Imagine a craft beer event that doesn’t particularly celebrate hoppy beers. Then imagine none of the craft beer lovers in attendance complaining even a little bit.
At Rate Beer’s second annual Ales for Autism: Beauty From a Barrel benefit on Nov. 10 at SPUR, hops took a back seat to bugs, specifically the beneficial microorganisms that “infect” beers and give them their funky, sourish flavor.
New brewery Sante Adairius of Capitola continued to impress, with two of its American “wild” ales: Cask 200 and West Ashley, which won the drinkers poll for best beer of the event. Despite very limited production, Sante Adairius is quickly earning a word of mouth reputation for well-balanced funky beers.
Co-owner and brewer Tim Clifford modestly aspires to claim a place on the bottom rung of the American wild ale category pioneered by the likes of Russian River Brewing, The Lost Abbey and the Bruery, among others. He’s already well on his way.
From the East Bay, the eagerly anticipated Rare Barrel served notice that it, too, is a funky brewery to be reckoned with. Shadow of Her Eyes (third place) and SKUs Me whet our beer appetites for the grand opening in Berkeley, which should be before the end of the year.
Enigmatic Moonlight Brewing of Santa Rosa chimed in with a hop-less beer, but it wasn’t a “sour.” Instead, Moonlight’s Previous Life Herbal Ale had a more herbaceous quality. It was a pleasant sipper and not surprisingly a change of pace from an iconoclastic brewer.
Why would a Pasadena brewer haul four kegs of beer all the way to San Francisco? According to Craftsman Brewing founder and owner Mark Jilg, sour beers don’t yet get much love in LA, at least not yet. This was good news for us beer lovers because Craftsman poured some of the cleanest, tastiest beers of the night: Angelino Weiss, Cave Art, Honesty Ale and Cirrus.
My personal favorite, honestly, was Craftsman’s Honesty Ale, a delicious American wild ale. Angelino was a puckerish take on the Berliner Weissbier style. LA’s loss was clearly our gain.
Making an even longer trek was Wicked Weed of Asheville, N.C., which graced the event with bottles of its delicious Serenity, a 100% brettanomyces farmhouse-style fermented ale, as well as a cocktail tribute beer. Wicked Weed’s Old Fashion is brewed with sweet cherries and orange zest, then aged for four months in a whiskey barrel.
Perhaps the most sought after (and limited) beer of the evening came from rapidly rising Prairie Ales of Tulsa, Okla. For the Ales for Autism event, Prairie brought bottles of its imperial stout, Bomb. This version, aged in rum barrels, earned the name Prairie Pirate Bomb. Along with the rum, you can taste espresso, chocolate, vanilla beans and chile peppers.
Rate Beer’s event was indicative of recent Bay Area beer trends toward the sorts of flavors—puckerish sour, dried fruit, booze and hints of who knows what—that are imparted by bugs and barrels rather than hops. That’s not to say that hops are all of a sudden passé in beer, but just that the vast range of this versatile beverage continues to expand at the hands of today’s beer-making wizards.