Joe or Wet ‘N Reckless; or are looking to find out more about companies that were big early on but went out of business like Bolt Brewing or the original Aztec Brewing Company; every player in the rich tapestry that is our county’s sudsy past are represented, in many cases with tangible pieces of their individual history.
Stone and Karl Strauss have donated numerous tap handles, bottles, and other items, many so obscure even the most obsessed beer geeks never knew they existed. Ballast Point took things to the next level, moving the brewhouse from their original brewing space in the back of Home Brew Mart to the exhibit. Having once assailed it to add pine nuts during a brew in its natural environment, it’s almost eerie to see it in a museum setting, but undeniably cool. The SDHC crew also managed to track down artifacts from Aztec Brewing Company, many from a North County resident with a collection of ABC memorabilia so robust it could make for its own exhibit. Most impressive is the presence of furniture and a large painting taken from the original ABC rathskeller (a German term to describe an underground place to congregate to consume food and beverage), San Diego’s first such sampling space.
Other items of note are ancient cans (including a glass growler with the words "Balboa Fizz Water" painted on it…San Diego’s original version of fizzy, yellow beer?), an old timey saloon façade, a section telling the story of the beer scene in Mexico and how the businesses that comprised it benefited from Prohibition, and a bar set up for serving beer. That’s right. You’ll be able to drink at this exhibit. Not all the time, but the last Friday of every month beginning in May. During those History Happy Hours, the SDHC will invite several breweries into the space to share their wares with a public thirsty for quality beer and knowledge.
In putting Bottled & Kegged together, the SDHC leaned on a number of industry insiders. One of them, Sheldon Kaplan, proved extremely helpful. Last year, Kaplan released a film documentary all about the history of brewing in San Diego County. Clips from that detailed cinematic piece, Suds County USA, will be played at multiple locations throughout the exhibit. San Diego's homebrew culture is also rightfully represented, particularly the county's largest amateur brewing faction, QUAFF (Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity). There is a large display on the north wall that shows the process of brewing. Next to that is sample homebrewing equipment as well as see-and-sniff samples of beer's four main ingredients: hops, malted barley, yeast, and water.
It’s a one-of-a-kind exhibit that the SDHC is billing as the largest of its kind anywhere. Our county is overdue for a tribute to what has become one of its calling cards and most exciting, quickly growing industries. I’m glad the SDHC recognized that and, more importantly, went the extra mile to make sure the brewers who contributed to this rising tide—past and present—receive the thorough and dignified retrospective and salute they so greatly deserve. Bottled & Kegged will run through January of next year.