Thursday, February 26, 2009

San Francisco's Beer Week Joins the Club: Beers by the Bay, Part 1

So, a Philly guy goes to San Francisco Beer Week...

The fine folks behind San Francisco Beer Week readily concede that it was the overwhelming response to Philly's 2008 Beer Week that provided the impetus for creating their own 10-day festival in a similar image.

Though, one could argue that they already had a bit of a leg up with a handful of cornerstone events around which to plan. The six annual events of Rogue's Cheese Pairing, The Bistro's Double IPA Festival, Strong Beer Month (21st Amendment & Magnolia), Toronado's Barleywine Festival, a Cathedral Hill dinner (with Bruce Paton), and Celebrator's Anniversary Festival have for years created a solid foundation on which to build out a strong Beer Week in the Bay Area.

It therefore made sense that the driving committee behind the formulation of SFBW included Toronado's Dave Keene, Magnolia's Dave McLean, 21A's Shaun O'Sullivan, chef Bruce Paton, Celebrator's Tom Dalldorf, and the omnipresent beer writer Jay Brooks.

Over the next couple of days, I'll present to you the sights and stories as I encountered them during my almost six days spent around the Bay Area during San Francisco Beer Week. While I was in the Bay Area strictly on personal time, SFBW wasn't the only reason I was there. So, while I did get to 6 official events and 7 establishments (not during an actual event), if I had been staying downtown with a solitary mission, I might have a better sampling of events to relay to you. Nevertheless......


Opening Night at Anchor I arrived in the Bay Area too late on Friday night to join the private party to which I'd been invited at Anchor. This definitely tore at me since I dropped the ball on rescheduling my flight until it was too late and the ticket price went up by over $300. As much as I would have loved to have been there for the kickoff (albeit, a private not a public kickoff) of SFBW, it wasn't worth the extra dough. Not even the special brew that Anchor did would have been worth it (that is, provided I can procure one of those magnums).

Anchor, if you haven't heard, did their first ever barrel-aged brew which was sampled during the Friday evening session and will be released in magnum bottles in mid- to late-February (for sale only at the brewery). Consensus says it turned out just fine and even Fritz Maytag (perennially against the idea of barrel-aging) agreed.


New Albion reappears Also scheduled too late for me to take advantage of on my itinerary was the New Albion pub crawl led by Don Barkley, one of the original brewers of New Albion Pale Ale back in the late 70s/early 80s. He led a multi-stop pub crawl through the Bay Area to unveil the beer for Beer Week. Don, now at Napa Smith, dug out the recipe and brought back a piece of the Bay Area's Brewing Past.

Approximately 30 kegs of the beer showed up during SFBW at various predictable establishments and were gone by the end of the week. (I actually was responsible for kicking one of the kegs; leave it to a guy from Philly, at City Beer Store on Wednesday.)

If you don't know the back story, here's a good place to find it. Word has it that there is one remaining keg that will be tapped in Napa sometime in April. More on my personal reaction to this beer later.


Hops? yes please, at the Double IPA Festival


(The Bistro in Hayward awaits)
With a solid night sleep (not bad, given the time zone jump), I got an early morning run under my belt in Walnut Creek where Patty and I were staying (with her sister's family) and then headed to Hayward on BART to take in my first SFBW event, the Double IPA Festival. The Bistro is an easy walk from the Hayward BART stop. Just a couple of blocks north and you can't miss it, particularly when a Festival is taking place. Apparently, I'm told this was the first year that they expanded the outdoor festival area down the cross street to give attendees more room to spread out at this ever-growing-more-popular event. Just in case you were wondering, hops are not merely a passing fad on the West Coast.
(Jay Brooks and Rick Sellers look relaxed as SFBW is underway on Day 2 at The Bistro)
Jay Brooks was manning the SFBW Information Booth, so naturally I stopped to congratulate him on the kickoff of Beer Week and toast their good fortune. Then, it was off to get some drink tickets, a sandwich, and some big IPAs. When in the Bay Area, where better to start than with a nice calibration beer called Pliny the Younger?! This new batch certainly didn't disappoint, as neither did its Elder. Imagine an afternoon of hearing debates of "Elder is better...no, Younger is way better." And, "Lou P. Lin is much better...nah, Hop 15 kicks butt." And, of course, "What's the highest alcohol beer you've got." To which the server replied smartly, "I don't go by alcohol, I go by flavor."
(Pliny the Younger for starters)
Now a wiser person might have begun with the New Albion Pale Ale, given that no one could predict how long it would be around and if happenstance might find me enjoying one down the road or not. Plus, more importantly, having this lighter bodied Pale Ale would be way more advisable first before my palate underwent a full-on assault from the big bad boys of hops and ABV. But, that wasn't the case, and therefore my first run-in with this beer got a very unenthusiastic 'eh' from me when I tasted it after the Younger and Elder Pliny and before Bear Republic Mach 10. Fortunately, there'd be two more opportunities for me to put my lips to this thirty year old recipe before the week was over.
(The crowd thickened by mid-afternoon at The Bistro's annual Double IPA Festival)
Back to the DIPAs. I could share with you a little bit of this, that, or the other about 15 of the 50-ish DIPAs that I sampled, but what would the point be? They were mostly big ABVs with varying flavors of citrus, pine, earthiness, and grassiness. Plus, I didn't write or record and notes, ha! Here's the final story, though, in my book. While there were no out-and-out dogs in the bunch, my top 3 and honorable mention were Pizza Port's Lou P. Lin, Triple Rock II Maxx, and Jupiter Quasar. Ballast Point Dorado and Auburn Alehouse Isotope PU240 earned honorable mentions. The official winners were: Pizza Port Poorman’s Double IPA, Triple Rock II Maxx, and Bear Republic Apex (which coincidentally is coming soon to a TJs Drinkery near you!).
(at The Bistro: Sam Calagione, Vinnie Cilurzo, xxx, yyy, Arne Johnson...can anyone help me with the other two?)
The beers were mixed and mingled with great music coming from the stage (good ol' fashioned rock, followed by r&b), conversations with a half dozen or so brewers (Calagione, Cilurzo, Johnson, Cowan, to name just a few) and media folk (Brooks, Sellers, The Brewing Network crew), and brilliant sunshine to warm up a generally cool day...relatively speaking, coming from my frigid East Coast home.
(Rockin' out at The Bistro)
More big beers or BBQ? Patty drove down to pick me up in Hayward. We had the expectation of making it to The Trappist for a meetup with Allagash's Rob Tod and a hopeful run-in with his Fedeltรก (collaboration beer with De Struise Brouwers in Belgium). It was recommended that with the lack of dinner entree selections at The Trappist, we might like to check out Luka's as we come into Oakland from the south. But, fate had us instead going farther east into Lafayette, and hence closer to home, for the must-stop BBQ dinner and music at Bo's BBQ. With some Belgian-styled beer, blues, and barbecue it was the perfect ending to a day of double IPAs. Forget Hops, Give Me the Sours
(downtown Berkeley proudly announces two of their tenets)
What I understand from the crew I know that had showed up at The Trappist (which apparently was a solid who's-who showing of Bay Area beer) is that I was in shape to run Sunday morning largely because we did not stop in Oakland on the way back to Walnut Creek. Understandably. As Bill said, Sunday was about what not to do...So, I get another quality run under my belt and head off to Berkeley for a Sour Ale Festival that Triple Rock's Rodger Davis and sister brewpub, Jupiter, put on. And 'on' it was. Imagine my surprise when the first beer I had was poured from a bottle with a label that read 'Bethlehem Brew Works'! Rodger was pouring one of BBW's lambics that was flavored with raspberries and one flavored with cherries. It turns out that Rodger and BBW's Beau Baden used to brew together at the Berkeley location of Pyramid. How do you like that? BBW represented Pennsylvania well with these lambics whose reputation spread quickly by word-of-mouth across the room. Before you knew it, the five or six bottles that Rodger had were gone.
(Alaskan Chaz and Tom Dalldorf toast the switchover from Saturday Hops to Sunday Sours at Triple Rock)
But, no worries. There were around 30-35 other similarly soured beers, some from around the Bay Area but many from abroad like the occasional Jolly Pumpkin (some of the country's best), Cantillon (natch), Ithaca Brute, Monk's Flemish Sour, and several other goodies from Belgium. From Rodger's days at Drake's, he was serving up some six year old Cherry Port and Blueberry Port (referring to the barrels they were aged in). Some of the best of the day, I tell you. Other winners, in my book, included: Ballast Point Sour Wench; Moonlight Sourpuss; and the lightly done Berliner Weisse from The Bruery.
(And the crowd thickened at Triple Rock as well)
On to a grand dinner with Sean Paxton, Shaun O'Sullivan, and the 21st Amendment Patty and I stopped over at Jupiter for a few more sours (more correctly, I drank the sours...she had a couple of sips) before she headed home and I grabbed a BART train for downtown San Francisco.
(Stellar, not Stella, beer lineup at Jupiter)

(An amazing "backyard" area in which to enjoy beer at Jupiter)
Unfortunately, my walk from the Montgomery St. BART station to the 21st Amendment brewpub was a rain-soaked one. And, even more unfortunately, the night ended with fellow beer diner and writer, Bill Brand, being involved in a train accident...one that had him in critical condition for two weeks before he eventually succumbed. If you don't recall the story, you can check my notes back here...and stay up-to-date at Bill's Facebook Page, his website, and Jay Brooks' blog.
(a light noshing course to get things started at Monk's Blood Dinner with Sean Paxton and 21st Amendment)
In between, though, something very fortunate happened. Continuing the Bill Brand theme, I finally met Bill in person for the first time. What a journalist he is. I got to see where his information-filled beer journal entries come from. They come from a tireless drive to get the details from a beer, from the people, and from the event.
(Before the guests arrived at the 21st Amendment, Hop Crisis and Monk's Blood poised ready)
Sean Paxton's (The Homebrew Chef) dinner was a feast for kings and queens (I can only imagine what the Firestone Walker and Sean Paxton dinner was like on Thursday night in the Haight...gggrrr). As was the Monk's Blood beer that he co-brewed with the 21st Amendment brewing staff and all of the other beers served that Sunday evening. The dinner got started just a bit late as we all straggled in from the rain, dried off, socialized, and found our seats.
(Bill Brand reviews the evening's plans and preparations with chef Sean Paxton)
I was fortunate to sit with Sean's wife, Arlene, and daughter Olivia. Also at my table was Bill Brand, Jesse Friedman, Brian Yaeger with friends Kimberly and one whose name escapes me at the moment, and Chaz (ubiquitous beer lover and traveler from Alaska....y'know, right next to Russia!).
(Sean Paxton and Shaun O'Sullivan welcome their guests and get the night's dinner off to a fun start)
We all snacked on cheese, nuts, crusty bread, and fruit compote until Sean and Shaun (O'Sullivan of 21A) were ready to get the show underway. Each course was described by Sean, who will never be mistaken for a guy who leaves a stone unturned or left to chance. This is a guy who understands and appreciates the many facets of cooking and brewing...photography too. Check out his website and see what I mean. And, if you ever have the chance to have one of his beer and food pairing dinners, do not, I repeat, do not hesitate. Reservations will go fast. Come to think of it, he's announced an August 20th dinner at Ebenezer's Pub (check out their new site) in Lovell, Maine. Will you be there? Don't say I didn't warn you. Last year's was amazing and I'm still kicking myself for missing it. The Monk's Blood Beer Dinner Menu:
(Cheese and Beer, period.)
21A Hop Crisis paired with: Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk Cheese served with a dried fruit compote made with Monk's Blood Belgian Ale, toasted spiced nuts and local breads. 21A Diesel (Imperial Smoked Porter) paired with: Crepes filled with beer braised duck, house cured bacon, fennel, thyme, cinnamon and leeks and a Monk's Blood cream suace topped with toasted almonds. 21A Watermelon Funk paired with: Baby lollo rosso and curly endive with Humboldt Fog crostini, blood orange vinaigrette , candied pecans and shaved manchego cheese.
(the most perfectly done Lamb Shank I've ever had? quite possibly; seriously, that's one per person!)
21A Beer Hunter '08 paired with: Beer braised lamb shank slow cooked Colorado lamb shanks with carrots, celery and thyme, dried figs, and coriander served on a puree' of parsnips. Monk's Blood (Sean's collaboration beer, which was available throughout the dinner as well, but went no better with another course, in my opinion, than the dessert course...due in no small part, I believe, to the nuts and cherries) paired with: Chocolate and ale mousse tart, filled in a hazelnut crust in a pool of sour cherry coulis.
(Jesse Houck and Sean Paxton breath a sigh of contentment at the conclusion of their Monk's Blood dinner at 21st Amendment)
Is that enough for one installment here, or what? Let's call that a wrap for Part 1 and I'll be back to share Monday's and Tuesday's drinks and doings with you.

1 comment:

Brian Yaeger said...

Helluva "week." Wish I could participate in a bicoastal-beer-week cultural exchange.

The memorial for Bill was yesterday at the Trappist. There was a keg of Anchor Porter, one of his faves.

Speaking of Anchor, lemme know when you make it back here...I have OBA!