San Diego brewers from several local breweries gathered at Burgeon Beer Co. to produce Capital of Craft IPA, the official brew of San Diego Beer Week.
When covid-19 shut down San Diego beer venues in March, most of us gave little thought to how the pandemic might affect San Diego Beer Week, nearly eight months in the future. Now that the time has arrived, it’s obvious the usual spate of festivals and crowded taproom gatherings could not take place in the midst of our new normal.
Nevertheless, the 12th edition of San Diego Beer Week will go on, taking place from November 6 to 15. It’s just going to look a bit different this year.
To begin with, the long week will neither kick off with the regularly scheduled Guild Fest, nor will it close with the usual Beer Garden beer and food pairing festival. While reduced capacity, socially distanced events will be hosted on a brewery to brewery basis, much of the focus will shift to canned beer releases and virtual events, allowing fans to celebrate and support their favorite beermakers without exposing themselves to potential superspreader situations.
While the lack of festivals may take a bit of the shine off beer week’s celebratory vibe, the biggest impact of their absence will be felt by the San Diego Brewer Guild, which spearheads the annual happening. The local guild has historically relied on festivals to support its mission to promote its brewery members, using the funds to cover costs of admin, office space, web services, photography and videography.
Unable to produce its annual festivals this year — including Rhythm & Brews, a spring beer and music festival held in North County — the guild has had to look for other ways to support itself. Especially considering its board decided to waive annual dues — its other source of funding — in deference to business struggles brought by the pandemic.
Fortunately, the board had a head start brainstorming ideas. Current Guild president Kris Anacleto, who represents Booze Brothers Brewing Co., says discussions about how to shift away from the festival model actually started in February, before the potential for a shutdown was on anybody’s radar. Rather, it was a response to the fact beer festivals had become a near weekly occurrence in San Diego, pre-pandemic. Beer festivals were still expensive to produce, but they no longer felt special enough to attract fans in large numbers.
“It’s no secret that there are so many festivals, people were getting festival fatigue,” says Anacleto, “They’ve been harder to keep profitable over the years.”
For last year’s Beer Week, the Guild dropped a VIP festival from its lineup. And though it would have produced its three remaining events this year under normal circumstances, the board decided to start a transition to a different model.
“More hyper focused events,” explains Anacleto. “Small events, which are easier to curate, to bring in smaller amounts of money more often.”
As this year progressed, this plan was put into action beginning with biweekly Hops + Harvest beer dinner series. Partnering with caterer MIHO Catering Co., the events feature a take home four course dinner paired with a four pack of beers curated by a local brewery. In a video posted online, the chef and brewer discuss the concepts and flavors behind each pairing.
The dinner series began in September with Societe Brewing, and subsequent dinner pairings have been offered through Second Chance Beer, The Lost Abbey, and Pure Project.
For beer week, the Brewers Guild’s main event will be an amped up version of the Hops + Harvest series. In coordination with Burgeon Beer, the November 7 event will include the option for a four- or five-course dinner pairing (the fifth course being a dessert paired with a barrel aged stout). The dinner and beer pairings can be delivered, or picked up at Burgeon’s brewery in Carlsbad. In addition to the usual pairing video, the dinner includes free access to a virtual concert hosted by The Casbah rock venue, returning a sense of celebratory fun to the virtual beer party concept.
The 2020 edition of beer week kicks off November 6 with a 7pm county-wide toast, ideally while drinking the Guild’s annual beer week collaboration Capital of Craft IPA. A beer finder will show you where to find the seven-brewery collaboration beer. Additional events may be found on the Brewers Guild calendar.