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 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.