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Preserving San Diego's Craft Beer History One Growler At A Time

Brewchive curator Judith Downie shows of an Arrogant Bastard growler from Stone Brewing Company, Sept. 17, 2021.
Alexander Nguyen
Brewchive curator Judith Downie shows of an Arrogant Bastard growler from Stone Brewing Company, Sept. 17, 2021.

As Judith Downie walks around the basement of the Kellogg Library on California Stae University, San Marcos, showing off her collection of beer memorabilia from breweries in town, there's definitely passion in her voice.

"Growlers. This is box 21, so that gives you an idea of how many boxes of growlers," she said. "I have quite a few, and I still have some left to process."

Preserving San Diego’s Craft Beer History One Growler At Time
Listen to this story by Alexander Nguyen.

Inside the box are growlers from Stone Brewing Company. She also has growlers from Ballast Point, Pizza Port and others.

"And I keep saying I," she said, catching herself. "This is the CSUSM collection, but I feel so invested in this because it's such a passion for me that I always say I my collection and it's really not."

Downie is the special collections librarian at CSU San Marcos. But more importantly, she's the curator of the Brewchive, an archive of the vibrant San Diego brewing scene, from homebrewers to established names dating back to the 1860s.

People are always fascinated when they meet her.

"They'll say, 'Oh, you're the beer historian,'" Downie said. "I always try to have some kind of little hidden gem of knowledge that you either bust a myth or correct a misperception."

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One of the most popular misperceptions about San Diego’s brewing industry is that it started in the 1980s. But it all started in 1868 with Christian Dobler’s San Diego Brewing Company.

"It might have been a little bit earlier, but that's the first evidence I can find," Downie said.

The collection has pint glasses adorned with logos and artworks from various brewers. Some have gone out of business. Others show the evolution of their logos.

There are also coasters, growlers, beer recipes and posters. And the collection keeps on growing.

"So that's about it for this room," Downie said. "We do have another room down on the other end of the building."

The idea for the Brewchive started as early as 2015, around the time when CSU San Marcos was starting its beermaking certificate program dubbed "Engibeering."

It was the brainchild of Jennifer Fabbi, dean of the University Library. As the San Diego craft beer scene exploded into a billion-dollar industry, Fabbi thought that it was a good idea to preserve that history. Because as it turns out, nobody in town was.

"We knew that in order to do that, we would need some resources," Fabbi said. "And we wanted to make sure that we had a collection that was very exciting to both the public and also to those internal to the university."

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Fabbi formed an advisory group comprised of local brewers and a filmmaker who’s done a documentary on San Diego brewing, to see what the archive should collect. It was the advisory group that came up with the name.

"At first, we called it, the "barchive" because, of course, that rhymes with archive," she said. "But those people on the advisory committee said that that won't do. Brewchive is better, so we trademarked Brewchive."

One of the goals of the Brewchive is to help the students in the beermaking program to do their research. But it turns out to be beneficial to students in other disciplines as well, such as business. Fabbi said those students use the archive to study business and marketing plans in the industry.

Brewchive curator Judith Downie shows off photos of Stone Brewery's early days, Sept. 16, 2021.
Alexander Nguyen
Brewchive curator Judith Downie shows off photos of Stone Brewery's early days, Sept. 16, 2021.

The Brewchive also benefited because a lot of brewers are passionate about their beers, so they collect a lot of memorabilia. Such as Greg Koch, the founder of Stone Brewing. He donated more than 600 banker’s boxes of stuff to the archive.

"I collected a lot of stuff from Stone history along the way," he said. "And by a lot of stuff. I mean, a lot of stuff as well as from other craft breweries and places I've been, etc. And I had just been collecting this in a spare room in my house, and it was ... it was packed. I had so much stuff."

So when he was approached by the Brewchive, he jumped at the idea. He called it a symbiotic relationship. The Brewchive gets to preserve the collection and he gets it out of the house.

It’s the largest donation to the Brewchive to date. Though Downie says the collection is on permanent loan from Koch.

Koch does not have any children, so he considers Stone his child. Like any doting parent, he has keepsakes from when Stone was, figuratively speaking, still a baby.

“It's my scrapbook from all the time that we've been doing this to collect all of those things and pictures from our past when Steve Wagner and I — who's my partner at Stone — When we did our first homebrews together," he said. "I had a couple of snapshots and so I dug them up and said, 'This should be part of this collection.'"

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While the majority of the Brewchive is dedicated to what Downie calls the third wave of San Diego brewing, the period from 1987 until 2020, she is now working on the fourth wave — the post-pandemic period.

Downie is also working on preserving the history of women’s involvement in the brewing industry.

"I'm really trying to get women's stories because women's history is still not well represented," she said.

The Brewchive is actively accepting memorabilia donations. Contact the University Archives Special Collections at CSU San Marcos if you have a piece of San Diego beer history you would like to donate.