Sheldon Kaplan is the director of Suds County, USA, a full-length documentary film covering the history of the San Diego brewing scene.
What events do you have coming up?
We have a screening of “SUDS” on June 26th at Slaters 50/50 Liberty Station. Rough Draft Brewing Co (who recently won a gold medal at the LA International Beer Fest for their Hop Therapy Double IPA) will be on hand to pour some of their beers. On July 26th we will have another screening at the San Diego History Center’s “Bottled & Kegged” exhibition’s Friday Happy Hour in conjunction with Alpine Beer Company. Founder and brewer extraordinaire Pat McIlhenny will be on hand to talk about and pour some of Alpine’s world renowned beers.
What are some of your favorite breweries around town?
Ah, the easy question…NOT! Truth is I have lots of them and with more opening at a seemingly exponential rate, I am having trouble just keeping up. My perennial favorites are the usual suspects, Pizza Port and Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey, Alpine, AleSmith, Ballast Point (the Homebrew Mart tasting bar – always a taste adventure – is not too far from my ‘hood). Green Flash beers are consistently good, as is their variety and recently I have been dutifully following orders and enjoying Stone’s “Enjoy By” series. Of the newer crop, everything I have had from Societe has thus far been superb. At Rip Current, Paul & Guy are making some terrific beers and Brandon “The Boy Wonder” Sieminski at Iron Fist continues to impress. Lee Chase at Automatic (Blind Lady Alehouse) is brewing lovely beers and I am enjoying the variety being brewed by Cy and JC at Amplified Aleworks in PB, which is fortunately in stumbling distance from my abode.
Have you seen any changes in the local beer scene since you started filming?
We started to shoot “SUDS” in May of 2010 and at that time I believe that there approximately thirty six licensed brewing establishments in San Diego County. The count was certainly less than forty. Now we have around seventy and that’s not counting the ones that may have opened since you started reading this! So the explosion over the last three years has been phenomenal and shows no real signs of abating anytime soon. I had a feeling that we were about to see some of the growth that we have experienced but not nearly the magnitude over such a short time span. That said, no complaints from yours truly; it is great to see. There is still plenty of room for more good beer as long as those entering the fray remember that it is about the beer and not the Benjamins!
What do you think the next big trends in beer will be?
Sours are definitely on the rise and have been for a while now. I think that this trend will continue as the volume of craft beer lovers grow and the search for new (well in this case, “new” old) tastes increase. I am also seeing more and more hoppy session style beers starting to appear and I think this is a trend that will also continue. A number of these types of “craft session beers” will become more and more available in cans as craft beer brewers and their distributors seek out a bigger slice of the overall pie. If one is going to entice the traditional mass market fizzy yellow beer drinkers to come over to the “other side” then it is an easier exercise with “gateway” craft beers that are under 5% ABV and have 30 IBUs or less, than trying that same exercise with a Double IPA at 8.5% ABV with +70 IBUs. For the craft beer market to really grow, brewers need to tap (pun intended) into this potential “crossover” market without frightening the traditional mass market beer drinkers, yet still be distinctively different from the douche lagers they are currently drinking. If just 5% of the traditional beers drinkers of the US could be persuaded to board the SS CRAFT BREW then the number of people drinking craft beer in the US almost doubles.
How does San Diego compare with other beer cities you’ve visited?
I have had the extremely good fortune to visit many other “beer cities” and towns all over the planet, so I feel that I can answer this question without bias. In the late 1980’s I lived for almost a year in The Netherlands, about 40km from the Belgian border, which is where during many a lost weekend (that shall not be elucidated upon here) my education and love of good beer began When I moved to “America’s Finest City” in 1996 (in local craft beer historical terms, that is the year Stone Brewing Co was established), one still had to seek out local craft beer and it took a concerted effort. Now, some seventeen years later, while still not ubiquitous it requires minimal effort to find a decent craft beer anywhere in the county. In addition, if you can’t find what you like at your “local”, try your neighbor as there is an increasingly good chance that they are brewing too! So, from a variety/quality perspective, San Diego is in my honest opinion perhaps the greatest beer city in the world. Now I know that those might be fighting words in Portland and Denver but we are able to find every type of beer brewed locally and for the most part all well made. From Lightning Brewery’s Elemental Pilsner to Lost Abbey’s Ten Commandments and every IPA in-between, it is hard not to find a good quality craft beer to fit every palate. And speaking of palates, the local craft beer movement has also helped San Diego become a decent food city, which I can attest to being not always the case, but that’s another dissertation…