Tuesday, February 12, 2013

San Francisco Beer Week 2013 is underway

SF Beer Week 2013 Opening Celebration
(click above for a gallery of pictures)

If you follow me on Twitter, you've likely picked up on my whereabouts in the vicinity of San Francisco Beer Week.

Turns out that I was (t)here in 2009 (the first SFBW) and 2011. Wonder if that means I'll miss next year?

Also was here prior to the "official" incarnation of Bay Area beer celebrations labeled as Beer Weeks in 2008 and joined in the Celebrator Magazine's 20th anniversary party in Oakland.

You can read about 2008 here......read about 2009 here.....read about 2011 here. Seriously, read it. Interesting stuff. At least interesting to me as I jump in the way-back machine to see what the SF beer scene looked like through my eyes back then.

Before I begin my SFBW opening weekend review, I should point you to the local and longtime observer of all things Bay Area Beer, Jay Brooks, for his look at Pliny The Younger Day, the SFBW '13 Opening Celebration, a fun video of the Opening Gala, and the annual Double IPA fest at The Bistro.


This year I made it to the Opening Gala a bit worse off than I should have been. Waking up 5 a.m. eastern time, flying cross-country, then embarking on a 13.5 mile run across the city before quickly guzzling a gallon of water and showering (you're welcome, but of course), would not be a recommended approach for the SFBW Opening Celebration.

But, there I was enjoying the Green Death collaboration beer for SFBW '13. Great beer to start off the festival with, where many big IPAs and "big" versions of other beers abounded.

Ran into "old-timers" like Sierra Nevada and its Narwhal and its Two Headed Ruthless Rye. Too bad I missed their Celebrator 25th Anniversary brew. Anchor, complete with its "new guys" and new beers to complement the tried and true. Bear Republic and its excellent Tartare. Lagunitas with it's nonsuck version of Sucks. North Coast and its decadent Old Rasputin. Speakeasy and its Daddy (Big, Double, etc.) beers. Magnolia and its never-disappointing lineup of well-made beers. 21st Amendment shaking things up with their recent canned versions of saison, oyster stout, and recent news of Lower De Boom barleywine coming also to cans. And, many more that have been around for getting-to-be-too-many-years-to-count. And still doing it well as the next generation comes aboard.

Russian River had its Pliny The Younger, which I enjoyed in a line of three people before the masses crushed the event floor in a stampede to the Russian River table. I still hold to this day that while it's a pretty fine beer, waiting crazy amounts of time in line for it (or for any beer, for that matter) is just, well, crazy.

I finally met The Beer Wench in person. The avatar came to life and did not disappoint.

Most of the luminaries were in attendance...the brewers, owners, and reps. I really appreciate how SF Beer Week does not list any other beer events for the first day, focusing all attention on the Opening Celebration.

2,800+ attendees. 70 breweries. Did I mention, no I did not, the fantastic music of El Radio Fantastique.

But then there were the new breweries. As in nearly every corner of this country, new breweries are popping up left and right. San Jose's new-ish Strike Brewing Company impressed me with one of the most memorable beers of the evening, it's Blonde Ale. They're quite enthusiastic about producing great tasting "session" beers. As you'll see in my comments about Sunday's Beer Run, there could be nothing finer.

Speaking of low-alcohol beers, there were quite a few that stole the show, in my opinion during Friday's festivities. Amongst all of the malt/hop/ABV bombs (some quite tasty, mind you), none were more memorable than Drake's/Stone 4.8% collaboration beer called Quarter Century of Issues, the subtly floral and fruity 4.7% Santa Cruz Love Potion, someone's excellent German Pilsner (still searching pictures and documentation high and low for which brewer this was), and the aforementioned Strike Blond. See, you can go to a California-based festival and drink some excellent low alcohol beers.

Then, I crashed.


I made the extremely tough decision on Saturday to stay in the city in lieu of hopping a train to Hayward for the annual Double IPA Fest at The Bistro, now including a separate judging category for Triple IPAs.

I'd been to it three times before and I really just felt more like exploring what the city had to offer on such a gorgeous weather day.

It did not disappoint.

The Press Club for Mikkeller Yeast Series. The education in six identical beers fermented with different yeast strains was indeed fascinating. I'd return later for a few sours before bed. Somewhat swanky place with a strong focus on wine, but with a smartly focused eye on beer as well. Though, how you get away with charging $21 for a glass of Tiquin Gueuze still has me a bit baffled.

The baffling continued at the SOMA StrEat Food Park, where they definitely know how to run a parking lot of excellent food trucks. The managing of beer distribution within the park, though, was a different story and made for a stop that lasted probably twice as long as it should have.

Still, a beautiful day to be in the outdoors drinking great beer from Magnolia and Pacific Brewing Laboratory with a overflowing sandwich of meat and spices from a Peruvian food truck.

Then it was on in to the Mission for some ice cream. Or, it was until I tripped across what sounded like a good stop at The Homestead. Great stop indeed. I'd missed the new Zymaster Flying Cloud at the Opening Celebration, so I quickly found my way into a glass of it at this 100+ year old bar with an interesting set of characters, comfortable old bar feel, and murals of naked women on the walls. A little something for almost everyone, as a good pub should be.

Since I was so close, I opted to make one more pit stop along my journey through the Mission at the Southern Pacific Brewing Company's location. I'd been there before but had not been struck by a beer quite as happily as I was this time with their Blonde. Well-made, tasty, and weighing in at a very drinkable 5.5% ABV.

Onward to Humphrey Slocumbe, home to some incredible flavors and every year they incorporate some local brew into a few flavors to feature during the week. They were not yet available, so I opted for the solid and old-reliable, Secret Breakfast and new one to me, Smoked Chocolate Sea Salt.

Refreshed and ready for a long stretch of my walk, I headed up through Hayes Valley and on to Amsterdam Cafe where they were beginning a wild night of Deschutes beers. I was fortunate to grab a rare and coveted seat at the bar and wandered no farther than the Abyss and the Dissident before moving on.

After discovering all seats taken at my favorite sushi spot in the downtown area, I decided to cap off the 9.5 mile walk around town with a few sours and dinner back at The Press Club, where the day began ten hours earlier.


Most of you know all about my beer thing, my running thing, and the happy intersection of the two. Once upon four years ago, Derrick Peterman, Brian Yaeger, and I kicked off the concept of an SFBW run. After a few years of holding it in the City, Peterman has done a great job in continuing on the tradition, this year holding it in the South Bay community of Los Gatos and working with local pub C.B. Hannegan's and brewer (from San Jose) Strike Brewing.

Before heading south to Los Gatos, I figured a quick stop-off for some "fuel" at Dynamo Donuts would help to kick-start my day as I headed out of the city. They worked with Almanac Brewing and the brewery's Biere de Chocolat to create a donut available every day of SFBW. What a tasty and wonderful treat of chocolate goodness.

Then, for the run.......What a great time. Coming from the east coast, there was nothing like going for a scenic run along the Los Gatos Trail in nothing but a short sleeve shirt, shoes, and shorts in 60 degree weather. Nothing like returning to the pub's comfortable atmosphere. Nothing like camaraderie of a post-run crowd of beer-loving runners. Nothing like raising some funds for Autism Speaks and the 2nd Harvest Food Bank (a Bill Brand tie-in). Nothing like refreshing and rehydrating with some excellent beers from Strike Brewing, who makes some real nice session beers perfect for post-exercising. A blonde, a brown, and an IPA. If you're in northern California, be on the lookout for these guys.

Heading back north to San Francisco, it would have been irresponsible not to stop in Palo Alto at the English-style cozy pub, Rose and Crown. They were doing a sour day, so a Bear Republic Tartare and Palo Alto Brewing Company barrel-aged porter made for a perfect way to break up the drive back to the city and check out a new place (to me, at least) along the way.

On the topic of responsibility, one could certainly argue that heading to Beer Revolution in Oakland may not have ranked too high on the responsibility scale after the weekend that I'd already been through in addition to what awaited at the destination beer bar on the outskirts of downtown Oakland. But, after seeing the impressive wall of 48 taps of nothing but beers from Chico, Calif., I wasn't going to argue with anyone. Check out my pictures, you'll see what I mean.

Since I was on limited time and making decisions on a list of 48 Sierra Nevada is nearly impossible to begin with, I quickly ruled out any names I was familiar with. Help from Terrell Lowe, Brian Kracht, and Tai Brandon - who was chiefly responsible for organizing the event - was gladly welcomed. Unfortunately, head brewer Terence Sullivan was still stuck in the northeast unable to return to the Bay Area after he found (Winter Storm) Nemo and couldn't fly back in time for the event.

Imperial Red Ale, called Blood Shot (Beer Camp #95 apparently). Excellent. I don't really talk much about how I seem to have a real liking for this "style" of beer. A Gose, called Anything Gose. Not too bad, but not popping with flavor as much as I would have hoped/liked. And trying to knock me out was the imperial porter Super Rocket V-8. First to kick were the Beer Camp 86'ed beer and the 20th Street Citra IPA.

What else can I tell you about the first weekend of SFBW 2013? Not much, I suppose. I could tell you about the wonderful sushi and sake dinner I had later Sunday evening. But, that may be straying too far off topic. Plus, you've probably already heard too much. I'll be back later in the week with more updates.

'Til then, be sure to follow my Twitter Feed for more in-the-event type of updates and the occasional status update on The Brew Lounge's Facebook Page.

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