A San Francisco Beer Week To Remember

It might be time to change the name of the San Francisco Brewers Guild's annual event. San Francisco Beer Week is not really a “week” anymore, since the bacchanal now lasts nine days (more if you count the release of Pliny the Younger the week before). And it's not just “San Francisco,” either. Brewers came from as far north as Anchorage, Alaska, and from as far south as San Diego, as well as Europe, for what has become an international event with a West Coast focus.
SF Beer Week has been growing exponentially every year and this year might have been a watershed event, beginning with a massive opener in the friendly confines of the cavernous Concourse Exhibition center and ending with the traditional Celebrator 24th Anniversary Party at Trumer Brauerie in Berkeley.
Certainly no one could have attended every Beer Week event and lived to tell the tale, but for nine beautiful days it was difficult not to have great beer. One of the unique paradoxes of Beer Week is that you end up passing on great beers you've already had in favor of great beers you haven't tried yet. And even then you can't get to everything.

Everyone will have their own favorite events and beers, and here are a few of mine.
Midnight Sun Brewing Co. and Cascade Brewing at City Beer
Luckily, City Beer expanded this year, and the iconic San Francisco bottle shop/tap bar seems more popular than ever. Midnight Sun from Anchorage, Alaska, is a staff favorite, and for good reason. New head brewer Jeremiah Boone brought a half-dozen strong beers to City Beer— Sockeye Red IPA, Oaked Mamouth Extra Stout, Berserker Imperial Stout, Anchorage Eisbock, London Old Ale—as well as a bit of a sleeper in the form of an an excellent kolsch. While the big beers, particularly Oaked Mamouth, Berserker and London Old Ale were impressive and well-received, the kolsch might have been the best proof of Boone's art: a clean, refreshing and flavorful brew that was delightfully simple.
Cascade provided the nightcap for City Beer's doubleheader with an array of sour beers infused with cranberries, blueberries and cherries, as well as a sleeper of its own, a seldom-seen German-style, Winter Gose. The sours tended to taste like the same beer after a while, albeit with a different fruit flavor, but the Gose was memorable.
Green Flash at Churchill
Located right outside the Church Street MUNI station, Churchill is not the first place that comes to mind for beer, but they made a valiant effort nonetheless with a handful of Green Flash beers on tap that proved that there's more to the brewery than West Coast IPA. Palate Wrecker lived up to its name as a potent double IPA and Winter's Folly is a nicely balanced winter seasonal. In the cold case were bottles of Rayon Vert, a very pleasant Belgian pale with maybe a hint of bret. From Churchill, it was but a short walk to...
'Tion Night at Toronado
The throng assembled at Toronado for Russian River's ecclesiastic line of ales attested to the growing popularity of sour beers. Among the 20 Russian River taps available for the evening were such favorites as Temptation (including a 2008 release), Compunction, Rejection, Supplication, Consecration, Sanctification, and on and on. Russian River Brewing's beer angel, Natalie Cilurzo, also descended on the festivities bearing a Jereboam of 3-year-old Beatification (which had quite a different flavor profile from the not yet released batch, drier and without the grapefruit).
Sau and Brau at Drakes
Now in its second year at the rejuvenated Drake's Brewing Company, Sau and Brau is on the verge of joining the opener, the Celebrator Party at Trumer, the Double IPA Festival at Bistro and the Barleywine Festival at Toronado, among others, as a Beer Week staple. Drakes continues to amaze with some outstanding beers. Hopocalypse Black Label deservedly won the triple IPA crown at the Bistro. At “Sau and Brau,” Drake's brought back the subtly puckerish Brette Davis Eyes, an American blonde ale with an intriguing dose of brett. Other standouts included The Good Sh*t, an excellent barrel aged barleywine, and a firkin of barrel-aged Drakonic Imperial stout with TCHO chocolate nibs and Blue Bottle coffee: dessert in a glass. Brette Davis and the barrel-aged Drakonic Imperial Stout were particularly impressive paired with the pork (two whole roasted pigs this year) from Chop Bar in Oakland.
Speakeasy Party
Speakeasy in San Francisco expanded its weekly party in honor of Beer Week. Despite its out-of-the-way location, Speakeasy is fast becoming a prime destination for San Francisco “hipster” beer drinkers. Among the featured beers on tap was Massacre, a dark wheat beer with a hint of cherry, brewed especially for Valentines Day and Beer Week. Thankfully, Bugsy Moran and Al Capone were nowhere in sight. Scarface Imperial Stout did make an appearance, however, as did the Three Ring Circus collaboration. Peanuts in beer? I'm not so sure about that one. Massacre and the featured Strong Ale did pair nicely with Le Truc's pulled pork sandwich, however.
From there, it was a short walk and MUNI ride to...
Public House, Featuring Stone Brewing and Bear Republic
Public House is a good place to have a cask beer any time (particularly at a Giants game), and cask ales don't come much better than Bear Republic's sublime Racer X in a firkin— arguably one of the best beers of the entire week and surprisingly balanced despite a hefty 8.3% abv.
And then it was back to MUNI and on to...
Sierra Nevada Night at Zeitgeist
Even though the Sierra Nevada crew looked a little bedraggled as the long march of Beer Week wore on, they did manage to bring along a nice keg of Hopsichord, a double-IPA overflowing with aromatic hops and almost oily with “experimental” hop bitterness. For my money, Hopsichord might be just a tad tastier than Sierra's excellent Hoptimum, another Beer Camp favorite.
SF Beer Week is astonishing, not only for the depth and breadth of the quality of beer available, but for the heroic efforts of the Bay Area's publicans. Special mention must be made of the Herculean effort at Beer Revolution in Oakland, which took Meet the Brewer to an entirely new level.
Credit is also due to cicerone Rich Higgins, who as president of the San Francisco Brewers Guild has been an indefatigable advocate and eloquent spokesman for Bay Area beer. Higgins is stepping down from his post at the Brewers Guild and away from his head brewer position at Social Kitchen to pursue other opportunities. He will leave some very large boots to fill.


Take It One Day at a Time for San Francisco Beer Week

One weekend into San Francisco Beer Week, a couple of harsh realities have become abundantly clear:
  • We're in for a marathon and not a sprint, so pace yourself and take a day or two to recover whenever necessary.
  • No matter how noble your intentions or how meticulous your plans, trying everything will almost certainly not be possible. There's just too much good beer.

The San Francisco Beer Week Opener last Friday was the beer drinker's dilemma in microcosm: 68 breweries—almost twice as many as last year—and more than 250 beers spread out along the circumference of the cavernous Concourse Exhibition Center (a funkier, more comfortable and spacious venue than last year's Yerba Buena Gardens).
With so many beers to choose from, it was difficult to decide where to begin. As usual, Russian River Brewing seemed to be a safe choice, particularly since they were pouring Pliny the Younger and Elder, Sanctification and a dazzling pre-release of Beatification. This year's Younger might be the best in years, gushing with hops and remarkably well-balanced. Several other beers gave the Younger a run for its money, however, including Hoptimum from Sierra Nevada and Hopocalypse Black Label from Drakes. Another strong contender was the Imperial IPA from Auburn Alehouse, a deliciously well-constructed brew from an underappreciated brewery.
While The Younger is an outstanding interpretation of a relatively familiar style, Beatification is something else entirely: an American wild ale with grapefruit overtones that's a marvel of spontaneous fermentation. The batch poured at the Opener is scheduled to be available in April, according to Natalie Cilurzo. Beatification was delicious with Rosamunde's kielbasa dotted with truffles.

Auburn wasn't the only unexpected overachiever of the night, as Thirsty Bear and Gordon Biersch also came through with some tasty offerings. Clean and stylistically correct, GB's regular beers are not held in high regard by many of today's beer geeks, who deem its lagers to be insufficiently adventurous. And there's probably some truth to that, since the beer is meant to appeal to the palates of the people who eat in their restaurants. However, come Beer Week, Gordon Biersch San Francisco head brewer John Tucci cuts loose with some enticing and exciting beers—he even had a stout on. This year, Tucci brought a saison that was refreshing yet subtly delicious.
Other standouts from the Opener included a complex barleywine from High Water Brewing called Old and in the Way; Evil Twin and Evil Cousin from Heretic, and a bevvy of tasty beers from Moonlight Brewing.

Events during the rest of the week will include the “kopstootje” (beer and a shot) dinner on Monday at Comstock Saloon, featuring Trumer Pils and Bols Genever.

Love (or anti-love), as well as beer, will be in the air on Tuesday, with several romantically inspired events all over the Bay Area.
  • The romantic Beer Revolution will be the place to go for a Valentines Day Massacre, featuring a special beer that Speakeasy made for Beer Week, paired with special sorbets, including Frosted Anus.
  • Bitter Valentines continues at Beer Revolution with “Stones' Bitter Valentine.”
  • At Church Key in San Francisco, “Love is for the Birds,” with Grand Teton (Stranahan's Colorado whiskey barrel-aged Black Cauldron Imperial Stout for starters), scuzz rock movies and a DJ spinning “the best tunes to get bummed out to.”
  • At City Beer, Firestone Walker owner David Walker will bring some special beers (including the brewery only "Bravo" and Pappy Van Winkle barrel-aged Velvet Merkin), paired with sweet treats from nearby Pinkies Bakery.
  • Jupiter's anti-Valentines festivities will include “live blues and cask beers from several local breweries to help you either drown your sorrows or revel in your singledom.”
  • Shotwell's Bar will pair Drake's Brandy Barrel Imperial Stout with TCHO Chocolate.
  • Oysters paired with beer will be on the menu at Magnolia for Oyster Extravaganza, Valentines Edition. The shucking starts at 11 a.m.
  • If you're single on Valentines Day, don't be bitter, as Public House marks Valentines Day with an anti-Valentine’s Day “Bitter, Sour, Single” Party. The featured beers that evening are Bear Republics Tartar Sour, Cuvee de Bubba Sour & Jack London Bitter.

Also on Tuesday, Pi Bar promises to tap many rare and limited release beers in an evening with Russian River Brewing and Green Flash Brewery from San Diego will take over the taps at Churchill on Church Street.
Mikkeler will be in the house at Amsterdam Cafe in San Francisco, with more than 25 specialties, including the Black Hole barrel-aged series...Tequila, Bourbon, Red wine, White wine and try the limited sour quadrupel Sur Monk. Also available will be the Our Side saison collaboration with Stillwater and on draft is Invasion IPA, a once-brewed beer collaboration with Drake's Brewing.

Don't stress out if you can't make all of these events, or even most of them. Sit back, enjoy your brew and remember how lucky we are to live in these fantastic beer times.


Celebrate San Francisco Beer Week

For a lot of people, the holidays are but a fond memory. Christmas and New Years are long gone, the Super Bowl is over, the gopher saw his shadow, and Chinese New Years is winding down.
Take heart, beer lovers, the best is yet to come. Once again, it's time for San Francisco Beer Week, sponsored by the San Francisco Brewers Guild. Cynics might say that the Bay Area is awash in beer all year long, and that would be true. But Beer Week just keeps getting bigger and better with more beer, beer events and beer venues than ever.
Beer Week,” admittedly, is a bit of a misnomer for the annual event, which takes place from Feb. 10-19. The kickoff is the Opening Celebration at the Concourse Exhibition Center on 8th Street and Beer Week staggers to the finish line at the Toronado on Feb. 19, with the Barleywine Festival. According to the SF Beer Week site, more than 60 breweries will be pouring at the opening event. Tickets are still available.
For the next eight days, you can indulge your beer self, enjoying beer by itself, mixed in cocktails or paired with food all over the Bay Area. There are so many events to choose from that it's a good idea to have a plan. Download the free SF Beer Week app for your computer, smartphone or iPad to fill out your itinerary.

Some general guidelines:
Don't drive. Almost all of the beer venues are accessible via public transportation. The SF Beer Week app includes a map, or check out Beer By BART to locate your destination.
Drink water. Lots of it. One glass of water per beer is a good rule of thumb. Some craft beers, like double IPAs, barleywines and imperial stouts pack a wallop.
Be courteous and respectful. Venues get crowded during Beer Week and there's bound to be a little jostling and bumping. Take it in stride. You're there to enjoy yourself. And tip your servers. These people work hard to make sure you have a good time.

Also, unless you plan to spend more time traveling than enjoying beer, it's a good idea when you plan your itinerary to see what else is within walking distance or a few stops away. For instance, if you're going to an event at Pi Bar in the Mission, check out Rosamunde, which is only a couple of blocks away. If you'll be at a brewer meet and greet at Beer Revolution in Oakland, you might find something at The Trappist nearby.

A few noteworthy destinations for the opening weekend:
The Double IPA Festival at the Bistro in Hayward on Saturday, Feb. 11 will feature some 75 double IPAs, more than enough to temporarily paralyze even the most experienced beer palate. For the first time this year, triple IPAs like Pliny the Younger and Dogfish Head 120 will be judged in their own category.

Also on February 11, Beer Revolution will host three consecutive Meet the Brewer events, starting with Jef Versele of Van Steenberge in Belgium at 2, followed by Matt Wells of Lost Abbey/Port Brewing at 5 and Firestone Walker brewer Matt Brynildson at 6. Pull up a stool and fasten your seatbelt for some amazing beers.

On Sunday, Feb. 12, you can check out any number of Beer Brunches, like the Beer-Chef brunch with Bruce Paton at Barclays in Oakland, Sunday Brunch with Drakes at 21st Amendment, Beerunch at Public House and Sunday Barbecue at La Trappe.

Also on Sunday, you can let Caltrain do the driving with Wet Your Whistles SF Beer Week Caltrain Pub Crawl. It starts at The Rose and Crown in Palo Alto and ends up at Grape & Grain in San Mateo.

Stay tuned to this blog, as well as bayareacraftbeer.com for more announcements.
And stay thirsty, my friends.

Just Can't Wait for SF Beer Week

San Francisco Beer Week seems to start earlier every year. Even though the “official” kickoff to Beer Week is the Opening Night Gala on Friday, Feb. 10, some Bay Area breweries have already jumped the gun. The first was Russian River Brewing, with the much-anticipated annual release of its triple IPA, Pliny the Younger. Even before the pub in Santa Rosa opened last Friday morning, Younger seekers were lined up for the limited-release beer.
Not to be outdone, East Bay up-and-comer Drakes Brewing held a coming out party on Saturday at its beautiful barrel house in San Leandro for its double IPA, Hopocalypse. The real star of Drakes' Hopocalypse release party, however, turned out to be the Black Label version of Hopocalypse, a triple IPA brewed along the lines of such legendary beers as Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA and Pliny the Younger. Like those well-known triple IPAs, Black Label Hopocalypse executes the delicate balancing act of overabundant hops (100 IBUs) and almost syrupy sweet malt in a potent 12.5% brew. Drakes has a winner on its hands and despite a two bottle per customer limit, all of the 22 ounce bombers (between 700 and 800 bottles) sold out on the first day. You can still find it on tap at Drakes, at least for the moment. Black Label Hopocalypse is a worthy entrant into the triple IPA pantheon and worth seeking out.
It would have been interesting to see how Black Label holds up against other triple IPAs at next week's Double IPA Festival at The Bistro in Hayward. For the first time, triple IPAs will be judged in their own category. Unfortunately Drakes didn't brew enough of this wonderful ale to pour at The Bistro, so people won't be able to compare it side by side with other triple IPAs. Black Label might not be the best triple IPA, but it can certainly hold its own in the best company.
Beer Revolution in Oakland also got a jump on SF Beer Week as it celebrated its second anniversary, with vegan chocolate cake, of course. It seems strange to think that Beer Revolution has only been around for two years; it already seems like an Oakland beer institution. Beer Revolution might already be outgrowing its downtown Oakland location, though, and the pub was bursting at the seams for its birthday party. Happy Birthday, Beer Revolution, and many happy returns.
Tomorrow we'll highlight some useful strategies for SF Beer Week. But let's be honest here. One week isn't enough for SF Beer Week. How about we just call it a fortnight?

note: updated to correct that Black Label Hopocalypse will not be poured at the Double IPA Festival and is only available at Drake's Barrel House.