Beer Dinners Return to Social Kitchen

Good news for beer and food lovers in the Sunset District and all over the Bay Area. The beer dinners that former Brewmaster Rich Higgins initiated at Social Kitchen have returned under the guidance of Chef Chris Wong and Brewmaster Kim Sturdavant (pictured carrying a case of Oud Brune). Even better news is that Social Kitchen’s owners seem to have complete faith in this dynamic and talented duo, and it seems to be paying off. The brewpub was bustling even on a Tuesday night.
If craft beer is going to rise to the next level, it will be through intelligent pairing with fine food, similar to the way gourmets have learned to accentuate the flavors of food through wine. When it works well, the food and beverage elevate one another to heights that neither would have achieved on its own.
Even though Sturdavant and Wong have only been working together for a few months, they seem to have already developed a symbiotic empathy, and each seems to be nudging the other to raise his game.
The appetizer course kicking off the Brewmaster’s Dinner, titled “An End of Summer Celebration,” featured brochettes of yellow peach, pork belly and mission fig with apricot gastrique paired with Sturdavant’s German-style SKB Pilsner.
Most breweries and brewpubs stay away from making pilsners, largely because they take a long time to brew because unlike ales, they need to be lagered (German for “storage”).  Pilsners are also a challenge for brewers, since any mistake will be readily apparent and will render the beer undrinkable. Proper German or Czech pilsners bear no resemblance to the insipid mass-produced swill from industrial brewers. And imported lagers are often subject to spoilage in transit or go "off" due to improper storage. Pilsners are meant to be drunk fresh.
We in the Bay Area are fortunate to have access to excellent lagers from Moonlight Brewing and Trumer, and Sturdavant’s SKB Pilsner deserves a place in that heady company. I’d visit Social Kitchen just to drink the pilsner.
The pairing with the brochettes worked out quite well. Chef Wong is a master with pork and slow cooking, and the combination of the salty pork belly and the sweet peach and fig worked nicely with the dry, crisp pilsner, fragrant with noble hops.
The first course paired Salmon Rillettes on brioche toast with Irving Street Pale Ale, an American-style pale ale that was simple yet satisfying. Sturdavant’s beers demonstrate that an ale doesn’t have to be big, bold and intimidating to be tasty.
The second course pitted rosemary roasted spareribs, slow cooked for several hours, against The Smell IPA. The Smell on its own is a formidable brew, loaded with hops, but Wong’s spareribs overwhelmed the hop bitterness.
Perhaps the best pairing of the night was the dessert course, olive oil plum cake with Red Beauty plums, blackberry sauce and Framboise caramel, paired with Social Kitchen’s Anniversary Oud Brune, a hoppy Belgian brown ale bottle-aged for four months.
As always, the service was friendly, professional and unobtrusive.
If all of this is making you hungry, you’re in luck. Social Kitchen will be holding pairing dinners every month, and for $45, they might be one of the best dining bargains in town, considering the high quality of the food and the beer.
But you don’t have to wait a whole month. Stop in for Social Kitchen’s regular dinners or better yet, for its outstanding Sunday brunch. Wong’s pork belly fried rice is quickly achieving legendary status in the Inner Sunset.


San Francisco Cocktail Week: Turning Beer into Whiskey and More

San Francisco has long been a nexus for experimentation and innovation with alcoholic beverages, from wine and craft beer to creative cocktails. The Mimosa, Mai Tai, Irish Coffee, Pisco Punch, Cosmopolitan and even the venerable Martini are all reputed to have early ties to the Bay Area.
In May 2007, three San Francisco bar owners—H. Joseph Ehrmann of Elixer, Jeff Hollinger of Comstock Saloon and Duggan McDonnell of Cantina—concocted San Francisco Cocktail Week to celebrate San Francisco’s ongoing love affair with mixed drinks. Now in its sixth year, the San Francisco Cocktail Week benefits the Barbary Coast Conservancy for the American Cocktail (BCCAC), a non-profit organization begun by the founders of Cocktail Week dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of saloons and cocktails in San Francisco. It’s located at The Boothby Center.

Craft Beer Into Whiskey
All alcoholic beverages undergo a fermentation process to convert sugars into alcohol. For beer, the journey typically ends with the addition of hops, while whiskey continues to distillation, a process that separates alcohol from water. But some distilleries are experimenting with making whiskey from craft beer.
At Cocktail Melee on Sept. 17, Marko Karakasevic of Charbay Distillery in St. Helena will talk about his “hop whiskey,” called R5 Aged Whiskey, made from Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA. According to Charbay, 6,000 gallons of Racer 5 was distilled in double copper alambic charentais pots for nine days before being aged for 22 months in French oak to produce 590 gallons of whiskey. K&L Wine Merchants describes R5 Aged Whiskey as “a wonderful crossover for the beer geek/whiskey geek.”
Another whiskey maker, St. George Spirits of Alameda, which also will be at Cocktail Melee, distills Sierra Nevada ale into a single-malt whiskey.
Cocktail Melee should be a good opportunity to learn more about spirits, with educational spirit and cocktail classes throughout the event. In addition to Charbay and St. George, distilleries will include Hangar One Vodka, House Spirits, Craft Distillers and Oxley Gin.
Karakasevic will also present a seminar discussing his R5 Whiskey at The Beverage Academy on Wednesday.

Bottle-Ready Beer Distilled into Whiskey
The Story of R5 Whiskey, Clear and Aged Styles
Wednesday, Sept. 19, 5-8 p.m.
The Beverage Academy, 501 Jones St., San Francisco

Cocktail Melee
Saturday, Sept. 22, 2-5 p.m.
Cigar Bar & Grill, 850 Montgomery
$35 in advance, $45 at the door

The Artisan Tasting
Cocktail Week actually kicks off, appropriately enough, in a brewery: the seminal Anchor Brewing Company, one of the pioneers of craft beer and still going strong. At the Artisan Tasting event, patrons will explore Bay Area artisan spirits paired with food. Distilleries, including Square One, Hangar One Vodka, St. George Spirits, Craft Distillers, Oro Pisco, Old World Spirits, Sgt. Classic Rum, Tempus Fugit and Charbay, will show off their spirits along with special cocktails.
The Artisan Tasting
Monday, Sept. 17, 6-9 p.m.
Anchor Brewing Company, 1705 Mariposa St.
$45 in advance (no tickets sold at the door)

The promo code ALLBREWS is good for 20% off of tickets to The Artisan Tasting at Anchor Brewing Co. (

Spirited Food Trucks
The spirits/food pairing theme continues on Tuesday with Spirited Food Trucks, which combines two Bay Area’s obsessions: food trucks and mixed drinks. Rye on the Road will serve bottled cocktails, Elixir will dispense carbonated cocktails out of soda siphons, Jasper’s Corner Tap will provide kegged cocktails and 15 Romolo will serve cocktails canned onsite from the Can Van. Patrons will get a food voucher for the food truck of their choice.
Spirited Food Trucks
Tuesday, Sept. 18, 6-9 p.m.
SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428 11th St. San Francisco
$45 in advance, $55 at the door, with food from the trucks available for purchase.

Best of the West
Wednesday will feature some of the best bartenders from San Diego to Washington State, including Kevin Diedrich of Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen in San Francisco, Annalisa Huante of Cincin in Reno, J.R Starkus of RM Seafood in Las Vegas, Christian Siglin of Craft and Commerce in San Diego, David Shenaut of Ronin-Mercenary in Portland, Naomi Schimek of Spare Room in Los Angeles, Chris Sinclair of Red Rabbit in Sacramento and Andrew Friedman of Liberty in Seattle.
Best of the West
Wednesday, Sept. 19, 6-9 p.m.
Tradition, 441 Jones St., San Francisco
$45 in advance, $55 at the door; VIP table for four for $100 per person.

Totally Awesome East Bay to the Max
Thursday will highlight the best bartenders from the East Bay creating “classic” concoctions from the 1980s (Slow Comfortable Screws, Fuzzy Navels and Slippery Nipples) reimagined for contemporary drinkers. A DJ will re-create an ‘80s ambience with music from the decade. Period costumes are encouraged.
Totally Awesome East Bay to the Max
Thursday, Sept. 20, 5-8 p.m.
The New Parish, 579 18th St., Oakland
$45 in advance, $55 at the door

The Legends Awards
On Friday, the second annual Legends Awards will recognize the Bay Area’s top cocktail innovators, influencers, mentors and historians. The event will re-create a 1960s experience with special tableside cocktails and punches, dinner and show.
The Legends Awards
Friday, Sept. 21, 7:30-10:30 p.m.
The Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market St., San Francisco
$85 in advance and $95 at the door

The California Altered State Fair by Jupiter Olympus
On Saturday, Jupiter Olympus will hold an adults-only state fair-style event that will feature games, food and contests “from the midways of our youth, finally made inappropriate for children.” Cocktails will be inspired by the bounty of California and “the fried crap of the county fairs”: a Salt-Water Taffy Old Fashioned, a Manhattan Sno-Cone, Smoked Watermelon Punch and Jupiter Olympus-made vegetable liqueurs in kale, radish/fennel and corn on the cob flavors. The winner of the California State Cocktail will also be announced at the fair. Festive attire is encouraged.
The California Altered State Fair by Jupiter Olympus
Saturday, Sept. 22,

Mission Dispatch, 1975 Bryant St., San Francisco

$45 in advance and $55 at the door

St. George Spirits: 30 Years to Life
The grand finale of Cocktail Week will be held at St. George Spirits, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a prison theme in which “the Bay Area’s most dastardly outlaw bartenders will be serving up criminally delicious cocktails using St. George’s stolen-from-Kentucky Breaking & Entering Bourbon and in-the-clear gins.” Expect outdoor games in “the yard” of St. George Spirits, a prison tattoo station, squirt gun target practice and live music by Hot Pocket. Food will be available from food trucks. Shuttle buses will be available to and from the Ferry Building and West Oakland BART ($5).
St. George Spirits: 30 Years to Life
Sunday, Sept. 23, 1-5 p.m.
St. George Spirits, 2601 Monarch St., Alameda

$45 in advance and $55 at the door.

In addition to these main events, Cocktail Week will feature Spirited Dinners at Michael Mina, Twenty Five Lusk and Millennium.

Black Lily
The official cocktail of SF Cocktail Week is the Black Lily, an homage to legendary San Francisco eccentric Lillie Hitchcock Coit (1842-1929), created by Remy-Cointreau mixologist Kyle Ford.

1.5 oz Cointreau
1 oz Fernet Branca
.75 oz fresh lime juice

Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake into a rocks glass. Garnish with orange peel.

For a complete list of San Francisco Cocktail Week events, including updates, visit

 Photos courtesy of Gamma Nine (