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A marriage of beer and liquor

Posted: July 7th, 2017 | Features, Food & Drink, Profiles, Top Story | No Comments

By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor

HBC updates their offerings and releases a new Pride beer

Since opening up just in advance of Pride weekend five years ago, Hillcrest Brewing Company — touted as the only LGBT-owned brewery in the world — has become a welcome addition to the gayborhood. Their popular pizzas, tangy wings and array of house-made craft beers and guest craft brew taps draw people from all over to their humble, industrial-style space.

Each year they brew up a special “one-off” craft beer for Pride week, and there is another change this year, one that may take some by surprise: Hillcrest Brewing Company now has a liquor license.

(l to r) Shaver, assistant beermaster; Joey Arruda, general manager; and Austin Copeland, head brewmaster (Photo by Morgan M. Hurley)

Yes, you read that right. This isn’t the rice wine “vodka” they had before, this is the real thing and their new “craft cocktail menu” includes various libations made with tequila, vodka and bourbon.

Why add alcohol to a brewery? you might ask.

The first reason given by Joey Arruda, general manager and part owner of HBC, was fate.

“There was a lottery going around and we decided to throw our hat into the lottery,” he said. “They don’t come around very often; the last one was five years ago. There were 25 licenses available from the county and you never know, so we threw our name in the hat and we ended up winning.”

The license will also help with the new business that hasn’t gotten much press as of yet, but which will be opening in the bottom floor of the new development being built a block away, at the corner of Centre Street and University Avenue.

But the most important reason Arruda gave for adding liquor to his brewery, was basically, that it’s good for business.

“There were a lot of people requesting it and a lot of other people said, ‘I don’t go there because I don’t drink beer,’” he explained. “[Beer drinkers] would tell me their friends ‘won’t come in with us’ or ‘they’ll only come in once in a while,’ and I’d say, ‘Tell them that our pizza and wings are awesome.’”

While Arruda — who has been with MO’s Universe for 13 years — decided the time had come to make such a change, he made sure a lot of thought went into just how they would go about it; because he wanted to stay with the overall theme of the brewery.

“We don’t want to lose who we are. That’s why we don’t have a lot of liquor here and you don’t see name brands,” he said. “We will have craft cocktails, in keeping with the theme. Consider it an added bonus. We do need to be able to compete in the neighborhood with the things that are coming up around us and stay alive.”

In order to accommodate the liquor license, they were forced to separate the brewing area and any future tasting room from the restaurant and stop selling “on premise.” Their distribution will remain up and running, but no more growlers or bottles, at least for the time being.

“Once we figure out the logistics, we can do something like, say, during Farmers Market, you can come fill up your growler,” he said.

Also in keeping with theme, the new liquor is also out of small-batch distilleries, with two of them out of San Diego, Cutwater and Malahat. The new cocktail menu, which was released June 23, has some interesting combinations, the result of many hours of taste tests, Arruda said, and some cocktails were influenced by HBC guests.

“Since the time I started at Baja Betty’s and then came over here, the whole game of being a bartender has really changed,” he said. “Now everything is going to craft and we fit into that niche. People like to come and hang out on our patio and people watch. It’s such a big open patio and you get more of a neighborhood feel.

So far, the feedback has been positive, he said, and they are looking forward to Pride weekend.

HBC’s 2017 Pride Beer

The Pride beer for 2017 is going to be a lime kolsch.

“We used to have a kolsch on tap, our Beer Head Blonde,” said Austin Copeland, head brewmaster at HBC. “It is nice and light, a perfect summer beer with a hybrid lager ale strain of yeast. We haven’t had the Kolsch on tap for a while so we wanted to bring it back for Pride.”

The lime kolsch is what they call a “temporary one-off,” but Copeland said it should be available at all MO’s Universe properties through July.

“Depending how popular it is and how fast it sells,” he said.

“I was kinda stoked when we were able to come up with it,” said Shaver, HBC’s assistant brewmaster. “I was thinking what would pair well with a tequila, as a chaser, or to go from a margarita to beer.”

“The blood orange went over well last year so we decided to do something fruity again this year,” Copeland added. “It will make it nice when people are sitting out in the sun, watching the parade, something nice and light for the summer, very refreshing.”

Management expects that this year’s Pride beer to be released just in time for you to enjoy as you get fired up for the Spirit of Stonewall Rally and the Pride of Hillcrest Block Party, both taking place just steps from their door, on Friday, July 15.

Check out more at hillcrestbrewingcompany.com.

—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at morgan@sdcnn.com.

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