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“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.
“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.”
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.
Here’s some film highlights:
And don’t miss the festival extras:
Correction: An earlier version of this post mischaracterized a U-T interactive map. It charts cannabis-related business applications in Chula Vista.