San Diego's Beer Scene
From Desert to Oasis
by Rich Link
Fifteen years since the first Celebrator? Time can play some funny games with the mind. It doesn't seem that long ago that I first picked up a copy of the California Celebrator at a local Liquor Barn. But it seems like a lifetime ago when I compare the Southern California beer scene then and now.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]Back in the early days of the Celebrator, my friends and I always kept a copy in our vehicles; we never traveled without it. We considered it a bible of sorts, sure to help us find our way through the din of megabrews to the divine light of tasty microbrews.
When the first issue of the Celebrator hit the streets, there were no breweries in San Diego County. It was shortly thereafter that a very small brewery opened in Fallbrook. Some people remember Bolt Brewing but forget about its predecessor, Fergie's, which occupied the same space. Unfortunately, Bolt closed within a year of opening. But it had set the stage for a revolution in California's second-largest city.
Coinciding with the second anniversary of the Celebrator, the Old Columbia Brewery and Grill opened in February 1989. It was the first brewery to open in the city of San Diego in more than 50 years. Later that year, Callahan's opened and soon became San Diego's second brewery. Then things got exciting.
La Jolla Brewing Company opened in 1990. Others followed in the next three years, and before long we had nearly 10 breweries in the county. Most of those are no longer in business. Some are dearly missed; others are just a blurry memory.
The mid-1990s saw the microbrewing industry explode across the country. The real winners were those of us with a true passion for great flavorful beers. Back in the early 1980s, there were no real "tap houses" or pubs in San Diego dedicated to offering a great selection of beers beyond those brewed by the Big Three or the mega-imports. Sure, you could find a good beer here and there, but you had to search it out. In fact, at one time I knew every pub in the county that served draught Guinness, just in case of a thirst emergency.
Today, scores of pubs and restaurants carry Guinness, and they're likely to have four or five other great beers to boot. Additionally, many pubs now offer megaselections of beers. San Diego Brewing Company was the first in town to offer 50 taps. Other great tap houses came along and offered dozens of great ales to the growing throng of fanatical fans of fermentation.
By the end of the 20th century, the heyday of the mid-1990s had slowed, and once again we lost some great breweries. Some are legendary, such as Blind Pig in Temecula (in Riverside County but close enough to be considered an honorary San Diegan). However, the brewing business has continued to grow to the point that there are now more than 20 breweries in San Diego County. Three of them opened within a two-month period last year!
I feel privileged to have been an associate editor of the Celebrator since 1990. The magazine performs a valued service to all of us who have a taste for something more than fizzy yellow "pilsner" knockoffs. It has also afforded me the opportunity to meet some wonderful people, many of whom have become very good friends. I'm looking forward to another 15 years of great beer, and having the opportunity to read and write about it in the Celebrator.
Rich Link is an associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News. He lives in Santee, Calif., and has been brewing beer at home since 1980. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!
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