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Beer City documentary celebrates San Diego's liquid arts

New film offers anecdotes, science, and everything you ever wanted to know about Sculpin

Title card from the documentary Beer City: San Diego
Title card from the documentary Beer City: San Diego

A new documentary chronicles the history of brewing in San Diego, showcasing the ways the city became an outsized contributor to America’s craft beer culture.

Beer City: San Diego was made by Aubree Miller and Dave Wadsworth: she a local artist and creative director of Amplified Ale Works; he a Los Angeles-based television editor and producer with credits on several MTV properties.

True to that MTV pedigree, Beer City strikes a playful tone, employing quick cut visuals, a rock music soundtrack, and the willfully cheeseball voiceover narration of reality TV competitions. As on-camera host, Miller better brings more of a laid-back local vibe. She cruises the city to drink beer with a cast of characters central to local craft beer story, including brewers and owners from some of its largest — and smallest — breweries.

Their recollections offer an uncensored oral history of San Diego beer in the late 90s and early 2000s, Some of the broad strokes will be familiar to devoted San Diego craft enthusiasts, but there’s no shortage of compelling details. Such as former Ballast Point manager Larry Manasakanian recalling the effort of brewer Alex Tweet to keep fresh batches of Sculpin IPA tasting the same while tweaking the recipe to work around a hop shortage. Other highlights include AleSmith owner Peter Zien recalling the lengths he used to go to cultivate yeast for his homebrews, and the revelation that a cofounder of one of San Diego’s oldest breweries was previously an international underwear model.

Interviews are interwoven with animations outlining the brewing process, and the science behind the beverage characterized as a “work of art in a glass.” One of the film’s most interesting segments delves into the work of art outside the glass. Miller (who creates label artwork for Amplified Ale Works, digs into the inspirations and methods of artists responsible for the imagery behind iconic beer labels, including Paul Elder of Ballast Point and Sean Dominguez of Pizza Port and Lost Abbey. There’s a section where Cal State San Marcos beer historian Judith Downie relates San Diego (and Mexicali) beer history back to the late 19th century and through Prohibition.

Because Beer City has a lot of ground to cover in a lean 1 hour 15 minutes, it often jumps scattershot between subjects including literal departures to Denver, Colorado for the Great American Beer Festival, and a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, mainly to hear revered European brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø declare San Diego “the center of craft beer in the states.”

Fans of the liquid medium might agree.

Local premiere screening of Beer City: San Diego will take place at the Casbah on August 5, alongside performances of local bands featured in the film: Western Settings, Par Avion, and Low Volts.

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Title card from the documentary Beer City: San Diego
Title card from the documentary Beer City: San Diego

A new documentary chronicles the history of brewing in San Diego, showcasing the ways the city became an outsized contributor to America’s craft beer culture.

Beer City: San Diego was made by Aubree Miller and Dave Wadsworth: she a local artist and creative director of Amplified Ale Works; he a Los Angeles-based television editor and producer with credits on several MTV properties.

True to that MTV pedigree, Beer City strikes a playful tone, employing quick cut visuals, a rock music soundtrack, and the willfully cheeseball voiceover narration of reality TV competitions. As on-camera host, Miller better brings more of a laid-back local vibe. She cruises the city to drink beer with a cast of characters central to local craft beer story, including brewers and owners from some of its largest — and smallest — breweries.

Their recollections offer an uncensored oral history of San Diego beer in the late 90s and early 2000s, Some of the broad strokes will be familiar to devoted San Diego craft enthusiasts, but there’s no shortage of compelling details. Such as former Ballast Point manager Larry Manasakanian recalling the effort of brewer Alex Tweet to keep fresh batches of Sculpin IPA tasting the same while tweaking the recipe to work around a hop shortage. Other highlights include AleSmith owner Peter Zien recalling the lengths he used to go to cultivate yeast for his homebrews, and the revelation that a cofounder of one of San Diego’s oldest breweries was previously an international underwear model.

Interviews are interwoven with animations outlining the brewing process, and the science behind the beverage characterized as a “work of art in a glass.” One of the film’s most interesting segments delves into the work of art outside the glass. Miller (who creates label artwork for Amplified Ale Works, digs into the inspirations and methods of artists responsible for the imagery behind iconic beer labels, including Paul Elder of Ballast Point and Sean Dominguez of Pizza Port and Lost Abbey. There’s a section where Cal State San Marcos beer historian Judith Downie relates San Diego (and Mexicali) beer history back to the late 19th century and through Prohibition.

Because Beer City has a lot of ground to cover in a lean 1 hour 15 minutes, it often jumps scattershot between subjects including literal departures to Denver, Colorado for the Great American Beer Festival, and a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, mainly to hear revered European brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø declare San Diego “the center of craft beer in the states.”

Fans of the liquid medium might agree.

Local premiere screening of Beer City: San Diego will take place at the Casbah on August 5, alongside performances of local bands featured in the film: Western Settings, Par Avion, and Low Volts.

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