The beer festival has become a fixture in the San Diego events landscape. Not a month goes by without a festival featuring local beers, and most months there are several. However, October 14th, a boozy new festival will highlight another growing beverage concern, as the San Diego Distillers Guild will launch a first of its kind event promoting our region's spirits manufacturers: the San Diego Spirits by the Bay Festival.
"What we're trying to do is grow the industry in San Diego for craft spirits," says guild president Bill Rogers, who operates Liberty Call Distilling in Spring Valley, one of 15 distilleries operating within the county. "This is our first major event as a guild to let people know who we are and what we're trying to do."
As with craft beer in its early years, challenges facing craft spirit makers include demonstrating the difference between their products and the long-established liquor brands to consumers. "It is a very tough market that we're in," Rogers says, "and events like these I think are going to be the ways a small distillery succeeds against the big guys."
Spirits by the Bay will take place at the Coronado Ferry Landing, where it will echo a three-year-old beer festival that took place there in September. "We took the blueprint from Beer by the Bay," says Rogers. "We've never done a festival before and we didn't know what we were getting into." He credits the Islander Ladies Club, who produce Beer by the Bay each year, for helping the guild with both planning and logistics. "Their help was immeasurable," he says.
Like that festival, this outdoor event will feature tented booths featuring local manufacturers offering tasting samples of their product. However, the higher alcohol content of spirits had to be addressed. "This is pretty much the first time this kind of thing has happened in California, so we have a lot of eyes on us," Rogers points out. "We don't want it to become sloppy."
He says the guild worked with California ABC to develop protocols to limit the consumption of tastings from the 15 distilleries features at the fest. The result is that tasting samples at each station will be limited to a quarter ounce, versus the 1.5-ounce standard shot glass pour. Additionally, the event will feature food vendors and both VIP and cash bars offering cocktails produced with local spirits. A VIP hour will also feature special pours of cask-strength spirits, analogous to barrel-aged and rare beers offered to VIP ticketholders at beer festivals.
Most of the proceeds from the event will go to local nonprofit Hearts for San Diego. Some will go back to the guild.