Tuesday, February 22, 2011

San Francisco Beer Week 2011, part 2

Saturday 2/12
Only a pleasant forty minute BART ride to Hayward came between us and the 11th annual Double IPA festival at The Bistro. The Double IPA festival is one of the precursor events to SF Beer Week. I don't understand the economics of this event so well, but I can imagine that the closure of a street, the renting of large band, the procurement of 60+ kegs of beer, the judging process, and all other associated overhead warrants a forty dollar ticket that gets paying customers a souvenir tasting glass and tickets for 5 five-ounce pours. With most beers beginning in the 8% ABV ballpark and only going significantly north from there, it shouldn't take long to feel the buzz from these strong IPAs, so not making this an all-you-can-drink affair is likely a very wise idea. (Disclosure: I paid a discounted media admission price.) Additional tasting tickets were available for $2 per five-ounce tasting and food was available for additional purchase.

I was last at this event two years ago and thought it was a fairly comfortable layout, but this year they acquired even more street space which made it all the more comfortable for watching the band, visiting beer tables, and mingling with friends. Vic and Cynthia Kralj play the role of gracious hosts and certainly go out of their way to ensure the best experience for everyone. Seventy degree weather also has a way of putting everyone in a great mood.

The official judging of roughly 40 breweries (only one beer per brewery would be judged, regardless if they had more available for public tasting) awarded the top three places to Firestone Walker (Double Jack), Moylans (Moylander), Drake's (Hopocalypse), respectively. The People's Choice Award went to Kern River Citra DIPA. This wouldn't be the last I heard of this new brewery during this trip. My personal favorites of the day included: Auburn Alehouse PU240; Bear Republic Racer 15; Fifty Fifty RyePA; Firestone Walker Double Jack; and Midnight Sun XXX Black Double IPA.

Frankly, I'm not sure if there are many other reasons to visit Hayward while in the Bay Area. But, if you have time for a BART train ride or have a car, visiting The Bistro for beers, live music, and the occasional beer festival that they throw throughout the year would be a worthwhile use of your time.

We bumped into Sierra Nevada's Steve Dressler (Brewmaster) and Terrell Lowe (Northern California On-premise Manager) once again after chatting with them at length during the previous night's Opening Gala. They convinced us to head to Pi Bar back in the Mission District where they were hosting an event with a cool dozen treats from Chico on tap. We never did see them at Pi Bar; I'm not sure what their official alibi was, but I think it might have included tequila. No matter, they still had other company representation at the event.

It sounded like we arrived at just the right time to score a table in the back of Pi Bar to hunker down for some pasta (the next day was my Beer Run), pizza, and beers. Pi Bar is a cool neighborhood place co-run by Bay Area craft beer veteran Jen Garris and the care taken to deliver quality beer and food in a comfortable neighborhood joint is evident. Of course, it's a little more difficult to tell when the place is overrun with SFBW beer hunters, but even with the throngs, the staff was still attentive, friendly, and composed.

After a few Sierra Nevadas, we jumped back on BART for one stop to 16th Street (didn't I tell you we were in the Mission District quite a bit?!) and walked approximately 10 minutes over to 15th and Market Streets and Lucky 13. They partnered with Pinups for Pitbulls, Chako Pitbull Rescue from Sacramento, Speakeasy and Ninkasi Breweries to throw a Pitty Party fundraiser.

What we learned was that this is a neighborhood favorite dive bar, the kind that is disappearing too quickly. Yet, they serve a respectable list of draft and bottled beer and are dog-friendly. Plus, they have a stripper pole which many would argue is seen at too very few craft beer bars ;-)

We were again on the verge of crashing from the time zone change, so we didn't stay long into the night to observe what kind of late night debauchery goes down at this not-your-typical-polished-craft-bar location on the edge of The Castro. Particularly, we didn't stay long enough to see who utilizes the stripper pole in the middle of the bar. But, we did stay to sample a Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA and a Speakeasy Double Daddy IPA on tap. I should have made a guess prior to the trip how long it would take to become "hopped-out" with palate fatigue from the aggressively-hopped West Coast beers. I love 'em, but in moderation of course. This day's events certainly pushed my limits. Fortunately, Sunday was just around the corner.

Sunday 2/13
Sunday morning meant taking it easy for a few hours before heading across town to the Inner Sunset neighborhood and their newest brewing tenet — Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone, and his Social Kitchen & Brewery.

This was the day that I would avenge Mother Nature for her screwing me out of a trip to SFBW '10 and helping to conduct a West Coast version of my Philly Beer Runs. Instead, I was left at home with 20+ inches of snow.

This year, I escaped and was able to help pull off a nearly 70 degree run through Golden Gate Park with nearly 60 like-minded runners/beer lovers. Turned out that not quite everyone went to Berkeley for the Sour/Barrel-aged Festival at Jupiter and Triple Rock. I surely would have been there if it wasn't for the run; between the two establishments, there were reportedly around 90 different beers to sample from.

Nonetheless, we pressed on with our run from the recently one-year-old Social Kitchen & Brewery just two blocks south of the Park. It's difficult to express just how perfect the weather was — cool in the shade of the Park's large eucalyptus, pines, redwoods, and cypress trees and warm in the direct sunlight from the cloudless sky.

At the midpoint, several runners stopped in at Magnolia Brewery on Haight Street and rewarded themselves (yours truly included) with a light Kölsch or a decidedly heavier Imperial Stout from the pub's participation in the annual Strong Beer Month.

After completing the five mile course, runners returned to Social and hung out for the better part of two hours eating and drinking from SKB's menu. The runners certainly made the bartenders earn their keep as our group exceeded the initial projections that were given to the bar; but, I didn't see anyone complaining.

Certainly a large motivation for hosting these bi-coastal Beer Runs, apart from the simple socialization of beer lovers and runners, is the doors that they open to introduce people to a bar or brewery that they may not otherwise find on their own. A theme in the comments I heard more than once revolved around "...I didn't know these guys were here...", "...I've heard of these guys, but had no idea where they were...", and "...I've always meant to come here, but never had a good reason..."

Pouring from the tap towers on this particular day at SKB were a Kölsch, an IPA, an Imperial Stout, an Espresso Stout, a Weizenbock, and my favorite of the day, an Imperial Belgian Golden Ale with Galangal and Lemongrass. Don't worry, I had to look up Galangal as well. It's apparently a close relative of ginger. A Belgian Golden with these two spices? Way okay in my book.

Amongst the many new people I became acquainted with, I also had the pleasure of traveling 3000 miles from home to meet Philadelphian and beer blogger, Rich Isaacs. We did the whole compare-your-Beer-Week-to-mine conversation. It's always interesting to get other perspectives on a beer region so vast as Northern California's and an event so wide-ranging as SFBW. Check out Rich's last several blog entries where he discusses everything from a Russian River visit in Santa Rosa to his travels around San Francisco.

Five miles. Several tasty beers. Good food. Great socializing. New brewery publicized. Mission accomplished. Thanks to Derrick Peterman and Brian Yaeger for their partnership in this successful event.

After my duties at SKB were fulfilled, Patty and I went off the SFBW grid for the remainder of the day. Her sister had joined us at SKB and now we went off the farthest point west in the three mile long Golden Gate Park. Just across the Pacific Ocean sits the historic building that houses the Beach Chalet and Park Chalet. I'd been there before, but Patty had not and I truly think that it's worth a visit, if not for the beer or the food, then at least for the setting and the views. Matter of fact, I wouldn't rule out somehow tying in this brewery to next year's SF Beer Week Beer Run.

The premise, if it seems confusing, is that Beach Chalet fronts the ocean while sister restaurant Park Chalet sits below and behind Beach Chalet and faces the entrance trails to the Park. Picture having a meal at Beach Chalet — perhaps watching the sun set over the ocean — and then retiring to an Adirondack chair behind the Park Chalet where servers will bring your beers to you while you listen to live music being performed inside. Like I said — location and ambiance.

After a criss-crossing tour back downtown, Joanne deposited us back at our hotel where we cleaned up before heading a few blocks over to Thirsty Bear. This is another location that I've been to several times and one that I thought Patty should experience. My last visit was an accidental one as I walked back to my hotel after dinner at 21st Amendment and I heard the pounding of Flamenco dance shoes and accompanying singing.

Each Sunday evening, Thirsty Bear hosts what amounts to a free dance and musical performance to go along with your beers, wines, and dinner. With a distinctively Spanish flair to its menu, San Francisco's only certified organic brewery provided us with some tapas style dining, perfectly just what we needed after a day of running around, literally.

Every bar and brewery should have their own distinct M.O. and these last two have such unique characteristics that they stand out so differently from their competition and have the ability to bring in unsuspecting non-beer lovers. While many beer geeks may not think first of Thirsty Bear and Beach Chalet for beer when visiting San Francisco, I think that would be an unfortunate mistake to make while downtown or anywhere near the western edge of the City.

Monday 2/14
Valentine's Day in San Francisco. Now that the weekend craziness was over, I figured it would be an opportunity to see what kind of Beer Week fight San Franciscans had in them on a weeknight during Beer Week. Seems that they know exactly what to do — keep the party going, in spite of the on-and-off again rain all day.

We took it easy in the morning before heading out yet again to the Mission District. This time, our intention was two-fold. The first may not really sound beer-related and I suppose it only was in the sense that it was a lunch that included my first Negra Modelo in many years. My first run-in with this beer was on a flight to Mexico, circa 1994. I recall thinking it was interesting...sorry that's way too far back to be interesting. Point is, it went perfectly with an epic burrito at La Cumbre at 16th and Valenica Streets. They've been doing the San Francisco Burrito thing since 1967 and I was reminded of them on Travel Channel's Man versus Food just before we had left for San Francisco.

When you walk in, the incredible smells....the visuals of watching meat simmer, then being chopped....the overwhelming menu of burritos, quesadillas, and tacos. I don't know quite what else to say about it than, if you're hungry and love burritos, you're doing yourself a grave injustice if you're in San Francisco and don't stop in at La Cumbre. (disclosure: I paid full price for my Puerco en Chile Verde Deluxe Burrito :)

Now that the "base" was established with a burrito, we were off to Pi Bar nine blocks away. It's the only establishment we visited more than once during this trip. The bar opens at 3:14 p.m. every day — get it? 3:14, right? We arrived all of 12 minutes after they opened and the staff was already busting butt to take care of the throngs that had lined up in the rain to get a taste of the twelve Russian River beers that were being poured on this "average" Monday afternoon.

As I've mentioned earlier and elsewhere, even Northern Californians can not get enough of their "local", Russian River. Funny thing was, for as packed as Pi Bar was, we were able to quickly snag some table space to sit just minutes before it became near intolerable to be in the bar. Anyone who had established their floor space was okay; but we watched a continual stream of people trying to get in and at the same time amazed that the bar was already filled by 3:45 p.m.

We proceeded to share a handful of Russian River beauts from Rejection (nice holiday theme!) to Sanctification to Supplication to Mortification to Perdition to...oh yeah, this new beer called Pliny the Younger, or something like that ;-)

It was meant to be a short stop at Pi Bar. We extended a bit to squeeze in one more Supplication and then headed back to BART to zip us over to Berkeley where Triple Rock's Rodger Davis was "taking on" Ballast Point in an "Imperial IPA cask-off" pitting his IIMAXX against Sculpin. It took me a little while — kind of dense by this point, I suppose? — to realize that this was the third "event" of the day at Triple Rock. Earlier, there was a Meet 'n' Greet with Ballast Point and there was a beer release where they unveiled the White Chocolate Milk Stout. It was served on nitrogen tap and completely surprised me how much I liked it. The name, though, I'll admit, did have me apprehensive.

The cask-off was billed to be a sort of competition to see which bar-top firkin would kick first. I never learned who was the "winner", but it was reportedly neck-and-neck while were there. I love me a hoppy beer served cask-conditioned and these two were no exception. For as wonderful of an Imperial IPA that Sculpin is, on this particular day IIMAXX, to my palate, won by half a stride.

After some catching up with Shaun O'Sullivan (can't believe this trip to San Francisco ended without a visit to his 21st Amendment, but alas...) over a second beer, we headed off to yet another new discovery — this one in Oakland.

And this one required a bit of extra ambition. Virtually no one will try to convince you that a visit to Oakland is a walk in the park. Literally, when walking the half mile from the BART station at 12th Street down Broadway to Beer Revolution on 3rd Street, there is a good chance that you will run into 80% of all the strange characters that Oakland has to offer. Particularly when walking under the freeway, there are certainly elements of feeling slightly less than safe. I don't think that Patty particularly appreciated my decision to walk — and, even more so, the decision to walk the return trip to BART as well — and actually we haven't discussed it since then.

With that bit of a public service announcement out of the way, I can report that once inside the recently one-year-old Beer Revolution, things are good. In fact, things are very, very good. They've got a rare license to sell beer for both on-site consumption as well as bottles to take home. Here is where we ran again in to the traveling Michael and Diane, the ones that I have picture sporting Philly Beer Week apparel.

At Beer Revolution, like at Pi Bar and Triple Rock, we discovered that SF Beer Week was alive and well in every nook and cranny of the Bay Area at every time of every day of the week. Alan Shapiro brought out some of his SBS-Imports portfolio treats like the many De Proef collaborations. But, with our late arrival and Alan's Valentine duties at home, we continued our history of "just missing" each other at beer events from coast-to-coast.

We were recommended some beers from the newish Kern River Brewing Company in Southern California in the town of Kernville. We were pleased with the appropriately-named Just Outstanding IPA. Actually, it was quite outstanding that we, on Day 4 of SFBW, had any palate appreciation left for hops at this point. But this, and the Class V Stout, gave us a pleasant introduction this brewery.

With that, we called it a night, made our trek back to BART and crashed yet again with just 24 hours left in our trip.

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