On this episode of our Scene in San Diego podcast, we share updates on the stay-at-home order impacting life in San Diego County, including the craft brewing scene for which our city is known.
Joining us to share insight on this – and talk beer – is Doug Constantiner, co-owner and co-founder of San Diego’s Societe Brewing Company.
Constantiner shares how he and his crew have been running Societe in the pandemic-era and how canning – something Societe resisted doing for years – has become a lifeline for the brewery in these tumultuous times.
Despite the obstacles brought forth by the pandemic, Constantiner remains hopeful for the future of good, independent beer made in the Capital of Craft and the resilience of the industry he loves.
Listen to Episode 13 Here:
Southern California’s Stay-at-Home Order, Extended: What Now for San Diego’s Restaurants & Breweries?
Due to surging COVID-19 cases across California and drastic drops in ICU capacity, the state imposed a stay-at-home order on the Southern California region starting at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2020. The order tightened restrictions on non-essential businesses, forcing restaurants back to only being able to offer takeout and delivery – no on-site indoor or outdoor dining at all. Breweries, wineries and distilleries were forced to temporarily shutter, too.
The stay-at-home order – the second such order to come down from Gov. Gavin Newsom and state public health officials since the pandemic reached the state in mid-March 2020 – was supposed to last at least 3 weeks.
But rising COVID-19 cases and a strained health care system with continued drops in ICU capacity prevented that from happening. Instead of expiring on Dec. 28, 2020, state health officials extended the region’s stay-at-home order.
It is unknown, at this point, how long the order will last. State health officials said the region is subject to COVID-19 health restrictions until projections from the state show ICU capacity above or equal to 15%.
For now, this means most businesses, except critical infrastructure and retail operations, are closed. And restaurants can only offer takeout and delivery.
The extension also continues to impact San Diego’s craft breweries, bars, and distilleries, which remain closed for on-site service.
Breweries are able to offer to-go service of canned products, which is what many small brewers have been doing through the pandemic to stay afloat.
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Guest Interview: Doug Constantiner, Co-founder of Societe Brewing Company
The beer to-go trend is what Societe Brewing Company is doing over at its tasting room on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard in Kearny Mesa. Open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, the tasting room is selling canned brews via takeout and curbside service, and also partnering with Fit Tacos for meal and beer packages, to go.
Constaniner said the second round of San Diego’s stay-at-home order isn’t any easier than the first – but at least this time, his brewery is a bit more seasoned in the ways of the pandemic.
“People have already figured out how to live their lives without going out,” he said. “It’s physically and strategically easier (this time), but financially harder.”
Constantiner said Societe – and San Diego’s craft beer industry as a whole – will continue to find ways to rise above the pandemic. It’s what craft brewers have always done.
“We can be mad at these regulations all day, or we can do something to try and survive,” he said.
“We’re used to being the little guys. We’re used to facing adversity left and right,” Constantiner added. “We’re fighters; I like to think we have that mentality, which is, ‘We’re not going to let this keep us down, we’re going to keep doing everything we can to survive. We go up against giants on a daily basis.”
Constaniner walked us through a typical pandemic-era day at Societe Brewing – from the set-up of the tasting room (which looks a lot different these days) to the production area of the facility, including canning.
“We can our beers every day now – we still keg our beers – it’s like an alternate universe-type looking and feeling thing,” he explained.
Societe Brewing was founded in 2012 by Constantiner and Travis Smith, a couple of guys with a shared vision to create the “best beer humanly possible.” The brewery is a member of the San Diego Brewers Guild.
Constantiner moved to San Diego from New York with his eyes set on the city that he said is the best in the world for craft beer.
“It’s San Diego; I started a brewery in San Diego because this is the greatest place for beer in the whole entire world,” he said. “The people of San Diego know what good beer is, more than anywhere else. It’s a natural thing for a San Diegan to drink good craft beer.”
Constantiner talked about how the pandemic sped up Societe’s shift to canning – something this brewery had held back on. He had his canning line in place at the end of February 2020.
Then, the pandemic reached San Diego County.
Societe ramped up its canning and Contantiner was able to scoop up talented folks within the local brewing industry who had lost their jobs during the pandemic.
“It’s incredible the level of skilled people that are out there, so we’ve tried to capitalize on that,” he said.
With help in place, the canning line took shape – and distribution followed.
“We are not the same brewery we were a year ago today,” Constantiner said. “I mean, we weren’t even canning; we were draft only. We were at 700 restaurants across San Diego; that was our business – on-premise. It’s been a crazy nine months.”
Now, more distribution is coming – backed by a powerhouse name in San Diego brewing. Last month, Stone Distributing announced it had started distributing Societe Brewing Company’s beer.
As a result, Constantiner said Societe beer is now available in seven Southern California counties from Santa Barbara to San Diego – and even Catalina Island.
“That’s a huge step for us,” he said. “We’re going for it. The demand was there.”
Constantiner said Societe is adding fermenters to increase capacity and another vessel to its brewhouse. And Societe may even work its way up to distributing in Northern California by the year’s end.
Constantiner also shared insight on how he thinks San Diego’s breweries will operate in the future, given all that’s happened with the pandemic, and also how locals can support the industry right now.
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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.
The Scene in San Diego Feat. Eater Podcast is hosted by NBC 7’s Monica Garske and Eater San Diego’s Candice Woo, and is produced by NBC 7’s Matthew Lewis.