The third annual San Francisco Beer Week is in full swing, and more popular than ever. The kickoff event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Performing Arts required an expansion into the greenery outside, and that still didn’t seem like enough, with long lines waiting to get into the hall and people jostling one another at every turn. But being a beer event, a little jostling comes with the territory.
The opening gala not only got bigger, it got better, with outstanding breweries trying to outdo one another with outrageously delicious and innovative beers. One of the most popular was newcomer Almanac Brewing, founded by Jessie Freeman and Damian Fagan with the intention of creating “farm-to-barrel seasonal ales to be enjoyed alongside the seasonal cuisine of the San Francisco Bay Area.” If the enthusiastic response from the gala is any indication, Fagan and Freeman are well on their way to joining the Bay Area brewing pantheon.
Also debuting at the gala was Steve Altimari’s new venture, High Water Brewing. Altimari’s IPA put his former employer, Valley Brewing in Stockton, on the beer map, and he hasn’t lost his touch. People were raving about his appropriately named IPA called Retribution. No hard feelings about Valley, eh Steve?
Some of the well-known breweries also came up with some surprises. None more so than John Tucci, brewmaster extraordinaire at Gordon Biersch. Whatever your feelings about GB’s beers, there’s no questioning the skill of the brewer. Tucci came up with an outstanding and unusual beer, a barrel-aged hefeweizen that tasted a little funky like a saison, with some bret, but with true hefeweizen yeast and flavor characteristics. Tucci introduced thisoutstanding beer last year at Sour Monday at Triple Rock, and its a treat to drink
Proving again that it never ever rests on its laurels, Sierra Nevada concocted yet another stunner, a Belgian-style quad called 2x4. It tasted a tad bitter at first, cold from the tap, but as it settled warmly into the glass revealed a bit of cotton candy in the nose. Brewer Steve Dressler said it will be available in short supply for a while in the Bay Area, but it won’t be bottled. If you see it on tap, have a sip. It’s a potent brew.
Firestone Walker is another well-established brewery that never ceases to amaze, and its latest double IPA, Double Jack, is an outstanding beer that was chosen best in show at the 11th annual Double IPA Festival at the Bistro in Hayward over the weekend. No mean feat that.
Firestone Walker also poured its excellent oatmeal stout, Velvet Merlin, at the gala. Oatmeal stouts are very tasty with barbecue, and I enjoyed Velvet Merlin with a tasty pork belly BLT from Urban Style Barbecue.
SF Beer Week is definitely on, and for nine glorious days, the Bay Area is the center of the universe for great beer. Go forth and drink, and be amazed.