Words & Images by Kara Goldfarb

Beer pong downstairs, corn hole upstairs, and energetic music all around. The San Diego Winter Brew Fest was like an awesome house party, but with a step up from the generic keg on tap.

Featuring 43 craft brewers on Friday night (the fest continued Saturday night too), both attendees and vendors were excited to be there. Entering the Hall of Champions Sports Museum, where the event was held, participants received souvenir tasting glasses. After that everyone was free to roam the three-story event and try as many beers as their hearts desired.

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The atmosphere was a perfect combination of lively, enthusiastic and tipsy.  Fortunately, keeping up with the beers you tasted was made relatively easy, as most brewers provided either complimentary coasters or bumper stickers proudly displaying their logos. The event featured a nice mix of local breweries and out-of-towners.

san-diego-winter-brew-festCider was popular this evening. 2 Towns Ciderhouse was the first booth you came upon after entering, and offered three ciders for tasting. Their Spiced Apple Cider had the biggest kick to it, but the magenta shade of the Dark Currant Cider definitely made it the prettiest. On the bottom floor was Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, a cider company that prides itself on the variety of heirloom apples used to create their ciders, evident in the rich and distinctive flavors. Wandering Aengus had two ciders to try, one hoppy and one not so hoppy option. Based on the popularity of both these stands, it seems the cider train just keeps gaining traction.

Another popular hit of the evening was the Fat Cat Beer Company. Touted as the “original craft beer in a can,” their booth seemingly always had a pretty fat line. (Editor’s note: Westcoaster Magazine recently reported that Fat Cat is merging operations with Twisted Manzanita Brewing). 

There were some classic San Diego big name favs at the fest i.e. Mission Brewery, Coronado Brewing and Green Flash. And some fun discoveries too. From Paso Robles, CA, Firestone Walker Brewing Company was debuting their latest addition: a fusion of milk stout and nitro beer called Nitro Merlin Milk Stout. Knee Deep Brewing Co. was pushing Breaking Bud, a “Breaking Bad” inspired IPA which balanced out traditional bitterness with a fruity tropical flavor.

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Meanwhile, here’s what else was going down: 

The Food: 

The Winter Brew Fest was catered by the Wild Thyme Company. With peanut sauce and mango salsa added to the Thai Dog and kewpie mayo and teri(yaki) sauce accompanying the Japadog, the menu gave a sophisticated twist to classic beer pairings. Wild Thyme is asked to cater a lot of these kinds of events. Why? “Because we’re awesome,” they confidently respond. They were the only major food stand there so unfortunately they wound up running out of everything except the Tofu Banh Mi. Fortunately, it was, in fact, awesome.

The Music: 

“Hello beer lovers. We’re beer lovers as well.” That’s how The Fooks, the band of the evening, introduced themselves when they took the stage. They then began (and didn’t quit) playing loud, rowdy, fun Irish music. The Fooks are a San Diego local “Irish noise” band and in conjunction with the beer ambiance, they fooking rocked.

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The Venue:

san-diego-winter-brew-festLocated in the beautiful Balboa Park, The San Diego Hall of Champions is an oasis for any sports fan. A hall of famer’s tribute, cases of paraphernalia from local greats, a fully rigged Star class boat. Guests were able to meander around and check out San Diego’s rich athletic history while sipping on their brews. Definitely, a unique space for a beer festival.

The Causes:

The Winter Brew Fest was in support of Outdoor Outreach, a company launched in 2000 that works towards connecting youth with the outdoors through activities such as mountain biking, surfing, snowboarding, rock climbing and more in order to give them inspiration and positive life experiences. The fest also benefitted the San Diego Mountain Biking Association (SDMBA), the local nonprofit dedicated to protecting and promoting mountain bike access in San Diego county.

The Other:

Samplings of Infinity Sauces’ flavorful hand crafted, small batch hot sauces. Beautifully crafted glassware made from San Diego businesses’ recycled glass by SD Glass and Bottle Works. Upcycled custom coasters using actual peeled off beer labels by Stella Divina. And ZICO coconut water as well as Naked Juice were both there to keep hydration levels up.

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All in all, it was a barrel of fun (Sorry, had to.) But in all honestly, it’s always super rad to see the momentum of the craft beer movement as it continues to pick up steam. The fact that so many breweries were gathered in one awesome place to support two awesome causes with the company of hundreds of awesome people just made it that much…awesomer. If you missed out on this one, fear not, March 12th is the Anchorman-themed Best Coast Beer Fest downtown San Diego. “See you there!” was a common sendoff amongst vendors and attendees alike.

March 23rd is the Mission Valley Craft Beer & Food Fest, and is highly regarded. We’ll be there. If you see a SoCal Session contributor make sure to give them a HiFive!