Getting to know: San Diego Brewing Co.

In many cases, age, maturity and longevity is simply an excuse grasped by younger people to justify what they would like to see as a widening gap between their own youth and what is, in fact, nothing more than an aging youthfulness. And never the twain shall meet. However, there is also a counter-argument that suggests the wet behind the ears, hipster youth is adept at living in the here-and-now, but at the expense of some basic fundamentals, the long-established core principals of beer.

Youth, energy and vitality are important in the world of beer to maintain the equilibrium, to anticipate the next generations of beers. However, having age and experience is not only an important counterbalance that maintains a firm footing in tradition, but it also allows a brewery to retain focus on a well-rounded portfolio of beers that does not veer off into the unrecoverable realm of trendiness ahead of substance and quality.

Any beer endeavour based on shifting foundations that lack a firm footing in a story of beer that has taken many hundreds of years to write will certainly be swept away in the first storm to blow its way.

San Diego Brewing Co. celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2018, yet its heritage goes back a long, long way, to an age of pre-Prohibition. In fact, the first San Diego Brewing Co. operation would have celebrated its own 25th anniversary in brewing in 1921, had Prohibition not put an end to its beer activities the previous year. Between 1896 and 1920, the San Diego Brewing Co. was one of the largest manufacturing businesses in San Diego county, distributing beer through the city, state and southwestern United States. As one of San Diego’s original breweries, its size and status grew with the acquisition of several other pre-Prohibition breweries, such as the Mission Brewery that once operated from the now-historic Mission Brewery Plaza.

The San Diego Consolidated Brewing Co. — rebranded in step with its growth — was one of the fortunate few breweries to survive Prohibition and reopen in the mid ‘30s, although its tenure in a beer-landscape that had changed forever was short-lived, and by the early ‘40s it was gone. The name remaining dormant until 1993, when it was reborn, phoenix-like, to once again be at the forefront of a boom time for beer, to be at the forefront of a beer scene that would name San Diego as the “Craft Beer Capital of America.”

‘West Coast’ is a term synonymous with the US craft beer boom, and from its west coast location San Diego was certainly at the beating heart of a movement. As one of the original handful of breweries present at the birth of the West Coast Style of beer that conquered the world, it would be amiss not to place San Diego Brewing Co. in a position of pivotal importance in the transition from a buoyant San Diego homebrew lineage to a hotbed of craft beer breweries and talent.

With San Diego Brewers Guild Secondary Vice President Lee Doxtader at the helm of its return in 1993, San Diego Brewing Co. has steered its way through the comings and goings of short-lived, transient beer styles and shifting tastes to remain focused on classic styles, both traditional and new. The ability to stand astride homegrown Californian classics and far-flung British bitters with ease is ably demonstrated by Lee and brewer Matt Navarre. And there’s no fear of experimentation; using US hops in-place of British hops for the aforementioned bitter recipes produces something distinctly San Diegan…with a twist.

Recent years have seen San Diego Brewing Co. consolidate its presence from three locations across the city to its present home in Grantville, from where it plans to grow and expand over the coming years. For an in-demand brewery almost reaching its capacity, growth is inevitable; however, Lee and the team have another 25-years (and beyond) to look-forward to, so growth in the right areas that maximises impact and continues longevity is key.

An example of San Diego Brewing Co.’s vision and ability to plug into the right things at the right time is its house Kombucha Tea, brewed by Cary Dinapoli. Its decision to embrace Kombucha, a low-alcohol, healthy and nutritional cousin of beer, is demonstrative of an astute foresight. With this in mind, it will be interesting to follow San Diego Brewing Co.’s plans for the future.

The Grantville location is not only the main brewhouse and administrative core of San Diego Brewing Co., but it is also a thriving family-friendly restaurant and sports bar. San Diego Brewing Co.’s beers take pride of place, but with 50 taps there is ample capacity for many other local beers and a few international legends. Ciders, too! There is a beverage for everybody, whatever you’re taste and preferred style. However, beer-lovers coming here to try San Diego Brewing Co.’s beers will not be disappointed — there are more than enough house taps to witness the full gamut of brewing talent and experience the tastes that confirm a palpable 25-year history.

San Diego Brewing Co. can rightly claim to have the history, the heritage, the ability and the determination to remain relevant, despite being something of forefather on the scene. I have no hesitation in expecting to pay a return visit for San Diego Brewing Co.’s 50th anniversary, although I hope to be back many times before then.

If you’re in San Diego and would like to taste what 25-years of San Diegan know-how tastes like, hop on the San Diego Trolley for the short trip to Grantville in the Mission Valley to taste something original and rewarding.