Updated on August 9, 2022
A coalition of California-based businesses have united with one goal: create San Diego’s first estate beer. Estate beers are brews created with purely hyper-local ingredients to showcase the specific terroir of a region. They remain extraordinarily rare due to challenges like varying growing conditions, climate change, and crop availability. But for those who manage to grow, process, and brew beer in one place, the results can wholly encapsulate the concept of “local.”
Tom Kiely, general manager at Thorn Brewing Company and Slow Beer chair of Slow Food Urban San Diego, first came up with the idea of a San Diego estate beer in 2017 while working on a campaign promoting California-grown grain. As he met with local farmers, he realized there was a disconnect between what’s being grown here and what’s being purchased elsewhere by breweries.
“San Diego has the most farms and farmers of any county in America, yet we import most of our grain from the Mountain West [and] Canada, hops from Washington and fruit from Oregon,” says Kiely. “The goal of a San Diego estate beer is to create new styles of beer based on ingredients native to San Diego.”
Admiral Maltings co-founder Ron Silberstein joined the project early on, saying estate beers have a unique ability to encourage innovation and create symbiotic relationships between brewers and farmers in ways regional or national beers simply can’t. “The large maltsters blend barley from multiple varieties, regions, countries with the aim of uniformity [and] consistency,” he says. “That’s great for a national brewer, but annihilates any regional quality.”
Courtesy of Admiral Maltings
By connecting local breweries with local farmers, developing more sustainable (as well as less costly) shipping practices, and potentially investing in infrastructure that could expand services like a local malting facility, the San Diego estate beer project hopes to join a very, very small fraternity of truly local craft beers, including ones from Sierra Nevada in Chico, California, Jester King in Austin, Texas and Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. Of course, there would be some bragging rights as well.
“San Diego used to be known for having the best breweries,” says Kiely. “Now the rest of the country has caught up. What makes us different or special? How many counties or cities are developing new styles of beer to support farms that already exist? I don’t know of any.”
A commercially available San Diego estate beer is months, if not years away. But partners such as the San Diego Brewers Guild, Slow Food Urban San Diego, White Labs, Admiral Maltings, local homebrew and beer education club QUAFF, Seed Consulting Group, and more are hoping to increase awareness and participation through the first San Diego estate beer homebrew competition. Brewers are invited to use all locally sourced ingredients to capture the true essence of San Diego beer.
Unlike other competitions, parameters won’t be limited to strict Beer Judge Certification Program styles (though it is BJCP sanctioned). Instead, they’ll be judged using criteria such as “best use of local ingredients” and “best definition of local,” allowing homebrewers to creatively flex under guidelines that prioritize terroir rather than historical terminology.
“Through our first step with the homebrew competition, we hope the creativity of homebrewers shows us what local means,” explains Erik Fowler, head of education and craft hospitality at White Labs.
Registration for the homebrew competition closed July 30. The winners will be announced in August during the club’s general meeting, and the winning brews will be featured in November as part of the first San Diego Estate Beer Project Pro-Am Competition at Guild Fest during San Diego Beer Week. Follow the hashtags #SDEBP and #SDBeer for more information.
A version of this story was also published in our August 2022 issue which can be purchased here.