Q&A With The Nation’s First Gay Brewery

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With Austin Beer Week on the horizon, writer Mitch Harris looked high and low for LGBT breweries. A quick Google search brought him to Hillcrest Brewing Company in San Diego, the nation’s premier gay brewery. He spoke with Eddie Reynoso, the marketing and PR director at Hillcrest Brewing Company to see what their company is about.

Seeing as breweries don’t necessarily have a sexual preference, what makes a brewery a “Gay- Out and Proud- Brewery”?

We’re colorful. We’re fun. We are flirty, and we’re the best time you’ll have on any given afternoon, and an even better time in the evening. We believe that cocktail glasses should be adorned with plastic farm animals. We believe that San Diego is better served with outside patio seating with amazing DJ’s and a crowd that knows how to have fun.

Our establishments are more than a bar, more than a restaurant, and more than San Diego’s number one LGBT hot spots: we’re part of what makes Hillcrest, Hillcrest. We are welcoming of everyone, so long as they play nice and abide by the rules of the gay community.

Does the management identify as gay, the employees, or is it just a pro-LGBT environment?

The owners are gay, and about 90% of our staff is gay. It has always been this way, and in fact, we lost over 50% of our staff at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Why did you feel it was important to distinguish yourself as a gay brewery?

Several things have made it important to distinguish ourselves. First and foremost: we are in a LGBT neighborhood, and our family of restaurants primarily caters to the LGBT community.

We opened the Hillcrest Brewing Company in time to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Uprising, just a few months after the City of San Diego declared April 19th 2012 Chris Shaw and Doug Snyder Day. When Chris, our Vice President, opened one of his businesses, the city made every attempt to shut him down because it was a gay bar. We saw fire marshals counting people at the door, city tax agents counting sales at the register, bar raids, harassment of our guests and staff and so much more.

It took over 20 years for the city to apologize to Chris and Doug for how it treated our business. It seemed natural that we continue to identify ourselves and to be proud of our culture as a gay community. Though it was more severe twenty years ago with Stonewall, our community never forgot that night and how it all revolved around the rights of the LGBT community to gather in a bar, drink and dance together. Providing a great space to drink and meet people is important to us. And we celebrate the differences that make us all human, and the uniqueness that makes us individuals. Breaking the stereotype that gay people only drank fruity drinks was also a factor.

Has the “gay” image helped or hurt you in the predominantly heterosexual male-dominated world of beer?

San Diego County has over 73 breweries, and there are an estimated 124 before you hit the California Central Valley and over 2,000 in the nation. There is always room for great breweries. And being the first in the world to step out of this closet has only given us an opportunity to educate and connect with the predominantly heterosexual male world of beer.

To change people’s perceptions about the LGBT community, we must also change their hearts. What better way to connect with someone than over a beer? And what better way to break the ice than by asking whether they prefer a Crotch Rocket, a Banana Hammock, A Perle Necklace (named after the perle hops used in brew), a Brainlubricant, a U-Hawl Hefe, a Long ‘n Stout, our Gay Pride Extra Pale Ale (called Pride ’13 XPA) or a Hoppy Ending?

What are your plans for the future? Should we expect more Hillcrests to pop up? Is there any chance you’ll expand to Austin?

Our plans are to expand the brewing process and distribution process. We would love to be in all of the over 300 LGBT friendly restaurants, bars or clubs that cater to the LGBT community in Southern California. We are the Queens of Beer.

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