In popular culture, beer drinkers are stereotyped to include (and entertain) a certain demographic. Handsome men and beautiful women carousing on the beach or a boat or taciturn men in lowly lit bars dominate the image of who fits the beer-drinking demographic. Search “beer drinkers” on Google Images and the first you'll see are caricatures: a fat man guzzling five beers at once, a busty blonde and, of course, Homer Simpson.
“Being a gay man, Hillcrest has always been a great place to go,” says David White, brewer/owner of HBC and a San Diego native. “In my travels, I acquired quite a taste for craft beer. When I came to Hillcrest, I quickly noticed that there was not a grand presence of craft beer available in the pubs in and around the area.”
In what White, 43, calls the “lightbulb moment,” he decided to brew beer specifically for the LGBT community. While almost every country has a unique beer culture, America is starting to establish its own through the craft beer movement. Exposure to craft beer has been lacking in the LGBT community. However, craft beer — experimental, creative, artfully crafted — seems like an appropriate fit.
“I have found that the more people learn about craft beer, the more they begin to develop a taste for it,” White says. “With craft beer not having a strong presence in many LGBT communities yet, and larger commercial brewing companies maintaining such a strong presence [in the LGBT communities], it would be easy to think that those larger commercial breweries are all beer is. It can be a difficult matter to explore newer and more obscure craft beers and styles.”
HBC was inaugurated in 2012 by White and Chris Shaw, a local businessman who owned three Hillcrest establishments. Proudly billing itself as the “first out and proud LGBT brewery,” the company’s main intention is to pour craft beer for an underserved population of beer drinkers.
“We stepped out and declared it because we are not only gay-owned and -operated, but I wanted this brewery to specifically service the LGBT community,” says White, who notes that 10 percent of HBC’s net is donated to Hillcrest and the LGBT community. “Not exclusively, mind you, but I wanted the LGBT community to know there was more to beer than what they may be used to. Ultimately, we did it for the community, not just the publicity.”
“[Chris] and his staff really know how to gather a crowd,” says Luke Terpstra, chairman of the Hillcrest Town Council. “[HBC] is also very supportive of the LGBT community, as well as the neighbourhood of Hillcrest.”
Craft brewers are extremely fond of euphemistic names for beers, but HBC may take the proverbial cake. Their nine offerings include Perle Necklace Pale Ale (named for the perle hop), Crotch Rocket Irish Red, Banana Hammock Scotch Ale and Hoppy Endings IPA.
Their mission is simply stated: “To make quality craft beer for the LGBT community and beyond,” White says.
Representation of the LGBT community within craft brewing is not entirely alien. Half Pints Brewing Co in Winnipeg, Manitoba, brews Queer Beer for the Pride Winnipeg Festival. Other craft brewers, namely HBC’s neighbour Stone Brewery, a goliath in craft brewing, has taken notice of the drinking habits in the LGBT world.
“There are other gay brewers,” White says. “Some gay people in the brewing industry simply don't feel a need to tell their colleagues and peers about their orientation.”
White says this isn’t out of trepidation, but because it didn’t come up in conversation, the ideal being that sexual orientation matters far less than someone being able to perform his/her job well. But the stereotype remains: beer drinkers look and behave in certain ways. White sees the challenge as something different than simply overcoming preconceptions.
“Well, in most of those commercials, the men are really hot, so I enjoy them,” he says. “Of course, there is a demographic of Americans that those commercials appeal to. Craft breweries make up about 10 percent of the entire beer market; however, I see it as the top 10 percent. The only real obstacle is educating people about alternatives.”
HBC, while ostensibly marketing itself to the LGBT community, finds itself in a craft-brewing mecca. San Diego is a beer destination; thus, HBC finds itself hosting all sorts of people.
“Not everyone who works here is gay, but everyone who works here is a representative of the LGBT community,” White says. “[Head brewer] Austin grew up with two dads, is straight and has been with his high school sweetheart for over 10 years. Orientation simply doesn't matter here; attitude does.
“At the bar may be a gay couple holding hands and enjoying a Hefe, while at a table, a family of four is out for their pizza night with the kids,” he says.