Wednesday Food: Embracing Change, Through Beer
I’ve been doing a lot of comparing and contrasting between beer cultures. Every time I have a new beer-related encounter here in San Diego I find myself considering how and why it would have been different in Chicago. Exactly what I’m trying to prove escapes me. Perhaps this is just how I’m finding my way in a new town, or maybe I’m looking for positive comparisons to validate a move about which I was at times reluctant.
This week I sat down to solidify my findings.
Feeling at home in a community means knowing its foundation. Learning about Chicago, specifically its beer history, became a near obsession in recent years. I spent weeks researching the Lager Beer Riot alone, the effects of which informed the city’s political partisanship thereafter. I read about the participation of immigrants in first bringing beer to Chicago and then keeping it accessible, and how the tumultuous changes with zoning and alcohol licensing were so restrictive as to affect city planning. Only in the last decade have there been modifications that have allowed more breweries and brewpubs to open. To examine the history of beer in Chicago is to understand the city’s politics and how the two are inextricably linked; to know Chicago’s beer culture is to see a microcosm of the city itself.
San Diego’s beer history seems to have evolved in an entirely different manner. Where Chicago was shackled by building and licensing regulation, San Diego experienced much the opposite. The city was home to a number of breweries around the turn of the century which suffered the same decline during prohibition as was felt by beer makers throughout the United States. During the 1920’s Aztec Brewing Company was founded in Baja California, Mexico, where it gained popularity and momentum, and was relocated to San Diego after the passage of the 21st Amendment in 1933. Between then and the 1970’s San Diego followed the same progression as most of the country– small breweries regained strength and support until World War II when, tapped of all resources including human, most were closed or were bought out by the trinity of big beer (Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors). It wasn’t until the 1980’s that San Diego’s unique beer culture emerged as a suggestion of what it is today. State legislation was passed that allowed for small batches of homebrew to be sold on location by restaurateur-brewers. As popularity of these brewpubs grew (Bolt, Karl Strauss, Ballast Point, and Stone), the demand increased and with it breweries emerged not unlike mogwai. One might say that in San Diego, beer begets beer.
Today there are well over 30 breweries in the county, some which are spectacular, and some less noteworthy. The beauty of having so many breweries is that more people are exposed to craft beer and the community is increased.
Assessing the community that surrounds beer in San Diego is difficult for me as a newcomer: I haven’t attended enough events to be a fair judge. That said, my initial impression is that the San Diego beer community is much bigger and their events better attended and widespread, simply because craft beer is more prevalent here. The homebrew community is likewise larger, with many more supply stores and clubs to join.
But in Chicago there is a feeling of fanaticism that is palpable in the beer community because of its smaller size, and because of the obstacles a brewery must overcome in order to be established. With the exception of Goose Island, most of the breweries function on a small batch system limiting the distribution possibilities and producing a consumer base that numbers fewer.
While Chicago is humbled by a smaller beer community, it can proudly boast a superior selection of beer bars. This, I must again attribute to the restrictive laws on opening breweries and brewpubs in the city. Because they couldn’t open in the numbers that occurred in San Diego, bars that served regionally produced beer became coveted hubs for the devout craft consumer. Beyond its political shenanigans, Chicago drinkers face another insurmountable foe: climate. Due to extremes in weather, more than half the year is spent sequestered indoors. Seeking shelter from a blizzard or relief from oppressive heat means sitting at home or in an equally welcoming environment. Bars have to draw you in and be equipped for you to hang around. This means the beer selection must be diverse and arousing, the food must be sating, and the distractions must be plentiful–a well-appointed jukebox or pool table is best.
One must also feel at home with their own distractions. Readers may recall that I’m a gal who loves to sit on my own at a bar, book in hand. I have attempted this three times at varying San Diego establishments and have thrice heard “are you reading at the bar?” OSTENSIBLY, YES.
Other than that, most experiences at San Diego beer bars have been welcoming and casual. So casual in fact, that I’m surprised by how little one can wear here and still receive service. But the very laidback nature of this coastal community encourages a sense of well being and calmness that outlasts the buzz of your Shark Bite. It’s no wonder everyone is so good looking and happy– they’re outside in January, in a t-shirt, drinking the 10 Commandments.
While the San Diegan history of beer is fascinating and worth learning more about, it lacks the glory of revolution that is so imbued in Chicago’s beer background. But in terms of community, I’m more motivated to get involved here, where there are more events and meetings than one could possibly attend– a place for every beer lover. What’s more, if I were ever to procreate it would have to be in a beer community that welcomes families as warmly as San Diego’s brewpubs. As things stand, I’d prefer to be at a Chicago beer bar, but will keep an open mind (the appropriate thing to do in California?) and hope that a woman alone at the bar with a fine beer and great book becomes less of anomaly.
RESULTS: INCONCLUSIVE. Stay tuned.
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.