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Craft Beer

Beer in the time of coronavirus: a challenge to San Diego breweries

beer
While the beer industry has ridden out numerous economic shocks, the coronavirus crisis is a unique challenge.
(File photo )

For San Diego County breweries, the crisis means business as not-quite usual

Liquid crisis

Colby Chandler flew to Hawaii last week, bringing fresh brews from San Diego’s Ballast Point to the 25th annual Kona Brewers Festival.

“I landed,” he said Tuesday by phone from the Big Island, “and three hours later, they canceled the festival. Now I have to figure out how to get home.”

Like other large gatherings, beer festivals are casualties of the coronavirus crisis. There’s an old saw that people drink in good times and drink more in bad. Perhaps, but this particular bad time is a public health emergency and a looming recession.

For breweries, that’s a one-two punch.

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“I think there will be some temporary layoffs,” said Doug Constantiner, owner of Societe, a Kearny Mesa brewery that employs 38 people. “And I’m planning for the tasting room to be shut down for a bit.”

Stone, whose Liberty Station and Escondido bistros and beer gardens are among the county’s largest restaurants, now is limited to deliveries and to-go orders. Stone beers remain widely available in stores and ...

“We’re one of the few who deliver beer through DoorDash,” said Lizzie Younkin, a Stone spokeswoman. “We are keeping everybody on staff whole right now, at their expected pay rates.”

Throughout the industry, as elsewhere in the nation, there’s a sense that things will get worse before they get better.

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“This is going to have an impact on the production of beer to some degree,” Younkin said, “but we are going ahead as normal right now.”

Tasting rooms and brewpubs have been closed, although Societe and others offer online ordering and curbside pick-up of packaged beers. In an accident of good timing, Societe began canning its beers in February.

Constantiner is grateful for that, and to his flexible staff.

“Someone who was a bartender might be on the packaging line now,” he said. “Someone else knows how to do drywall. That table that had a wobbly leg for the past year — who can fix it?”

Chandler, meanwhile, is following the latest moves by San Diego city and county officials, trying to halt a swiftly growing pandemic. While currently unable to work from home, he’s making the best of his situation.

“If I stay here,” he said, “looks like I’ll be camping on the beach for a few weeks.”

What’s (not) happening?

What do the Craft Brewers Conference and World Beer Cup, planned for late April in San Antonio, and Firestone Walker’s invitational beer festival, set for May in Paso Robles, have in common?

All were canceled last week.

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So was the Best Coast Beer Fest, which was to occur this weekend at San Diego’s Embarcadero Park North.

Holding out as of Tuesday: Mother Earth’s 10th anniversary invitational beer festival, set for May 16.

“But if I were a betting man,” said Kevin Hopkins, the Vista-based brewery’s executive vice president, “I wouldn’t bet on it.”

Mother Earth’s executives will make a final decision in early April.

“We want to do the right thing for the right reasons, but at the same time we don’t want to shut down the world,” Hopkins said. “We’ll see what the regulators say.”

Kings of Beer

I had hoped to recommend Cali Creamin’ Creamsicle (5 percent alcohol by volume) as an ideal brew for baseball’s Opening Day. Sigh.

While bummed by the coronavirus-prompted delay of baseball season, I can still vouch for CCC’s cheery, uplifting qualities.

This is a fun spin on Cali Creamin’, Mother Earth’s cream ale. Here, the gentle vanilla undertones are juiced by just-squeezed orange flavors. There’s sufficient malt and hop character to remind you that this is a beer, finishing creamy — lactose is part of the recipe — yet clean.

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This spring, baseball let me down (admittedly for good reason). This beer, though, kept its end of the bargain. Anyone for a shelter-in-place screening of “Major League” and a mug of Cali Creamin’ Creamsicle?

Beer by the Book

Can’t visit your favorite brewpub? You can still explore the world of beer via recent books.

While San Diegans are notoriously partial to ales, “A Brief History of Lager” (Octopus Books, $19.99) is British writer Mark Dredge’s spirited and entertaining defense of the beer family’s other member.

Charles Bamforth, legendary leader of UC Davis’ brewing program, sums up a lifetime of research “In Praise of Beer” (Oxford University Press, $19.99).

“The Microbrewery Handbook” (Wiley, $25) gives would-be professional brewers step-by-step advice. DC Reeves knows whereof he writes — he’s co-founder and CEO of Florida’s Perfect Plain Brewing.

Eager to sample different beer styles but unsure where to begin? Natalya Watson dispenses expert advice in “Beer: Taste the Evolution in 50 Styles” ((Octopus Books, $19.99).


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