Craft beer meets creative dining at SF Beer Week

Whew. For even the most avid beer drinker, San Francisco Beer Week can be a humbling, palate-exhausting experience, best consumed in small doses.
In just its second year, San Francisco Beer Week featured more than 200 events, with taps flowing from San Jose to Santa Rosa and from Stockton to Santa Cruz. Virtually all of the brewpubs, gastropubs and breweries in the Bay Area (and many from beyond) were involved in serving unusual beer, pairing food with beer or hosting a guest brewer. You could have beer with breakfast, lunch, brunch, tea, dinner, cocktails, pastry and ice cream, including ice cream made with beer. Venues ranged from casual –Zeitgeist, Toronado, Drakes Brewery parking lot  – to more upscale territory like La Trappe, Bar Crudo, Nombe and Starbelly.
Restaurants and bars would be wise to pay heed to the amount of disposable income spent locally on craft beer. Good beer can elevate a neighborhood restaurant considerably. On the other hand, restaurants that don’t serve craft beer might find themselves ignoring a lucrative source of revenue.

SF Beer Week celebrates not only beer, but beer makers, too. Affable brewers were easy to find and eager to talk about their beer, other people’s beer and anything to do with beer. Meeting brewers like Steve Altimari from Valley Brewing, Steve Wagner from Stone, Denise Jones of Moylans and Brian Hunt from Moonlight can help us understand the art of their beer the way biographical information can put a writer’s work in perspective.
Russian River Brewing got a jump on Beer Week by cleverly timing the release of its seasonal, limited-release Pliny the Younger with the opening of the event. More than a few beer lovers spent the entire week chasing the Younger. Beer Week officially began the evening of Feb. 5 with a gala opening sponsored by the San Francisco Brewers Guild at the Yerba Buena Center for the Performing Arts. Among the many beers on hand were a collaboration Imperial Common Lager, brewed at Speakeasy and several special ales that Magnolia and 21st Amendment collaborated on for Strong Beer Month. North Coast Brewing brought bottles of Old Rasputin 11 and 12, and Gordon Biersch poured a delicious dampfbier, which is a type of common lager (better than the collaboration beer, in my opinion), and a barrel-aged dunkel.

Hops were the order of the day on Feb. 6 at the Bistro, with almost five dozen double IPAs from as far away as Delaware (Dogfish Head) and Maine (Shipyard). Surprising standouts included Mavericks DIPA from Breakwater Brewing in Oceanside, Calif., and Tricerahops from Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene, Ore. But realistically, how much can a palate actually taste after a couple hours of double IPAs? According to the judges, the best DIPA was the excellent Welcome Back Wipeout from Pizza Port in Carlsbad, Calif.
Amid the dozens of dinners and beer events were week-long tributes to the late beer writer Bill Brand, who died just about a year ago. Several of the beers brewed in his honor were featured at the rejuvenated Drakes Brewery in San Leandro. Beer Week finally wound down at the Toronado at the 17th annual Barleywine Festival, with top honors going to Big Woody from Glacier Brewhouse.
Beer weeks are becoming popular across the country and nowhere more so than the Bay Area, one of the pillars of American craft brewing. Hats off to the San Francisco Brewer’s Guild and President Rich Higgins, and Magnolia owner Dave McLean and beer writer Jay Brooks, along with sponsors Gordon Biersch, Speakeasy, Magnolia, 21st Amendment, Beach Chalet, Celebrator and many others who went beyond the call of duty to make SF Beer Week a smooth-running success. Although it’s only a couple of years old, San Francisco Beer Week shows every sign of becoming an institution.

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