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SAN DIEGO BEER WEEK: Brewers Guild Festival

Even before there was a 10-day free-for-all devoted to promoting our local beer industry, there was the San Diego Brewers Guild Festival. A celebration open to all brewing companies who brew within the county, this festival is the best opportunity for locals and tourists alike to get a feel for San Diego’s incredible brewing scene. And for those who are already well versed where the who’s who of local beer are concerned, it’s a great place to keep up with what they have going on, be it new brews or business ventures.

From the beginning of this event, brewers have come out to interface with the public at this event, which for several years has taken place at the World Beat Center, but this year, was moved to a more spacious outdoor venue at Point Loma’s Liberty Station. That wasn’t the only change this year, however. Last year, the festival took place over two days and included multiple sessions on the first Friday and Saturday of San Diego Beer Week.

San Diego Beer Week 2010

San Diego Beer Week 2010: Brewers Guild Festival.

Photo by Brandon Hernandez

“It just made more sense,” says San Diego Brewers Guild president Adam Carbonell while preparing for the festival. “At the World Beat Center, we were dealing with a venue that took part of the profits earned and had people in the back of the building where you couldn’t see them.”

In addition to visibility, this festival is the largest fundraiser for the San Diego Brewers Guild, a volunteer organization that promotes San Diego’s brewing companies and works with local businesses to get their products to market via brewpubs, restaurants and other outlets. Every brewery in the county is a member and speaks positively of the strides this organization has made, from luring high profile events like the Craft Brewers Conference and World Beer Cup competition to San Diego in 2008 to establishing the annual tradition that is San Diego Beer Week. As for the venue change, attendees were extremely happy with the switch (as well as the change from patrons getting unlimited tastes of local beers versus the finite ten tastes that were awarded with entrance in the past). The same could be said for the brewers, who enjoyed the open-air environment and perfect weather the event was graced with this time around.

Whether it was these changes or the fact that there was only one session this year, attendance seemed up and was healthy to say the least. Of the hundreds of revelers that descended on Liberty Station, many were abuzz with talk of the best beers they discovered while making the rounds. Surprisingly, it was pumpkin ales that were most talked about. Manzanita Brewery, an upstart Santee operation less than a year old, won compliments for its pumpkin ale, which was made using pumpkin pie mix and came across as sweet and rife with nutmeg spice on the palate. It was worlds away from a gourdy gulp being poured at the Hamilton’s Tavern tent in the VIP area, a pumpkin ale made by Green Flash Brewing Co. brewmaster Chuck Silva, who charred pumpkin on his Weber grill, added unsweetened canned mashed pumpkin to his mash and also added pumpkin that had been caramelized with brown sugar and bourbon to create a much more savory, bready beer that finished with a hint of char.

Among the less seasonal hits was Karl Strauss’ Flan-Diddly-Anders Flemish Sour. Though it did not display the malt counterpoint typical for this style of beer, it came through in spades with the sour component, which rang through with the citrusy goodness fans of this style adore. Another fan favorite was the barrel-aged version of Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea, a robust porter brewed with coffee and vanilla that was like velvet on the tongue thanks to increased time in bourbon barrels. Also on hand were gems like AleSmith’s Decadence 2010 Old Ale, Ballast Point’s Dorado Double IPA, Green Flash’s Silva Stout (one of the best beers I’ve had all year), Stone Smoked Porter with Chipotle, Lightning aged Old Tempest Ale and Kum Wit It, a kumquat wheat beer brewed by Carbonell exclusively for Hamilton’s Tavern.

Even if attendees only delved into the everyday ales and lagers of San Diego’s 30-plus breweries, there was plenty to enjoy. The quality of the field was best exemplified by a pair of festival-goers who, while discussing the extremely minor deficiencies of a particular brew, made note of the fact that, “in any other part of the country, this would be considered incredible.” It’s the truth. Beer—it’s just one more reason for the rest of the country to be envious of America’s Finest City.

My picks for great San Diego Beer Week events on Sunday (November 7)

2nd Annual Green Flash Smoke-Out, 10-11:30 p.m.

Green Flash Brewing Co. brewmaster Chuck Silva will be on-hand with a number of his hand-crafted brews to partake in a celebration of pasture-raised smoked mammals in the second iteration of this sooty celebration.

The Linkery, 3794 30th Street, North Park, 619-255-8778

Home Brew Instructional Session, noon-3 p.m.

This free course will be hosted by Sea Rocket Bistro and guided by Kelsey McNair, an award-winning homebrewer who recently brewed a San Diego County Session Ale with brewers from Stone and Ballast Point.

3382 30th Street, North Park, 619-255-7049

Ultimate Beer & Chocolate, Session 1: 1-3 p.m., Session 2: 5-7 p.m.

Chuao Chocolatier, Eclipse Chocolate and Guanni Chocolates will converge at Stone World Bistro & Gardens to serve 15, count ’em, 15 artisanal chocolates which will be exquisitely paired with 10 fine craft beers. One word—yum!

1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido, 760-471-4999

Phil’s BBQ & Beer Festival – Day One, 6-8 p.m.

The first of six days of Phil’s BBQ’s trademark ‘cue matched with breweries that rotate on a daily basis. Day one features the liquid assets of AleSmith, Coronado Brewing Co. and Mother Earth Brew Co.

3740 Sports Arena Boulevard, Point Loma, 619-814-0056