Still on Tap: San Diego Beer Week 2020, Pandemic Edition

For San Diego – also known as the “Capital of Craft” – the 12th annual Beer Week will go on, with COVID-era changes but the same message of unity for which the local craft beer industry is known

NBC 7's Joe Little heard from some local brewers about the impact the pandemic has had on their business, and how beer week might let them forget for a moment.

The coronavirus pandemic canceled many of San Diego’s big events in 2020 but one fall favorite remains on tap – with modifications, of course – and that’s San Diego Beer Week.

For the past 12 years in early November, San Diego Beer Week has taken the spotlight in our city’s craft beer scene. The event is put on by the San Diego Brewers Guild, which represents the more than 150 craft breweries within the city, a place also known as the “Capital of Craft.”

The weeklong event – or, really, more like 10 days – is a celebration of all the people, breweries and craft beer that make San Diego a renowned hub for small, independent brewing.

In non-pandemic times, San Diego Beer Week features hundreds of events at local craft breweries – from special beer releases to tastings and pairings – plus the Guild Fest, a large-scale festival showcasing the best of local beer.

Brewmasters are even known to come together creatively in the weeks leading up to Beer Week to collaborate on special brews, like last year’s Capital of Craft IPA. It’s a lot of beer, a lot of cheers, and a lot of camaraderie.

The reason why San Diego's craft beer industry has long-thrived is simple: collaboration. Last month, several local craft breweries came together to brew the "Capital of Craft" IPA ahead of San Diego Beer Week 2019. For the first time, the beer will be canned, with just 125 cases produced for the big 10-day event showcasing the talents of San Diego's craft beer scene.

This year, San Diego Beer Week 2020 will go on – though markedly changed – from Nov. 6 to Nov. 15.

Pandemic or not, the San Diego Brewers Guild hopes it’ll bring some much needed “hoppiness” to beer enthusiasts – the very folks who’ve kept the industry afloat during these trying times.

“This year has brought endless challenges, but also immense victories and relentless ingenuity, highlighting the depth of loyalty from our local beer community,” said Kris Anacleto, president of the San Diego Brewers Guild. “Craft brewers are tough; they’ve proven that this year, especially, and we’re ready to celebrate.”

Pandemic-Era Changes to San Diego Beer Week 2020

So, what’s changed?

Well, for starters, there aren’t nearly as many in-person events at local breweries due to COVID-19 health restrictions. But low-key beer releases are still on the calendar – with physical distancing modifications in place – and you can check those out here.

Meanwhile, the big Beer Week events have gone virtual to better suit the COVID era.

On Friday, at 7 p.m., the guild planned to host a virtual kickoff toast to mark the start of San Diego Beer Week 2020. The toast would take place on the guild’s social platforms and everyone was welcome to join. The SDBG said craft beer enthusiasts could show how they were celebrating Beer Week by tagging @sdbrewers on social media.

On Saturday, instead of the traditional, in-person Guild Fest, Beer Week’s kickoff party this year has morphed into something dubbed Hops + Harvest. This iteration includes a delivery or pick-up dinner curated by Carlsbad’s Burgeon Beer Co., with eats made by MIHO Catering Co. in Kearny Mesa.

General admission for dinner costs $65 and includes four courses with four Burgeon beer pairings. A $105 VIP upgrade gets you five courses and five beers, including a special-release from Burgeon. Customers can either pick up their dinner at Burgeon Beer Co. on Saturday starting at 3 p.m. or have it delivered for $10 (within a 30-mile radius of MIHO in Kearny Mesa).

The SDBG said the Saturday event would also include Beer Week’s first-ever virtual livestream concert, put on in partnership with The Casbah. Two bands would play the show: Low Volts and Jonny Wagon and the Tennessee Sons. The virtual event will also include a live chat with MIHO’s culinary director, Chef Ryan Bullock, and Burgeon Beer Co.’s head brewer, Anthony Tallman.

The guild said this year’s event is co-produced by Sycuan Casino Resort and many other partners.

And, while Beer Week may certainly look different in 2020, the SDBG said the message of the event remains the same as always: San Diego makes superb craft beer, local craft brewers pour their hearts into the industry, and the craft community will always be strong and connected.

"A highlight of the year, San Diego Beer Week was an event we really didn't want to cancel this year," said Paige McWey Acers, executive director of the San Diego Brewers Guild. "It took some creativity and a lot of patience, but we knew we needed to make this happen for the people of San Diego and the beer community. We wanted to show up for them in the same way they've shown up for us. Luckily, our partners at Sycuan Casino Resort, MIHO Catering Co. and The Casbah felt equally passionate."

By the way, if you’re wondering if San Diego brewers came together this year to create a Beer Week collaborative brew, the answer is yes.

Early last month, eight SDBG breweries got together to create the annual Capital of Craft IPA for San Diego Beer Week 2020: Burgeon Beer Co.; South Park Brew Co.; Modern Times Beer; Resident Brewing; Automatic Brewing Co.; Northern Pine Brewing; Five Suits Brewing; Chula Vista Brewing.

The collaboration was canned at Burgeon and will be the featured beer for the virtual kickoff toast and the Hops + Harvest dinner. It’s the fourth time the collaboration has happened for Beer Week.

The special edition IPA will also be available for purchase exclusively around San Diego County starting this weekend. You can find out where to buy it through the SDBG’s Capital of Craft Beer Finder tool here.

"In a time of divisiveness and fear, we instead chose to come together, with safety in mind, and honor the collaborative spirit of our craft beer community — something we know San Diegans will appreciate," McWey Acers told NBC 7.

In a time of divisiveness and fear, we instead chose to come together, with safety in mind, and honor the collaborative spirit of our craft beer community -- something we know San Diegans will appreciate.

Paige McWey Acers, San Diego Brewers Guild

San Diego's Craft Beer Industry

The craft beer industry in San Diego County was founded in the mid-90s and has grown to be one of the standout industries of the city. In 2018, the SDBG said San Diego County craft brewers produced an economic impact of about $1.2 million in output. With 150+ craft brewing locations, the guild said San Diego still ranks the top county in the nation for craft beer.

NBC 7's Catherine Garcia and Voice of San Diego's Adriana Heldiz explore how San Diego became the craft beer capital of the U.S.

When the coronavirus pandemic reached San Diego County back in mid-March, the craft beer industry was one of the many sectors hard-hit by shutdowns and COVID-19 restrictions.

SDBG president Kris Anacleto spoke with NBC 7 at the onset of the pandemic about the challenges ahead – and how the industry would, like always, band together to survive.

“This industry is based around getting creative, being unique, problem-solving,” Anacleto said at the time. “So, if there was ever an industry that could weather this storm well, I do think it would be the craft brewing industry.”

Breweries began to rely on canning more than ever. They set-up drive-thru and pickup beer tents. They got creative. They adapted. They helped each other.

And, of course, they fittingly got together to brew a special COVID collaboration beer to help the brewers who had been most impacted by the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Because, together, they’re stronger.

Back in July, SDBG executive director Paige McWey Acers joined the Scene in San Diego podcast to talk about how San Diego’s brewing industry was staying afloat during the choppy pandemic times.

You can listen to that conversation on the Scene in San Diego podcast wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts.

Listen/subscribe to the Scene in San Diego Featuring Eater Podcast to get the latest local lifestyle stories and news from our local food and drink scene. As we continue to adjust to life in the coronavirus pandemic, the way we enjoy our city has changed. We’ll keep you up to speed on those changes as it impacts the things to do during your downtime in San Diego. Tap here to find Scene in San Diego Featuring Eater wherever you listen to podcasts.

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