Fair’s new focus on San Diego beer

Post-pandemic, local breweries to be spotlighted in designated area during San Diego County Fair’s 2024 run

Established in 2007, the San Diego International Beer Competition is synonymous with the San Diego County Fair and coordinated with personnel from the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The largest annual professional-brewing contest in the county, it was originally a component of the greater San Diego International Beer Festival, but that event hasn’t taken place at anywhere near its normal scale since 2019, a year before the COVID-19 pandemic laid waste such grand-scale activities. As such, the SDIBC has been local beer’s near-exclusive link to the fair, despite not being held during the event.

Wanting to increase the visibility of local beer and breweries, but looking to pivot from a festival model (something that was never profitable, even prior to 2020), organizers teamed with SDIBC directors Tom Nickel and Tyson Blake to develop a new plan of action. As a result, the 2024 San Diego County Fair will feature The Beer Experience, a designated craft-beer area just off the midway, which will include a bar stocked with a variety of beers that have medaled at the SDIBC. That area will be open every day of the fair and put on daily happy hours, during which Brewery of the Day representatives will be on-hand to interact with visitors and tell them all about their companies, beers and philosophies.

“The best part of the new setup is going to be accessibility to the masses. Anyone who attends the fair is going to be able to experience the craft-beer area – even if they don’t drink a beer,” says Nickel. “There is no admission fee and you will be able to get flights or full pints all day long. I think that is really going to extend the reach of the craft-beer area to tens of thousands of people instead of just the few thousand that typically attended the festival. The exposure for the breweries – and San Diego as a craft-beer hub – will be much greater than ever before.”

The following are the beers that will be available in the craft-beer area…

Wheat Beer Flight

  • Bier von Bayern Weissbier, Barley & Sword Brewing (North Park)
  • Dayfall Belgian-style White Ale, Stone Brewing (Escondido)
  • Flyin Hawaiian Hefeweizen, Pizza Port (Ocean Beach)

Lager Flight

  • Mulegé Mexican-style Lager, Rincon Reservation Road Brewery (Valley Center)
  • Organic SD Lager, Protector Brewery (Miramar)
  • Surf Punk Baja Lager, Hodad’s Brewing (Serra Mesa)

IPA Flight

  • Amalgamator IPA, Beachwood Brewing (Long Beach) *
  • Diamond Dust Murky IPA, Pure Project Brewing (Vista)
  • Treevana IPA, Burgeon Beer Co. (Carlsbad)

Other Beers & Cider

  • Bank’s Bled Red Ale, OB Brewery (Ocean Beach)
  • Boo Koo IPA, Mother Earth Brew Co. (Vista)
  • Bulbous Flowers Hazy IPA, Societe Brewing (Kearny Mesa)
  • Green Truck Wet Hop Double IPA, Nickel Beer Co. (Julian)
  • Mosaic IPA, Karl Strauss Brewing (Pacific Beach)
  • San Diego Jam Mixed Berry Hard Cider, Bivouac Ciderworks (North Park)
  • Tropical Terps IPA, Belching Beaver Brewery (Oceanside)

* indicates the only non-local beer to be offered

By far the county’s most prolific brewer of wet-hop beers, Nickel, the owner of Julian’s Nickel Beer Co., is excited to brew his wet-hopped double IPA, Green Truck, outside of the autumn hop-harvest season. Wet-hop beers incorporate fresh-picked whole hop cones, an ingredient that is not available in spring, so Nickel is using a new product, Frozen Fresh Hops from Washington-based Yakima Chief Hops (YCH).

“This is a big deal to me on several levels. Not only am I deeply passionate about wet-hop beers, but this really speaks to the agricultural aspects of beer, and agriculture is a primary focus of what the fair is there to promote,” says Nickel. “Having the ability to brew Green Truck in the spring is a blessing and I am grateful to YCH for the opportunity.”

In addition to offering award-winning ales and lagers, the area will offer insights into the history of the brewing industry and intricacies of the San Diego craft-beer community. This will be accomplished care of presentations and on-site booths for Brewery of the Day representatives and organizations such as the San Diego Brewers Guild, California State University’s Brewchive, the local chapter of the Pink Boots Society, suppliers such as White Labs, homebrew clubs, colleges offering vocational certificate programs for brewing-industry aspirants such as MiraCosta College, San Diego State University and San Diego Mesa College, and more.

This new model will not infringe on the SDIBC. Judging for that competition is currently on-track to take place this September. A call for judges will go out sometime in the summer, seeking certified beer judges, members of the brewing industry and otherwise qualified personnel to help rate the estimated thousand or so beers which will be submitted for this year’s competition.

“I really do believe that having local beer available all 20 days of the fair versus just a few hours across two or three days is great exposure, and the number of people unfamiliar with some of the breweries or beer styles should be great for making converts instead of just preaching to the choir,” says Nickel. “As the fair continues to evolve post-COVID, I believe this is a great step towards making San Diego craft beer a bigger and more permanent part of the fair experience.”

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