Tuesday, February 22, 2011

San Francisco Beer Week 2011, part 3

Tuesday 2/15
We knew that we didn't want to be "too" ambitious with our beer plans for the last day in San Francisco. But, we purposely scheduled a redeye flight home to Philly to maximize our last day, so maximize we did.

Patty's sister Joanne, came back out to meet us again. We first stopped in at City Beer Store where I made the decision that The Brew Lounge cooler at home has enough beer at this time. Plus, I frankly didn't feel like handing over more money to the airlines to check a piece of "luggage" and I also wanted to expedite our trip home through PHL. For anyone who has ever dealt with the logistics and baggage handling at Philly International, you know exactly what I mean.

Nice conversation with owners Craig and Beth about Beer Week and the general state of beer, then we made our way over to Magnolia in the Haight for their Oyster Lunch event. Dave McLean and Arne Johnson (Marin Brewing) made up some of the random brewer bump-ins that we had at Magnolia. Well, I suppose McLean was not so random given it's his place.

This turned out to be such a pleasant lunch. Every seat was filled at the bar and at the tables, but yet it wasn't uncomfortably crowded. The charcuterie and the variety of oysters that we picked over went perfectly with a Tweezer Tripel (a must during every Magnolia visit for me), Oysterhead Stout, and Promised Land Imperial IPA (as if Proving Ground IPA isn't nice enough!). Still wondering, though, why I did not give the Pork Lord a try. It was described as a Bacon-Infused Oysterhead Stout — yeah, why not?

At this point, we picked up Steve Shapiro, our Beer By BART buddy (well, not literally picked up), and headed off to our last SF Beer Week stop of the trip — Toronado.

Technically, this wasn't an event per se but rather one of those mandatory beer stops when visiting San Francisco. Believe it or not, in all of our travels we still to this point had not stopped in during this trip. Well, actually, if you've read all of my"diary" to this point, it's probably not too difficult to understand why we had not yet stopped here. Granted, it would have been fun to stop in late night after a day's worth of Beer Week events to hang with the cool kids, much like the way they do in Philly at Monk's Café during Philly Beer Week.

This turned out to be a pretty opportune time for us to stop in at Toronado. The crowd was extremely thin. Happy Hour prices were in effect. This meant easy access to seats and service. This meant $3 La Folie. $3 The Abyss. $3 Blind Pig. $3 Velvet Merkin. $3 Death and Taxes. You get the picture, I think. We had the table just inside the door with a perfect view of both the street and the bar. We were able to easily sneak over into neighboring Rosamunde Sausage Grill for some spot-on requisite Toronado companion grub.

Then things got awkward. We still needed to return to the hotel and get our bags from the concierge. Plus, we still needed to satisfy my sushi fix. On top of getting back to SFO in time for our flight.

We made the decision to duck away from Toronado less than an hour before they kicked off what many-a-beer geek will call one of the week's best: Russian River Night with reportedly 23 Russian River beers due to go on tap. Prime table, tons of "-tions" from one of the country's elite breweries, and a couple of hours to spare? But, nah, we turned away. Completely my decision — and one that many of you may cry beer foul over I suppose.

On the other hand, we paid it forward with a table for some very surprised customers that had just walked in the door.

Nothing really to report at our stop for sushi other than a plug for what I call my favorite and most reliable and accessible sushi joints in the city. Sakana is conveniently located a few blocks from Union Square, is very cozy, and serves up great sake, sushi, and service. It's on my must-do list for every visit of mine to the city and as you can tell, I recommend it for all sushi-lovers as well.

Wrapping up SF Beer Week '11
Unavoidably, and perhaps understandably, the one big question I get more than any other since being back East is "How does SFBW compare to Philly Beer Week?"

I try to answer this question in a few different ways.

First, I say something to the effect that it's not really fair to try and compare two deeply-rich beer regions and their respective Beer Weeks to each other. It only denigrates the hard work of so many that put on the various events during their respective Beer Weeks. That goes over somewhat flatly.

Then, I'll say something along the lines of how it's difficult to really compare two Beer Weeks that are organized on different models, yet with the same short- and long-term objectives.

Finally, I turn the tables and ask how would anyone compare them?

Number of events? Pointless and absolutely no indicator of best-ness.

Quality of events? Give me a metric to compare quality and then we'll talk, but I can't imagine a solid metric to use to measure the quality of events. Number of attendees? Variety of beer being served? Rarity of beer being served? All interesting, perhaps, but other than the number of attendees the others are somewhat arbitrary measurements.

Types of events? Both Beer Weeks feature strong beers, session beers, local beers, imported beers, beer dinners, sour beers, cask-conditioned beers, beer and fitness events, free events, pricey events, twenty minute events, repeating daily events, and on and on. Tell me which Beer Week is missing — significantly missing — what type of events and we can figure out if it's legitimate and what to do about it.

Number of participating establishments? Once again, not much of an indicator. And even if one region had more participating establishments than another, we'd still have to then go back and further break down the number and types of events that they conducted. Again, not such a meaningful use of time.

Basically, unless the organizing group or individual establishments are flat-out dropping the ball on delivering what they promise in a Beer Week full of varied events, it's a bit unfair to say that one Beer Week is better than another. Is there more? More of 'this' or 'that'? Maybe, but how much can any individual take in? It's about appealing to the widest part of the beer drinking and beer-curious public as possible. In the Northern California and Philadelphia regions, both organizations do amazing work to do just that.

Plus, like our individual tastes in beer, opinions in what makes a successful Beer Week will vary greatly. Sixty people thought that a Beer Run in San Francisco made perfect sense for celebrating Beer Week on a Sunday, while many others at the same time went to a Sour and Barrel-aged Festival in Berkeley and probably felt likewise.

Here might be one differentiating factor that I've seen. The Bay Area, and Northern California as a region, seems very proud of their indigenous products — both of the Earth and of man-made will. They are very into and geeked out by the dozen or so new nano- and pico- breweries coming on line over the past several months and upcoming year.

This is obviously not a trend contained to the West Coast. But, I will be looking forward and paying attention to how Philly Beer Week draws attention to all of the many new upstart breweries in the various stages of planning from northern Pennsylvania to the City of Philadelphia.

So I'll leave the topic somewhat judiciously by saying that I've participated in two major Beer Weeks and have found that they are the absolute best two that I've attended. Great people serving up interesting beer at wonderful establishments to create memorable events. I'm betting that there are at least another dozen Beer Weeks doing the same thing around the country.

To properly wrap things up, if you haven't already done so, you should really check out the pictures that I've linked to here. For all of the words that I can spill across your screen (my text editor tells me I'm currently nearing 6000 words), there are some things that are just better told with pictures. Plus, I've taken the care to add captions so, please, go and check them out. I think the picture editing, uploading, and captioning took longer than it did to pump all of these words out.

Additional Reading
In addition to being amazed at the number of people writing/blogging about the glorious beer in Northern California (see this impressive list), here following are some of those that attended SFBW that I've caught up with specifically while in San Francisco and since I've returned home.

~ Jay Hinman, Hedonist Beer Jive
~ Steve Shapiro/Gail Ann Williams, Beer By BART
~ Ashley Routson, Drink With The Wench
~ Chris and Meredith Nelson, The Beer Geek
~ Joe and Jasmine, Beer at Joe's

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