December 17, 2017

Brewchive Chronicles Southern CA’s Craft Beer History

Reviewing Brewchive material
Credit: Harley Pan

San Diego and its surrounding environs are considered one of the birthplaces of America’s craft brewing renaissance. Now, the library of nearby California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) is helping to make sure the records of that origin story have a proper home in a new special collection—the Brewchive. (The online repository can be found here.)

“This is a collection that documents an important part of our region’s economic development and tourism industry,” said Jennifer Fabbi, dean of the University Library at CSUSM.

The Brewchive is also an example of a young institution’s library working to establish its identity. The 27-year-old university already hosts some special collections in its holdings detailing the area’s rich agricultural history. (Wondering how the poinsettia came to America and turned into a go-to Christmas decoration? Look no further.)

While agriculture remains a major factor in the economy of San Diego County, breweries have been an increasingly big business for the region in the last 30 years. Before 1987, there wasn’t a single brewery located in San Diego County. Three decades later, there are 151 and counting.

Exports of those beverages provide a boost to the region’s economic bottom line, but the multitude of microbrew options has served to drive tourism as well. Just as Napa Valley is the place to go to get a taste or ten of domestic wines, San Diego is the spot for craft beer enthusiasts.

The region is particularly notable for introducing more hops-centric beers to the nation’s taps and coolers. If you enjoy an IPA with a bite to it, you’ve got San Diego’s brewing scene to thank for the plethora of options available.

It’s not just the economic impact of the industry that made craft brewing a good candidate for collection at CSUSM’s library. Locals have embraced their reputation as beer pioneers, and an appreciation for a good pint has seeped into the culture of San Diego County.

“The less competitive and more collaborative spirit of the San Diego County brewing ecosystem makes it a really unique and interesting time and place to keep a record of,” Fabbi told LJ.

That story is documented in photos, videos, and ephemera from dozens of local brewers who trusted their collections to the Brewchive. That includes printed material like menus and brewers’ notes, as well as harder to catalog content like coasters, growlers, and tap handles. The archive did have to draw the line at accepting actual beers—maintaining a collection of literal live cultures was deemed to be a bridge too far.

Custom coasters at the Brewchive launch
Photo credit: Andrew Reed

Figuratively, however, “we’ve collectively built up an amazing brewing culture,” said Stone Brewing cofounder Greg Koch at a launch event for the Brewchive that also served to celebrate the 21st birthday of the storied So Cal beer maker, one of the earliest small breweries to make an impact on the national beer scene. “I’m so thankful to CSUSM and the Brewchive for preserving that and we are so glad to be part of it.”

Accessible by appointment, the Brewchive will help to support the curriculum of CSUSM, which began offering a certification program in brewing science this year. Those students may go on to become part of a brewing history in San Diego County that is very much still being written.

“We’re already starting to see more collections,” said Fabbi. “As we highlight the important work and material culture of this brewing tradition, other brewers will see the importance of the Brewchive, and we expect it to grow rapidly.”

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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