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Culture Report: The Future of Beer Writing in a Changing Scene

Two San Diego beer writers examine the genre’s future, plus a guide to the Latino Film Festival.

Beth Demmon
Beth Demmon / Photo by Ashton Ivey

“I am a fan. I am a fan of beer,” said Ian Cheesman, one of San Diego’s long-standing beer writers.

While much can be said about taste and accessibility, one of the biggest ways the beer industry faces outward and interacts with the San Diego community at large is through the journalists who cover it. This insular community of writers regularly reviews beers, profiles brewers, spotlights lesser-known corners of the industry and in some cases, calls the industry out on bad behavior.

Cheesman is currently a regular contributor to West Coaster, but he cut his hop-loving teeth as CityBeat’s first ever dedicated beer columnist in 2010. Cheesman came to beer writing by way of humor writing first, and before that, a gig as the author of a UCSD dorm newsletter taped to the bathroom stalls. (“I’m glad to have a non-captive, non-shitting audience,” he said over an IPA at One Door North.) His beer writing continues to embrace a glib tone. “It’s about honesty. Honesty doesn’t have to be brutal,” he said.

When Cheesman left CityBeat, Beth Demmon stepped up and now pens the independent weekly’s beer column each week with similarly approachable writing. Demmon recently made waves in the industry with not just the scoop on a scandal involving Reckless Brewing’s offensive “Black Lagers Matter” campaign, but a recent takedown that was both formidable and vulnerable.

Ian Cheesman
San Diego beer writer Ian Cheesman / Photo by Julia Dixon Evans

“Some readers think our job is to uplift the scene,” Demmon said. “I don’t think that’s a journalist’s job.” That said, Demmon and Cheesman both praise the value of opinion and bias in beer reviews. “I don’t think that having an opinion and expressing it is outside of journalistic responsibility,” Demmon said. “I call it as I see it. I like to think that I’ve worked long enough in the industry that I can back up my opinion.”

And, Cheesman said, as a writer establishes his or her taste and preferences, a reader “can map their experiences to yours.”

While both writers equate their success in beer writing to being in the right place at the right time in a flourishing and ever-changing brewing scene, the longevity of their careers possibly comes from wanting the best for an industry they love.

“I do think that people sometimes look to me to be the morality police, which isn’t always what I want to do,” Demmon said. But “it’s often necessary,” she said. Demmon is one of the only women writers regularly producing beer-related content in San Diego, and in an industry that has historically lacked diversity, she represents not only its changing face, but what she sees as a chance to amplify its marginalized segments.

As more small, diverse and innovative breweries continue to hit the local markets, the industry’s growth also means that some established and successful brands will be sold.

“The market, especially in San Diego, is in a very interesting place,” said Cheesman. “We’re starting to see buyouts and consolidations.” Referring to the scene as a “crowded ecosystem,” he still maintains hope for quality over gimmicks. “I’m an optimist and I believe the scene is continuing to mature, and the palates within it.”

But Demmon said she still sees value in covering breweries that grow into giants or pursue buyouts.

“I definitely think it’s still part of my beat. I don’t think breweries should be punished with silence due to success,” she said, and also lauded the innovation and community outreach potential that coincides with a larger budget. She tends to focus her stories, however, on independently owned breweries. “That’s more meaningful than somebody who has a 10-person marketing department,” she said.

With Demmon’s Reckless Brewing article — and the brewery’s downfall — still solidly in the local industry conversation, she looks to the future with high expectations.

“One good thing that’s going to come out of it is a lot of conversation and a lot of self-reflection for people,” Demmon said. “And if my piece made a positive impact on just one person that read it or made them feel like they’re not alone, or if somebody decided to shift their marketing tactics for whatever reason, I can’t ask for anything more. That would really make my heart soar.”

A Quick Guide to the San Diego Latino Film Festival

The San Diego Latino Film Festival starts on Thursday and runs through March 24. With four screens across town and dozens of screenings and events, planning either a connoisseur’s full calendar or just picking a few films to sample can feel overwhelming.

Migrant Voices Showcase Latino Film Festival
“And Here They Are,” is part of the Migrant Voices Showcase at the San Diego Latino Film Festival / Photo courtesy of San Diego Latino Film Festival

Here’s some film highlights:

  • There’s a shorts pass, which allows you to see five different shorts programs for $35. Here’s a good listing of all the shorts program offerings. Don’t miss: docu-shorts, Hecho en USA, ¡Somos! Cine LGBTQ+ and the San Diego/Tijuana region’s shorts, ¡Frontera Filmmakers!
  • “Anytime we’d pan or tilt, I was afraid. Why pan? Keep it still. There’s no reason to move the camera,” director Li Cheng recently told Salon. “José,” an acclaimed LGBTQ drama that won the Queer Lion award at Venice Film Festival, screens on March 19 and March 25.
  • Next Tuesday’s Migrant Voice Showcase features 15 community-submitted short films that embody migrant or border issues.
  • Similarly, the Youth Visions Showcase on March 23 features a bunch of youth-produced projects, including several from local organizations and schools (like High Tech High Chula Vista, Del Lago Academy in Escondido, San Diego’s Teen Producers Project and more).
  • I’ll be taking my soccer-obsessed daughter to see “Nos Llaman Guerreras,” (translation: “they call us warriors”) about an undefeated Venezuelan girls’ soccer team. Here’s the trailer. (“Nobody knows what we go through, what we cry about.”) It screens March 19 at 5 p.m., and March 23 at noon.
Nos Llaman Guerreras
“Nos Llaman Guerreras” (They Call Us Warriors) / Photo courtesy of the San Diego Latino Film Festival

And don’t miss the festival extras:

  • Attention foodies: Saturday’s Sabor Latino Food Wine and Beer Festival features beer, tequila, wine and food tastings from all over the San Diego/Baja region.
  • Attention music lovers and/or Fashion Valley shoppers: Sonido Latino offers free outdoor music showcases nearly every day of the film festival. Check out the schedule here (or just go get your mall pretzel on your own time, and hope for the best).

Asian Art, the Science of Poppies and More News for the Culture Crowd

  • Marisol Rendón and Ingram Ober, both San Diego artists and parents, celebrate the opening of their show, “House, Broken,” about the impossibilities of keeping a house and home in order, at Miracosta College on Thursday. (KPBS)
  • Spreckles Theatre hosts XQ Super School LIve on Thursday, an immersive night of high-school based storytelling, with multimedia accompaniment. Read about the full tour here. (Broadway World)
  • Free art omg! On the Steps at SDMA includes free museum admission this Friday, and an exploration of Asian art, music, film and more.
  • La Jolla Symphony & Chorus (side note: yours truly was once an oboist in the LJS, but long enough ago that I hope I can nepotism-free plug them) performs Bernstein Centennial concerts this weekend, alongside the rarely heard Beethoven’s 8th and a composition by Guggenheim-winning California composer Laurie San Martin.
  • This Saturday, Lilliam Rivera signs her newest YA book, “Dealing in Dreams,” at Mysterious Galaxy. I loved this recent PEN Center USA interview with Rivera, an alum of San Diego’s Clarion workshop.
  • The current California poppy explosion explained: “The equation for success also includes fire and drought, rainfall, when the rains come, the spacing of rainfall, temperatures, altitude and winds.” Go see some soon! (U-T)
California poppies
Wild California poppies at Mission Trails Regional Park / Photo by Julia Dixon Evans
  • The San Diego Music Awards just happened Monday night. Local darlings The Havnauts took home two awards, and “Java Joe” Flammini received a lifetime achievement award. Slightly Stoopid won nothing.

Closing Soon

  • Venus, the all-woman art show at La Bodega (that basically everyone you know went to without you last weekend) closes Sunday.
  • The Artist Portrait Project at Central Library art gallery, featuring Jennifer G. Spencer’s 10-year archive of photography of local artists, closes Sunday.
  • Sunday also marks the final performance of the extended run of “Tiny Beautiful Things,” a Cheryl Strayed-penned story at The Old Globe. (Playbill)
Tiny Beautiful Things at The Old Globe
“Tiny Beautiful Things” at The Old Globe / Photo by Jim Cox

Food, Beer, Booze and Cannabis News

Correction: An earlier version of this post mischaracterized a U-T interactive map. It charts cannabis-related business applications in Chula Vista.

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