‘Beer City: San Diego’ explores how the region evolved into a craft beer mecca

Aubree Miller with her dog Captain Barley
Aubree Miller with her dog Captain Barley, who accompanies Miller on her brewery adventures in the documentary “Beer City: San Diego.”
(Courtesy photo by Matt Tolk)

Premiering at the Casbah on Aug. 5, the independent documentary features interviews from dozens of local breweries


“San Diego is the best beer city — that’s my opinion, but it’s also fact.”

This sentiment, spoken by the late craft beer icon Nate Soroko, sets the tone as one of the opening lines in “San Diego: Beer City,” a new interview-driven documentary premiering at the Casbah on Aug. 5 and at Ballast Point Brewing Miramar on Aug. 6.

“San Diego: Beer City” is the brainchild of Aubree Miller, a craft beer enthusiast who works as the creative director and artist at Amplified Ale Works.

Aubree Miller, one of the executive producers of "Beer City: San Diego," is also the documentary's host.
(Matt Tolk)

For the film, Miller teamed up with Los Angeles-based television editor and producer Dave Wadsworth. The two met by chance at The Lafayette Hotel in North Park while Wadsworth was visiting for a craft beer tour.

Miller casually mentioned the idea of a TV show about San Diego’s craft beer scene for Wadsworth’s next Hollywood pitch meeting ... and to her surprise, a production company expressed interest in the project a few weeks later.

Initially, the production company wanted to create a reality competition show, like “Top Chef” for brewers. But then they found out how much time and money it takes to make craft beer.

“One of their responses was: ‘Well, can’t we just speed up the process of craft brewing for this?’” Miller says, laughing.

Aubree Miller, left, interviews Thunderhawk Alements' co-founder Jonathan Barbarin at the brewery's tasting room.
(Film still from “Beer City: San Diego”)

But Wadsworth understood Miller’s vision, and the two decided to move forward independently as executive producers. Building on the pre-interview footage filmed for the TV show, the duo turned the idea into a documentary format.

Miller and her (canine) sidekick Captain Barley became the hosts, running around San Diego exploring breweries and engaging in rich conversations with craft beer experts.

The 75-minute film features interviews with dozens of San Diegans, including folks from local breweries like Alesmith, Ballast Point, Coronado Brewing, Pizza Port and Second Chance, as well as a beer historian, scientist, beer writer and more.

Paul Segura of Karl Strauss Brewing Company, right, takes Aubree Miller through the process of brewing beer.
Paul Segura, right, takes Aubree Miller through the process of brewing beer. Segura is the brewmaster at Karl Strauss Brewing Company.
(Film still from “Beer City: San Diego”)

Miller says the the film’s target audience is for people like Wadsworth — craft beer fans who think they know a lot about craft beer.

In addition to the interviews, “Beer City: San Diego” features educational segments that explain craft beer’s key ingredients and demonstrate the step-by-step brewing process. It also explores the region’s long history of brewing, including the impact of prohibition; influence of Tijuana; and popularity of homebrewing.

Captain Barley provides a dose of cuteness and comic relief in the local documentary "Beer City: San Diego."
Captain Barley, a French Bulldog and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix, provides a dose of cuteness and comic relief in the local documentary “Beer City: San Diego.”
(Matt Tolk)

Sometimes the film is cheeky and cheesy, largely due to the editing style of Wadsworth, who has also worked on MTV, Netflix and HBO reality shows. “Beer City: San Diego” — scored by an over-the-top narrator (Dave Carter) — makes use of colorful animations, corny fonts, dad jokes and plenty of candid moments.

Yet the documentary doesn’t shy away from serious topics. It acknowledges major issues within the industry, such as the lack of diversity — particularly the struggles of Black-owned breweries — and the high risk of entering the crowded market. After all, as collaborative as the craft beer scene is, brewing is still a competitive business.

Craft beer icon Nate Soroko, center, with Tommy Arthur and Vince Marsaglia, Port Brewing Company & The Lost Abbey co-founders
Craft beer icon Nate Soroko, center, chats about the San Diego beer scene with Tommy Arthur and Vince Marsaglia, co-founders of Port Brewing Company and The Lost Abbey.
(Film still from “Beer City: San Diego”)

In the end, “Beer City: San Diego” is an honest look at local brewing — showing residents (and tourists) how the region became the craft beer mecca it is today.

“(We wanted to) really catch the feeling, vibe and real essence of craft beer in San Diego because it really is such a community,” Miller says.

“Beer City: San Diego” premiere screening

When: 8 p.m. Aug. 5 and 6

Where: Aug. 5 at the Casbah, 2501 Kettner Blvd., Midtown (sold out); Aug. 6 at Ballast Point Brewing Miramar, 9045 Carroll Way, Miramar.

Who: After the Casbah screening, three local bands with music featured in the documentary — Western Settings, Par Avion and Low Volts — will perform.

Tickets: $20

Online: casbahmusic.comor